The Washington Redskins are quickly moving from one serious challenge to another this weekend when they travel to legendary Lambeau Field to face the Green Bay Packers.
One week after struggling early against a new-look Philadelphia Eagles' offense, the Redskins have to deal with Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, a Super Bowl champion, a perennial MVP candidate and one of the sport's best at his position. If they are at all relieved at putting the high-tempo Eagles behind them for a conventional offensive attack, Washington's defenders may rethink that on Sunday afternoon.
"What don't [Rodgers] do?" Redskins safety Brandon Meriweather asked on Thursday. "He can run. He's shifty. He got a great arm. He can make every throw. He trusts his receivers. He's got a good running game now. Everything."
And that is a problem for a team looking to avoid an 0-2 start and digging an early hole. Rodgers, 29, also sees his team in an 0-1 hole after a loss to the San Francisco 49ers last weekend. That adds an air of early desperation to this contest.
"I've played there before. I've played there a couple times," wide receiver Pierre Garcon said. "I know it's going to be loud. It's their home opener. They're going to be excited. I'm just happy the weather's going to be good, the grass is going to be green and it's not going to be cold."
Rodgers completed 21-of-37 passes for 333 yards and three touchdowns on the road against one of the NFL's best defenses last week. He was intercepted once and also ran twice for 13 rushing yards. It is enough to give any defensive player heartburn.
"[Rodgers] is very accurate, very smart," Washington defensive lineman Stephen Bowen said. "He controls the whole tempo of the game for his offense. He's deceptively very fast, very athletic. He can get out of the pocket and run, too, so I mean, he has everything that you want in a quarterback."
Rodgers isn't quite Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III when escaping the pocket. But he can move. He has topped 200 rushing yards in five consecutive seasons and has 18 rushing touchdowns since taking over as the starter in 2008.
"It's about using your abilities when you extend plays to run when you have to and know when to throw the ball away and also give yourself and your guys enough time to get open," Rodgers said. "That's a fine line that we talk about a lot in our room about extending plays or throwing it away, or trying to avoid the unnecessary sacks."
The Redskins haven't played a game at Lambeau since Oct. 14, 2007, a 17-14 loss. Back then Rodgers was still a young backup playing behind future Hall-of-Famer Brett Favre. Now, he's a seasoned veteran whom Washington linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said was "top two" in the league with Peyton Manning. He left out New England's Tom Brady. So how do you stop him?
"You've got to make him uncomfortable," Kerrigan said. "If you see the Seattle game last year, they got a ton of pressure on Rodgers and their defense was able to have a lot of success because of it."
In that controversial 14-12 loss at Seattle, Rodgers was sacked eight times. He still completed 26-of-39 passes for 223 yards, but none for a touchdown. It seems unlikely playing on the road the Redskins can generate that kind of pass rush. But they may not have to if their offense can take some of the pressure off by providing some points.
"It's difficult because they spread you out sometimes, but if you can get some four-man rushes and get some pressure and try to disrupt that way," Washington linebacker London Fletcher said. "You have to be disciplined in your coverages whether its man or zone and just try to be as disciplined as possible."
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