GREEN BAY — Aaron Rodgers remembers “Run the Table,” too. He remembers taking stock of where his sub-.500 team stood with six games left in the 2016 regular season, remembers looking at what he thought was a favorable schedule, remembers basically willing the Green Bay Packers to a berth in the NFC Championship Game with one of the greatest stretches of quarterbacking the NFL has seen in the Super Bowl era.
“Yeah, I remember everybody was counting us out, and I made some comments during the week,” Rodgers recalled Tuesday afternoon in advance of Thursday night’s Week 4 game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lambeau Field. Later, he added, “That started some really nice wins.”
And some all-time great quarterback play. During the Packers’ eight-game winning streak, which included an NFC Divisional Playoff victory over the Dallas Cowboys on the road, Rodgers carried his team. He completed 195 of 283 passes (68.9 percent) for 2,384 yards with 21 touchdowns and only one interception (117.9 rating) before the Packers lost to the Atlanta Falcons one victory shy of their second Super Bowl berth of Rodgers’ career.
During the Packers’ 3-0 start this season, Rodgers’ numbers in first-year coach Matt LaFleur’s new system aren’t nearly as impressive — and the Packers haven’t needed him to be.
He’s completed 57 of 93 passes (61.3 percent) for 647 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions (96.5 rating). Although he’s made a handful of spectacular throws, Rodgers has largely been tasked with avoiding turnovers (which he’s always done), making sure he throws the ball away when there’s nothing there (which he got a lot of practice at doing last season) and transmitting the call from LaFleur to the huddle more expeditiously than he did in the opener (which he’s been better about the past two weeks).
Coupled with a defense that’s played lights-out in the first three weeks, that’s been enough to get the Packers to 3-0, even though their offense ranks just 28th in total offense (286.7 yards per game) and tied for 23rd in scoring offense (19.3 points per game). The defense enters Thursday night ranked 13th in total defense (328.3 yards per game) and second in scoring defense (11.7 points per game).
With eight takeaways on defense, the Packers also are leading the NFL in that department. And because the offense has given the ball away just twice, Green Bay also is tops in the league in turnover differential (plus-6).
But Rodgers made it clear after Sunday’s 27-16 victory over the Denver Broncos that he takes no joy in having the defense carry the offense and he wasn’t particularly enamored with the suggestion Tuesday he’s essentially been a “game manager” during the first three weeks.
“Well, we’ve never wanted to just manage the football game around here,” Rodgers said during his weekly session with reporters at his locker. “The standards are very high for us. We’ve got to play a lot better on offense. We’ve played some good defenses, no doubt about it, but the standard and expectations are very high here, and we haven’t met them on offense.
“Thankfully, our defense has not only been opportunistic but stout, holding them to field goals in the red zone, taking the ball away, putting us in good field position. It’s time for us to do our part on offense.”
For his part, LaFleur reiterated his belief Tuesday the offense isn’t that far off from what it needs to be, though he acknowledged yet again its third-down ineptitude — the Packers are just 9 of 36 (25 percent) on third down this season, 28th out of 32 teams) — must end.
“I thought we did a lot of good things (against Denver), but it just kind of left everybody with a sour taste in their mouth,” LaFleur sad. “There were a couple drives in the second half that didn’t go as well. Shoot, the goal is to score every drive, right? And when you don’t do that, you know that there’s more out there for you. We’re not satisfied, but we’re going to keep working.“
There’s also the matter of the challenges that lie ahead for the Packers defense. The Eagles’ 1-2 record is a bit deceiving, following back-to-back one-score losses to Atlanta (24-20) and Detroit (27-24) the past two weeks. The Eagles were in position to win both games late, and coach Doug Pederson acknowledged Tuesday his team was a couple of dropped passes away from a 3-0 start of its own. Despite their struggles, the Eagles enter Thursday night 13th in total offense (365.0 yards per game) and ninth in scoring offense (25.3 points per game).
After the Eagles, the Packers play one of the league’s top offensive teams in the Cowboys (third in yardage, fourth in scoring) on the road. Then, after facing the Lions and Oakland Raiders at home, they’ll kick off what appears to be the most challenging four-game stretch of their schedule: at the Kansas City Chiefs (second in yards, third in scoring); at the Los Angeles Chargers (fifth in yards but 21st in scoring); at home against the Carolina Panthers (11th in yards, sixth in scoring); and at the San Francisco 49ers (fourth in yards, fifth in scoring).
And that’ll be the time the Packers will need Rodgers to be Rodgers, not just a game manager. He’d rather not wait another week, though.
“Moving forward, we’re going to play a stretch of really good football teams. At some point, we can’t expect our defense to shut everybody down,” Rodgers said. “They have been but, at some point, the offense is going to have to wake up and start making some plays.
“At 3-0, we feel great about where we’re at. It’s exciting. It hasn’t happened in a few years. We’ve beaten three good football teams. We’ve got a great opportunity in front of us to go 4-0 and get a little bit of rest. We’re feeling good about where we’re at. But offensively, we’d like to be feeling a little bit better.”