Detroit Lions middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch then replied not with a name but a jersey number – “12” – when asked what had stood out about Green Bay’s offense during his pregame video study.
That’s the kind of dehumanizing effect Aaron Rodgers can have on opposing defenses.
No NFL quarterback is hotter entering the FOX America’s Game of the Week between the Lions and visiting Packers (1 p.m. ET Sunday). Over the past seven weeks, Rodgers has the most scoring passes (22) and best touchdown-to-interception ratio with only three turnovers.
Such torrid play has helped Green Bay rebound from a 2-3 start with a four-game winning streak.
“He makes that thing go,” Tulloch told FOXSports.com after Wednesday’s practice at Lions headquarters. “You look at the receivers across the board from Randall Cobb to James Jones to Jordy Nelson (with at least 40 catches). He’s spreading the ball out very well.”
During five seasons he spent with Tennessee before joining the Lions in 2011, Tulloch played twice a year against a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Indianapolis’ Peyton Manning. Tulloch said Rodgers evokes those memories when it comes to the style of offense he’s running and how smoothly it’s being executed.
“They’re pass-first but do a good job of controlling the game and slipping some runs in there,” Tulloch said. “It reminds me a lot of Peyton. He was a very smart quarterback, and you have to be disciplined in coverage.”
Maintaining such discipline has proven a challenge in Detroit this season because of the injuries that have decimated the secondary, especially at cornerback. One example Tulloch cited was last Sunday’s 34-24 loss in Minnesota. The Lions (4-5) got sloppy and collapsed in the second half. Adrian Peterson gained 134 of his 171 rushing yards during the final two quarters, including a 61-yard touchdown jaunt, and quarterback Christian Ponder was efficient with 119 passing yards and another score without a turnover.
“Obviously, we took a step back,” Tulloch said. “For the most part, we controlled the game until the third quarter, and then we got loose in different areas.
“Like last year, injuries can bite you a little bit, but you’ve got to find a way to get through it. Guys have to step up in those roles.”
Tulloch hinted the Lions haven’t had the luxury of deploying as many different defensive looks as coordinator Gunther Cunningham would like because of the ever-changing personnel at cornerback and safety. Detroit has fielded a different starting combination in the secondary for eight of nine games and might be forced to make more changes against Green Bay. Four top defensive backs – CB Chris Houston (ankle) and safeties Erik Coleman (eye), Louis Delmas (knee) and Amari Spievey (concussion) – didn’t practice Wednesday, and it’s unknown whether cornerback Drayton Florence (broken forearm) will be making his return off the injured reserve list.
“It’s different,” Tulloch said. “You can’t put yourself in a position where you’re trying to do too much because you don’t know what the guy behind you is going to do. You’ve just got to trust and believe that the guy behind you will be able to hold his own and you do your job.
“The last thing you want is to try and do more than you should and mess up the intent of the defense. We have a lot of veterans who understand that.”
One of them is Tulloch himself. Signed to a five-year, $25.5 million contract extension during the offseason, Tulloch ranks second on the Lions with 53 tackles and is tied for the lead in passes defensed with five.
Tulloch is playing so well that Rodgers offered unsolicited praise by last name – not jersey number – during a Wednesday conference call with Lions media.
“He’s a big-time player,” Rodgers said.
Stopping another one like Rodgers is Tulloch’s challenge Sunday.