Allen Park — Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is struggling, but you wouldn’t know it talking to Detroit Lions players and coaches.
“There’s something wrong with him? I missed it,” defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said. “That guy is one of the best in the business.”
For years, Rodgers has deservedly maintained that reputation. In his eight seasons as a starter, he’s been selected to the Pro Bowl five times, won a Super Bowl and been named NFL MVP twice, last earning the honor in 2014.
But something has been off since last season.
One of the most accurate quarterbacks in NFL history, he’s completed fewer than 60 percent of his passes in 10 of his past 13 games. Last year, he had a built-in excuse, operating without top target Jordy Nelson, who suffered an ACL tear weeks before the start of the season.
But this year, with Nelson back in the fold, Rodgers is still struggling, completing 57.1 percent of his passes with an 82.6 passer rating. That ranks 22nd in the NFL.
“Oh man, he’s one of those players you don’t worry what the stats are saying right now,” Lions safety Glover Quin said. “You’ve always have got to expect him to be his best.”
And that’s the attitude across the board from the Lions as they prepare to head to Lambeau Field and face the Packers this Sunday in an important early-season NFC North battle.
When Lions coach Jim Caldwell was asked about Rodgers’ struggles, he made certain he rejected the premise of the question.
“Those are your words, just remember that, not mine, because of the fact that this guy is as talented of a guy there is in our league,” Caldwell said. “He can make every throw, he can run, he’s an outstanding leader, he’s won tons of games, extremely capable individual.
“I don’t know what struggling means in that regard, not with a guy like that,” Caldwell said. “He’s like lightning in a bottle and to me he’s very, very difficult to handle and defend.”
Maybe it’s just a bump in the road. Maybe Rodgers will be fine. Remember, this is a guy who famously told Packers fans to “R-E-L-A-X” after a 1-2 start in 2014, then went on to led the team to an 11-2 finish.
“Aaron’s still Aaron. He’s our quarterback and we’re just going through the process that you have to go through each and every year,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said during a conference call with Detroit reporters. “He’s the most trusted player that I’ve ever coached and I continue to believe that we’ll just keep pounding away at our process and good things will happen.”
If Rodgers is going to get back on track, this week looks to be as good as any. In 14 career games against the Lions, he’s gone 11-3, including a 6-1 mark at home. He’s completed 66.5 percent of his passes in those games with 26 touchdowns and six interceptions.
And Detroit has been one of the NFL’s worst defenses against the pass to start this season, allowing opposing quarterbacks to post an ugly 112.7 passer rating. The Lions are further hindered by the increasingly likely absence of top defensive players Ziggy Ansah and DeAndre Levy.
“Knowing DeAndre a little bit and competing with him over the years, I’ll miss him being out there because he’s such a tough competitor and strong player,” Rodgers said during a Wednesday conference call. “Ziggy, if he doesn’t play, I probably won’t miss him as much. He’s a force to be reckoned with and he’s had a great young career for himself. He’s a really good player.”