Easily his best game of football in a year, Aaron Rodgers‘ return to form is exactly what the Packers offense needs heading into a tough stretch of games.
Rodgers, who finished 28-of-38 for 246 yards and four touchdowns with a passer rating of 125.5 during the Packers’ 33-32 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, looked at his MVP-best inside the Georgia Dome.
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The loss is no fault of Rodgers’, whose accuracy was close to reaching its optimum level, fizzing the ball around the park to seven different pass catchers. Among those were rookies Trevor Davis and Geronimo Allison, both scoring their first NFL touchdowns, Allison’s on his very first catch.
With no Eddie Lacy and James Starks, the Packers have no traditional run game to speak of. Instead, we saw a heavy supply of five wide receiver sets. While the Packers did post 108 yards on the ground, 60 of those belonged to Rodgers himself, taking it upon himself to pick up yards when his receivers weren’t open.
The Packers need to build on this offensive momentum that began in the second half of last week’s victory over Chicago. This marks the first time since Week 3 of the 2015 season that Rodgers has finished consecutive games with a passer rating of 100-plus.
Aaron Rodgers over the last two games: 67/94 (71.3%) for 572 yards, 7 TDs and 0 INTs. 111.7 passer rating.
Green Bay returns to Lambeau this week to take on the Indianapolis Colts, before entering a three-game road stretch against Tennessee, Washington and Philadelphia.
Rodgers and company must continue this roll in the passing game and exploit some favorable matchups in the coming weeks, despite spending most of their time on the road.
Packers opponents pass defense ranking
Week 9: Indianapolis (No. 31)
Week 10: Tennessee (No. 25)
Week 11: Washington (No. 19)
Week 12: Philadelphia (No. 3)
The Eagles offer the toughest challenge for the passing game, but the hope is the Packers will have James Starks back by then with more balance on offense. Knile Davis‘ role will continue to grow as he gets more comfortable in Green Bay.
At 4-3, it’s important to string together a run of victories to make a charge towards a wild-card berth. Winning on the road is never easy, but some favorable matchups with struggling pass defenses will certainly help.
Return of the big play
It may have only been brief, but Aaron Rodgers’ 58-yard connection to Jordy Nelson was an encouraging sign for Green Bay. Nelson showed the great speed and route-running ability we took for granted in 2014, burning the Falcons for a big gain before catching a touchdown moments later.
There was plenty of dink-and-dunk for the remainder of the contest—Davante Adams averaging 6.2 yards per reception from his 12 catches—but this one play was a healthy reminder to defenses that the Packers can go deep with Nelson.
The key will be to not only get Nelson open downfield more often, but also utilize the blazing speed of Jeff Janis and Trevor Davis more often. Both caught their first touchdown passes of the season in Atlanta.
Injuries catch up with defense
Considering the Packers entered this game without Clay Matthews and their top three cornerbacks, the fact they contained Julio Jones (three catches for 29 yards) and restricted Devonta Freeman (35 yards rushing) was impressive.
The problem was Mohamed Sanu, who highlighted the Falcons’ wealth of talent on offense. Sanu caught nine passes for 84 yards and the crucial game-winning touchdown.
Green Bay needs talent on this side of the football, injuries wreaking havoc particularly in the secondary. Sam Shields, the team’s best corner, can’t return until at least Week 15 while he sits on injured reserve with a concussion. Damarious Randall is expected to miss more time while recovering from groin surgery. Quinten Rollins‘ status is up in the air, also with a groin injury.
Matthews sat out of Sunday’s loss with a hamstring injury, but the Packers hope he returns for Sunday’s tilt with the Colts.
Given Indianapolis’ offensive line struggles, a healthy Matthews could give the pass rush the jolt of life it lacked for much of last week’s defeat.