For two games, the athletic Aaron Rodgers had his way with opposing defenses. The tables were turned on Sunday night, however, with the Dallas Cowboys’ defense pressuring him out of the pocket but not allowing him to make plays on the run.
So, in the chess game that is the NFL, it’s the Packers’ turn to make the next adaptation.
“Pass rush is something that you encounter every week,” coach Mike McCarthy said in his day-after news conference on Monday afternoon. “Some teams do a better job of setting the edge than others, and that’s why we play the game. It’s not like the first two teams didn’t want to try to keep him in the pocket. It’s a combination of getting the ends at the right locations and getting the pressure inside and playing with vision in there. We’re going to still pass protect the same. We declare where the pocket is, where the launching point of the quarterback is, how often we want to move it and so forth. That’s just football.”
After the game on Sunday, Rodgers said the Cowboys disrupted him mostly by running a base defense with their three linemen and two outside linebackers creating a consistent five-man rush.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t have a ton of lanes tonight, didn’t throw the ball as well as I wanted to, and they did a nice job with their pass rush,” Rodgers said.
While Rodgers made plays on the run in his first two games, he credited the Cowboys by pressuring him in such a way that he was unable to get his shoulders squared to the line of scrimmage to give himself a run-pass option. This time when he ran, he basically was only trying to avoid a sack.
Rodgers said he “sure hopes” to get another crack at the Cowboys this season, but the more immediate challenge is visiting Tampa Bay next week.
“It’s disappointing. You’d like to win them, all obviously,” Rodgers said. “Dallas is a good football team, and unfortunately we didn’t play our best tonight. We’re going to have to watch the film and be very critical of ourselves and get better and move on and get ready for Tampa.”
McCarthy said doctors were continuing to do tests on cornerback Al Harris, who left the game in second quarter with cramps and did not return after blood was found in his urine.
In other injuries, McCarthy said James Jones sprained the same knee that kept him out of Week 1 and injured a wrist, Nick Barnett has an elbow strain, Nick Collins has a low back contusion and Kregg Lumpkin has a strained hamstring.
McCarthy doesn’t know if starting safety Atari Bigby will be available for Sunday’s game at Tampa Bay. Bigby missed the Dallas game with a hamstring injury, and Aaron Rouse had an uneven performance despite a game-high 12 tackles.
“I think Atari has played very well the first two games,” McCarthy said. “He’s definitely the starter back there for a reason. Aaron Rouse has a lot of upside and we’ll continue to work him, but he definitely factors when he plays.”
Let’s get physical
The Packers pride themselves on being physical, but Dallas took it to Green Bay’s offensive and defensive lines by harassing Rodgers into five sacks on defense and running for 217 yards on offense.
“Up front, you watch them run out on the field. That's the way they play. That’s the way we like to play,” McCarthy said. “But to sit here after, you look statistically, it definitely supports your question. Your team gives up five sacks and they run for over 200 yards, you go, my goodness. There is a technical part of it. I think we have a very good balance of size and athletic ability, and that’s something that goes back when you’re trying to build your football team so you can be a power team, you can be a zone team. You have the ability to play in different areas. But we need to do a better job of getting off the blocks, the fits, and everything. We are clearly a physical football team. They did a better job of it last night.”
McCarthy didn’t discount the notion that it was a measuring-stick game, but he sees every day as a way to measure his club.
“I think you need to put value on every football game. That's how you learn about your football team,” McCarthy said. “Everybody wants to ask you after you lose a game, ‘Is this a measuring stick for your football team?’ I think you measure your football team every time you compete. I measure it every time we go to practice. That’s part of demanding from your football team that's done right.
“We did not do the things necessary to win this football game, in all three phases. So, we need to do a better job of that. We’re here for a reason. We’re here to win, and along the way we need to improve, and we did not improve from Week 2 to Week 3. We need to take the information that was learned on the film, and we’re going to correct it today as a football team, and we'll apply it to our work week for Tampa.”