Rams’ pass rush up next to try to slow Packers at home
GREEN BAY, Wis. — In studying the Green Bay Packers on film, Rams coach Jeff Fisher sees a defense that can go step for step with his team when it comes to rushing the quarterback.
Unfortunately for St. Louis, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers is no ordinary quarterback.
The Rams are up next Sunday for Rodgers at Lambeau Field, where the Packers have the league’s longest active winning streak at home, 11 games.
"I don’t think there’s anything underrated about him at all," Fisher said. "You watch him on tape, he extends plays. He extends to his right, to his left, steps up, runs for first downs and just he knows what to do with the football."
Foremost among those responsibilities for Rodgers is taking care of the football for the unbeaten Packers (4-0).
Through four games, the league MVP has thrown 11 touchdowns and no interceptions. At Lambeau, Rodgers hasn’t thrown an interception since Dec. 2, 2012, spanning NFL home records of 486 straight pass attempts and 43 touchdowns.
The Rams (2-2) will try to rattle Rodgers with a tough pass rush. They’re tied with Green Bay with 17 sacks, one behind the league-leading Denver Broncos.
St. Louis is unique in that its defense can collapse a pocket from the inside-out with athletic tackle Aaron Donald leading the way. The Packers had one of the league’s top offensive lines last season, though the protection hasn’t been airtight this year.
"Everybody has a pass rush plan … It will be clear what their plan is as far as how they want to come in here Sunday because of Aaron’s ability to step out of (gaps) or when one side collapses," coach Mike McCarthy said. "That’s all part of the game. It’s part of a chess match."
YOUNG RAMS: St. Louis went on the road last week to hand previously undefeated Arizona its first loss. Rookie running back Todd Gurley finished strong in his first NFL start after rushing for 106 of his 146 yards in the fourth quarter.
The performance gave a confidence boost to a relatively inexperienced offensive line with two rookie starters.
"There’s nothing like success," offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti said. "We want to move on and get another one."
NO RUSH: Green Bay’s rush defense has been stout of late, limiting starting running backs to an average of about 36 yards on 11 carries over the last three games. Mike Daniels and B.J. Raji are off to strong starts on the line, and linebacker Clay Matthews has been making plays whether he’s lined up on the inside or outside.
The defense is succeeding even without two of its better run defenders: safety Morgan Burnett (calf) has missed three of the last four games, while starting inside linebacker Sam Barrington (right foot) is out for the year.
SACKS STREAK: Stopping the run on early downs allows the Packers to focus on the pass rush on third-and-longs. Rodgers and the offense also have a propensity to score early at home to put teams in catch-up situations that can make opposing offenses even more one-dimensional.
Those are key factors in why the Packers have compiled 13 sacks over the last two games. Matthews and Julius Peppers are elite pass rushers, though the Packers are also getting pressure from a deep group of outside linebackers including Nick Perry, Mike Neal and up-and-comer Jayrone Elliott.
MEN IN MIDDLE: Speaking of getting to the quarterback, the Rams’ Donald is already one of the best in the business in just his second year in the league. The defensive tackle and 2014 Defensive Rookie of the Year has 3 1/2 sacks to pace St. Louis’ formidable front. The interior of the Green Bay line is strong with center Corey Linsley flanked by guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang.
BACKFIELD WRINKLE: Green Bay added a different wrinkle last week against San Francisco by lining up receivers Randall Cobb and Ty Montgomery in the backfield for a series, to solid results. It gives Rodgers two speedy and athletic weapons lined up next to him, and opposing defenses a new worry.
"I would ask the defensive coordinators that, but I think both guys can run with the football and they can both catch it," Rodgers said.