Two of the NFL's best quarterbacks will take center stage on Sunday at Lambeau Field, However, neither Luck's Colts nor Rodgers' Packers have played to expectations at the season's midpoint. Sunday's game could be a turning point for the winner.
Indianapolis is 3-5. After opening with back-to-back losses, it's alternated wins and losses the next six weeks and is coming off a 30-14 home drubbing at the hands of the Chiefs.
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“We've played some good football, we've played some not-so-good football,” coach Chuck Pagano said. “We're more than capable. There's plenty of video evidence there that shows that. Now, it's just a matter of playing four quarters and being more consistent. That's what we're back on the practice field trying to do.”
Green Bay is 4-3. It's lost two of its last three games, with the lone win coming against Chicago, which played most of the game with its third-team quarterback.
There is a feeling of optimism, however, for the injury-plagued Packers. They lost on a last-second touchdown at Atlanta last week despite not having their top two running backs (Eddie Lacy and James Starks), top three cornerbacks (Sam Shields, Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins), two of their wide receivers (Randall Cobb and Ty Montgomery), premier defender (Clay Matthews) and their primary tight end (Jared Cook).
“You look at the inactive last week, that's a pretty doggone good team that's sitting, and that's not even counting Eddie and Sam, who are on the IR,” Rodgers said. “That's the way the league goes. There's going to be years like this with a lot of injuries. Nobody feels sorry for you. There's no excuses. You've got to go out and play and make plays and find a way to win games, and that's one thing we've got to figure out these next nine games that we've got to win ballgames like that.”
Much of the optimism revolves around Rodgers. After an unproductive start to the season, Rodgers over the past two weeks ranks third in passer rating, second in completions and first in touchdown passes.
“They've got one of the greatest quarterbacks, if not the greatest quarterback, to ever play this game in Aaron Rodgers,” Pagano said. “The guy's unbelievable. I don't let our guys look at numbers because you can just look at the stats and say, 'They're ranked this, that and the other.' I just see a talented, talented football player who's as good as there is at that position in this league surrounded by a bunch of talent.”
Rodgers will face a Colts defense that has proven vulnerable against the pass. Indianapolis ranks 31st with 287.8 passing yards allowed per game. While former Packers linebacker Erik Walden has six sacks, the Colts just haven't made enough plays defensively. They've allowed a 66.8 percent completion rate with 14 touchdowns vs. two interceptions.
“Some of the injuries, it's made us be even a little bit more creative because we've had to come up with way to put guys in position to be successful,” Rodgers said. “We've been a lot more efficient in the passing game the last couple weeks than we had before that.”
Based on the quarterbacks and secondaries, this could be a shootout. Luck is putting up monster numbers with 2,284 yards and 16 touchdowns. He's topped 300 yards four times this season and will be attacking a Packers secondary riddled with questions. Even one of the Packers' fill-in corners, Demetri Goodson, is hurt — he missed Wednesday's practice with a concussion — thought it's possible Rollins will return after missing the last three games with an injured groin.
Looking to exploit that banged-up secondary will be fleet-footed receiver T.Y. Hilton, who is sixth in the league with 46 receptions and fourth with 709 yards. However, the Colts must do a much better job of protecting Luck. He's been sacked 31 times, including at least five in four games.
“It is frustrating when you don't play well,” Luck said. “Certainly, no one's pointing fingers. I think we all feel as an offense that we didn't hold up our end of the bargain. I know I don't feel like I held up my end of the bargain of being the quarterback for a team and giving us a chance to win. But now we go back to the drawing board and then go back out to practice and work on the mistakes and get ready to play a good Green Bay team. Certainly, there's a bit of frustration, but Coach Pagano does a great job of channeling I think everybody's energy in a positive way and moving on.”