Aaron Rodgers will be the NFL’s MVP this season, and it should be a unanimous vote.
Rogers is a master of his craft – a true genius in the toughest positions in the sport – pushing himself to the limit.
And he enters Saturday’s divisional round playoff game with the 49ers in Green Bay with a hitting streak unlike any I’ve seen in the NFL in years.
Rodgers has thrown 20 touchdowns and zero interceptions in his last seven games, including against good defense. His ball delivery is almost flawless. His defensive dominance is mind blowing. He has such control over the Packers offense that since mid-November, his incredible shots have outnumbered his missed shots by a ratio of about two to one.
As I watched every shot he took this season over the past few days, one question popped into my head: how to stop this guy?
In truth, there is no good answer.
A few seasons ago, it was obvious how you stop Rogers: you put pressure on him. At that stage in his career, Rodgers held the ball for too long – he wanted to push the ball down the field instead of taking what the defense gave him, and this led to bad decisions and a ton of sacks.
The 49ers had no problem following this game plan twice in the 2019 season, including in the NFC Championship Game.
I thought the same formula would work again in week three when the two teams met in prime time at Levi’s Stadium.
I was wrong. Oh so wrong.
Rodgers learned from his 2019 mistakes and threw the ball with lightning speed. Rodgers averaged 2.04 seconds per shot in that game, according to Pro Football Focus, and was only hit twice in the competition. Overall, the Packers averaged over a respectable six yards per game and won without playing particularly well, at least by their standards.
So heading into this playoff game, the Niners need to at least mix things up a bit, or Rodgers will do the same thing again on Saturday and not end the Niners season.
Here’s a three-step formula for the Nines that could give them a chance to slow down the NFL’s best quarterback right now:
Rogers absolutely dominates every cover he comes across, so Nine would be foolish to give up their typical defensive cover, Cover 3, which is zoned defense with one high security level.
However, this was not what they played in week 3 – this game had a lot of individual protection on the outside and more than two high insurances than the average.
So “mix up” for San Francisco means sticking with what they’re doing.
Since Week 10, San Francisco has re-established itself as a Cover 3 team. Thanks to this, and more exotic pass-rush formations, the Niners are playing exceptionally well in this half of the field. Since mid-November, the Nines have given up 284 yards per game on defense, with their best game in the final three weeks of the season.
Cover 3 would give the Niners eight men in the box against the Packers, limiting their play on the run. The fact that many players are close to the line of scrimmage also makes Rodgers think. By moving linebackers and defensemen before the snap, the Niners can create some sleight of hand, a bit of showmanship, and it can make Rodgers guess coverage after the snap.
We’ve seen the Packers’ worst (relatively) passing games happen to teams that play three-man defensively, leaving linebackers on both ends as wild cards—players who could join the pass or get back into coverage. This made Rogers a bit awkward to carry around in his pocket.
But the Niners are a four-man hitter through and through, and defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans has rightly abandoned the concept of declining the lineman this season. I do not expect and will not advocate repeating such tactics before the most important game of the campaign.
No, the Niners need to stay with their solid defense and get tough. You will never have an advantage over Rogers, so stay in your comfort zone.
However, linebackers crowding the A-gap line before covering the middle hook or nickel back K’Von Williams faking a blitz can buy some time for a passing rush to get home.
The Niners don’t stand a chance without Nick Bosa on defense on Saturday.
No offense to the other Niners linebackers who were great against the Cowboys after Boza left that game with a concussion, but the Packers offensive line is a different beast, Rodgers is a much better quarterback than Duck Prescott. and Charles Omenihu. , as good as he played on Sunday, just won’t be up to the task against Green Bay if he has to play every down.
Whether Boza returns to the game will most likely depend on the start of the match. There is optimism within the Niners that Little Bear – his brother, Chargers star Joey Boza – Big Bear – will play on Saturday, but optimism is not part of concussion protocols.
The Nines only pressured Rodgers five times in Week 3 of the PFF. This number must be at least doubled if the Nine has a chance.
Even then it might not matter.
Rogers seems to be into alternative medicine these days, and the Nines should hope his biorhythms or chakra aren’t working by Saturday’s game.
(For what it’s worth, I’ve tested it, and Rogers’ biorhythms on Saturday should be lower both physically and emotionally, but significantly higher intellectually. Use it however you see fit, Kyle Shanahan.)
(Besides, before you ask, Rodgers is in a 90-day no rules, no testing grace period given to players who have recovered from Covid. The pandemic won’t force him off the field on Saturday.)
The fact is that the NFL is a league of quarterbacks and head coaches. Whatever you say about Packers coach Matt LaFleur, he seems to be doing a pretty good job. He is certainly an outstanding facilitator, although the Packers’ dedicated teams and game management could improve.
Remind you of someone?
Let’s call the head coach a loser.
The nines may be the best team outside of the quarterback position, but it’s pretty close. I like San Francisco’s defense better, especially against the run, but the Packers have just as good offense as the Niners, and the Niners have guns galore.
It all comes down to the quarterback, as is often the case in this league.
And, again, Rogers is operating at a level that no one else can even touch right now.
If he has a bad game—forced or unforced—the 49ers have a chance until quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo turns the ball around and San Francisco can control the pace of the game with his rushing attack.
San Francisco can’t win a shootout with Rogers. It would be the perfect shooter against someone with a machete.
Even if the Nines do the latter, Rodgers is so prolific that he can still tip the game in his team’s favor.
Now the Nines can definitely win this game. How they do it is a little unclear and will require a bit of luck – San Francisco has to go all the way with a dozen to leave Green Bay with a win.
It would seem that the only thing that should be correct for Green Bay is the number 12.