Aaron Rodgers gives Packers edge over Cowboys

The Green Bay Packers may be underdogs in Vegas, but with Aaron Rodgers leading the offense, they are favorites over the Dallas Cowboys.

On Sunday afternoon, the New York Giants had the look of a team ready to pull an upset. The Packers were scuffling and despite plentiful time in the pocket, Aaron Rodgers couldn’t find an open receiver. By the end of the game, Green Bay won 38-13, and Rodgers had thrown for 362 yards and four touchdowns.

Now, the Packers will take on the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Divisional round. If Dallas hopes to throttle Green Bay, it needs to limit Rodgers. Here are two examples of Rodgers’ brilliance against New York, showcasing why he’s the most talented player in the league.

Play #1

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The Packers are trailing 6-0 midway through the second quarter at the Giants’ 38-yard line. On this play, Green Bay comes out in “11” personnel with Davante Adams wide right, going against rookie corner Eli Apple. New York is in its nickel package with a Cover 1 look. Rodgers knows he had Adams running a fly pattern without immediate safety help, giving him the green light with a good release.

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Less than a second after the snap, Rodgers is locked on to Adams. Apple is doing a nice job using the boundary, but a jam never comes. The result is a quick receiver getting a free run. As important is the actions of free safety, Leon Hall. On the snap, he begins running toward the middle of the field, partially because of the balanced formation. Once Hall turns his hips, he’s a non-factor.

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This screenshot is a spliot-second after Rodgers releases his throw. Adams has a step on Apple, and Hall is still 20 yards from the sideline. The throw is perfectly placed toward the boundary, falling to Adams’ left shoulder.

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The result is 1st and Goal for the Packers, and an eventual touchdown.

Play #2

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This was ultimately the game-winning play, and the one where New York was put into submission. Leading 14-13, Green Bay has a 1st and 10 at the Giants 30-yard line with 3:26 remaining in the third quarter. Once more, the Packers are in 11 personnel while New York counters with its nickel package.

While the Giants try to disguise their coverage as Cover 2, it’s Cover 1 all the way with Landon Collins playing deep. Green Bay is running verticals across the board, with tight end Jared Cook running a deep cross. The idea is to stretch the defense in both directions, giving Rodgers a pair of man-to-man matchups. It works beautifully.

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Rodgers has a bevy of solid choices. Adams has a half-step on the left boundary against Janoris Jenkins, while Cook is winning his deep cross route. However, Rodgers sees the right decision immediately with Randall Cobb, who is breaking into the clear. Cobb has torched veteran corner Trevin Wade, and with Collins on the far hashmark, it’s an easy completion.

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Once Cobb makes the catch at the 15-yard line, it’s over. Collins, for all of his brilliance on the evening, misjudges the angle and over-pursues. From here, it’s a walk-in touchdown and a 21-13 lead.

Going into Sunday’s game against Dallas, Rodgers is playing at his peak. Over the last seven regular-season games and last weekend’s playoff win, the former NFL MVP has thrown 22 touchdowns without an interception. The Cowboys have plenty going for them, but a strong secondary isn’t one of their strong suits.

If Dallas wants to reach the NFC Championship Game for the first time since 1995, it needs to generate pressure on Rodgers without blitzing. If it can’t, look for the Packers to throw at will, with or without Jordy Nelson in the lineup.

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