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Study hall: Success is no accident for Rodgers

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Lori Nickel
January 13, 2011
— Opponents see the deep ball that’s dead-on, the elusiveness, the heady play, the arm strength.

We see the stats.


What almost no one sees is Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers on Monday night. And Tuesday night. And every other night during the week.


That’s when he’s on his own time, with the laptop computer, studying everything about the defense and looking at his own play with a critical eye.


“He does a lot on his own,” said backup quarterback Matt Flynn.


On talent alone, Rodgers might be alright as an NFL quarterback. On motivation alone, he might try to end the seasons of quarterbacks who made the Pro Bowl over him. Or advance in the playoffs.


But if you really want to know where Rodgers draws so much of his confidence, it’s in those disciplined study habits. And the mental equity he puts into the game gives Rodgers a few things.


A plan, of course. And perhaps the means to bounce back from a plan that goes awry because of a mistake.


The team itself has certain study requirements. During the week, the Packers have team meetings from 7:30 to 10 a.m., then practice, and then meetings again in to the afternoon.


Wednesday is the most intensive day of work for the quarterbacks, as they break down blitz schemes, man vs. zone coverages and key playmakers on the defense among other things.


But that’s not nearly enough for Rodgers. He dives in on his own, as do most players, but it has been suggested he puts in even more of his personal time.


He won’t say how much—“I don’t want to give out my routine because it’s personal and it works for me”—but the study time shows up in his game.


“For all the knowledge he has, and the stuff he wants to do, you just have to assume it’s a lot,” said receiver Jordy Nelson. “He isn’t married, doesn’t have kids; my guess is he’s home all the time watching it.


“I know he’s on there (laptop) studying because he’s telling us all the time what to anticipate and look out for. You know he’s put his time in.”


On Monday and Tuesday, most of Rodgers’ time is spent studying the games of the next opponent, gaining an overall view. As the week wears on, his focus tightens to the red zone, short yardage, goal line and other specific situations.


By studying and preparing so much, Rodgers knows he increases his chances of playing well.


And he needs that, because he tends to dwell on mistakes.


For example: Rodgers has thrown 22 touchdown passes in the red zone this season. He knows that.


But he’s also thrown one interception in that situation and fumbled once at the goal line.


He hates that.


“I try to focus on the positive things, but I can learn, personally, better from my mistakes than my good plays,” said Rodgers. “I mean, I expect to play well. I don’t think that’s cockiness, I just think I prepare to play well every week.


“I put in the time, I watch film, I study, I practice, I talk to the receivers, the tight ends, the running backs. We get on the same page.


“So when I get in the game, I expect to play well.”


But really, Rodgers expects to play perfectly. And when he makes a mistake, he almost always tries to respond with extraordinary play or drive to make up for it.


The Atlanta game Nov. 28 is a perfect example. Rodgers fumbled on the goal line in the second quarter when he was hit on the elbow, which he had hurt on the previous play.


But he went on to have one of the greatest games of his career with 344 yards passing and 51 yards rushing. He led the Packers on a 16-play, 90-yard final drive with two fourth-down conversions, including the tying 10-yard touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson with 56 seconds to play.


But Green Bay lost, 20-17, and Rodgers, clearly upset about the fumble, could only say afterward that 17 points was not enough to win.


“I thought there was no way we couldn’t get it in there,” Rodgers said after the game.


Rodgers bounced back in similar fashion last week. He fumbled on the first drive of the second half when he was sacked on third-and-2. He looked disgusted.


On the next possession, he led Green Bay on an 11-play, 80-yard drive that ended in a short screen pass to Brandon Jackson for a touchdown. It ultimately held up as the game-winning touchdown.


“In the moment, I’m able to erase it pretty quickly,” said Rodgers. “But when I make a mistake, it’s something I think about, when I put my head down on my pillow at nighttime. Obviously, I’m a perfectionist, and I hate making mistakes.


“Especially when they’re mental mistakes, but the way I prepare myself, I expect to play well. So anytime I come under those standards, it is something I’ll think about. But in this league, I’ve learned you’ve got to move on quickly.”


That’s been a popular phrase this week in the Packers’ locker room. Receiver James Jones dropped a would-be touchdown pass at Philadelphia, and a mistake made by anyone in the playoffs will be magnified.


Rodgers understands. It would be human nature for a quarterback to lose faith in a receiver if it seems his drops are becoming an issue.


“It’s not mine,” said Rodgers. “I expect those guys to make those plays, regardless of what has happened before.


“And I hope they wouldn’t flip that on me to where if I threw a bad pass to them and they ran a great route, the next time they wouldn’t run as good of a route for me. It’s a trust thing. And I trust those guys are going to make those plays.”


But with trust must come the work, and you can count on the fact Rodgers is replaying that Atlanta game. And expecting improvement, the way Green Bay was 3-for-3 in the red zone against the Eagles.


“It’s important for us to score touchdowns in the red zone and don’t kick field goals,” reiterated McCarthy. “We just need to look at the last game we played against (Atlanta) to learn from that.”



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