Packers feel they can win again without Rodgers
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
GREEN BAY--At some point, life just goes on.
When it comes to the saga that is Aaron Rodgers’ broken left collarbone, the Green Bay Packers appear to have reached that point.
The decision made by what coach Mike McCarthy referred to eight times as “the organization” to sit Rodgers for a seventh straight game was met by measured acceptance if not indifference among players.
For Sunday, when the Packers (7-6-1) meet the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-8) at Lambeau Field, and the foreseeable future, Matt Flynn is their man.
“He had a good week of practice, so this decision doesn’t shock any of us,” said guard T.J. Lang. “It’s been a distraction in the past, but I don’t think it is anymore. Everybody is just ready to go forward with Matt.”
With Matt Flynn figuring to reach 43 snaps in Sunday’s game, it will give the Packers 505 snaps with three backup quarterbacks this season compared to the 504 that Rodgers played before going down Nov. 4.
“You have to make the most with what you have, and certainly we all believe in Matt,” No. 3 quarterback Scott Tolzien said. “He prepares the right way. Smart. He’s just comfortable in his own skin. He has a confidence about him that’s contagious.”
Despite the presence of two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the Packers are a 2 1/2-point favorite.
“We feel that we can beat Pittsburgh with our football team,” McCarthy said. “We came in here Monday morning preparing to beat Pittsburgh with Matt Flynn, stated that all along. We feel very good about the preparation.”
It was another Friday morning confab on Rodgers’ readiness to resume his season. Presumably, the principals were team president Mark Murphy, general manager Ted Thompson, vice president Russ Ball, team physician Pat McKenzie, trainer Pepper Burruss, strength coordinator Mark Lovat and McCarthy.
Rodgers had a chance to state his case as well.
“A lot of conversation,” McCarthy reported. “Everybody involved. But, as an organization, we feel that we are not ready for him to play. He’s not medically cleared.”
McCarthy wouldn’t say who ultimately made the call. He supported the decision.
“We’ve got two different circumstances here,” said McCarthy. “We’ve got Aaron Rodgers’ health, and obviously where we are as a football team.”
Sunday will mark seven weeks since the injury occurred. Rodgers has been practicing on a limited basis since Nov. 26 and has taken some of Flynn’s reps with the No. 1 offense for two weeks.
A week ago, Rodgers wasn’t the least bit pleased. He wasn’t available Friday to discuss the latest decision.
“I think Aaron clearly wants to play,” said McCarthy. “I mean, he’s a very competitive man. The kid’s played with injuries, he’s a tough guy. Everything was laid out on the table…he understands how the organization feels.”
Come Monday, the same song-and-dance will commence all over again.
“But I’m not even talking about next week,” McCarthy said. “I’m focused on winning the game Sunday.”
In Rodgers’ seven starts, the Packers went 5-2 while averaging 30.3 points and 438.9 yards. His passer rating was 108.0.
In six starts made by Seneca Wallace (one), Scott Tolzien (two) and Flynn (three), the Packers have gone 2-3-1 while averaging 20.2 points and 362.8 yards. Their passer rating was 81.6.
“They’re still averaging up around 400 yards per game, and that’s a tremendous amount of offensive output,” Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said Thursday. “I’ve looked at all their games and the plays are the same.
“They’ve got some really good playmakers, and the quarterback has gotten real comfortable in what he’s doing. Obviously, they’ve turned it around and started winning again. He’s a big factor in that.”
Two days earlier, coach Mike Tomlin indicated Flynn was a worthy adversary.
“Flynn is the hot hand, and rightfully so,” said Tomlin. “He has managed their offense very well. He makes quick decisions.
“Structurally, they don’t change much regardless of which guy is playing. They have definitive characteristics as an offense: quick game, misdirection passing and vertical passing. It’s a nice balance of run and pass, like they’ve been for a number of years.”
Flynn will be confronted by LeBeau’s fire-zone scheme that still features the unorthodox play of strong safety Troy Polamalu.
Polamalu is playing much more near the line of scrimmage than the last time the Packers faced him. That was the 45th Super Bowl, when Polamalu generally played deep alongside Ryan Clark.
Rodgers exploited Polamalu several times for big plays, looking him off and throwing after he moved.
“If he’s in a position to have some freedom, you’ve got to make sure you know where he is before you throw the ball,” said Alex Van Pelt, the running backs coach. “Eyes are critical. He’s probably the one safety that would take the most chances off film studies and tendencies and body language of the quarterback.”
Surely, Flynn and quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo have studied Polamalu all week.
“You have to know he overreacts to the eyes,” said McAdoo. “Then, if he sees something that he recognizes, he’s not going to hesitate to go after it.”
The 28-year-old Flynn, who will be making the seventh start of his career, is skilled enough to control Polamalu with his eyes, according to McAdoo.
Meanwhile, running back Eddie Lacy (ankle) and linebackers Mike Neal (abdomen), Nick Perry (foot) and Brad Jones (ankle) returned to practice on a limited basis Friday and are probable.
Defensive end C.J. Wilson, who missed the last three games with what he called a high ankle sprain, declared himself ready to play a full game, if necessary. Officially, he is questionable.