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Protecting the football goes beyond avoiding INTs for Aaron Rodgers

Posted Jan 12, 2017

Packers QB always conscious of ball security, no matter what kind of streak he's on

GREEN BAY – Aaron Rodgers wastes no time rapping a knuckle on the wooden frame of his locker as soon as anyone brings up his interception-free streak.

It’s hard to blame him. With the streak currently at 285 passes, it’s the longest of his career by a longshot.

He’s also on the verge of surpassing Bart Starr’s franchise record of 294, though it technically won’t count because the official mark is for regular-season games only. Rodgers ended the 2016 regular season at a career-best 245, so he’ll have to wait until next fall to officially surpass Starr.

Either way, it’s an impressive number, but in speaking about the streak Wednesday in a short side session with reporters, Rodgers expressed that one key is to never feel overconfident.

Things are never going so well that he can let his guard down and cut it loose in a more carefree fashion. He’s always cognizant of that.

“There’s moments where you’re kind of locked in a zone, where you feel like you can kind of put it where you want it. But I think reckless abandonment as a mentality has never come into my mind,” he said. “It’s about being as accurate and as smart as possible with the football.

“That being said, there’s a time and a place. In certain situations, trailing or a big third down, you’re going to have to put it in a specific spot and take some shots. It’s calculated risks, I think. That’s the way I’ve been playing.”

And playing that way for a while now. His last interception came in the fourth quarter at Tennessee way back in Week 10. That was his seventh of the season, which put him on pace to hit double digits in one year for the first time since 2010.

While the number has remained seven ever since, there’s a lot more that goes into protecting the football than not throwing interceptions, and Rodgers’ work has been just as noteworthy in that respect, too.

Rodgers has fumbled the football only once during the Packers’ current seven-game winning streak, a remarkable stretch considering the number of times he scrambles within and outside the pocket with defenders chasing him.

A fumbled snap against Houston in Week 13 is the lone miscue, and his only fumble since the game at Washington in Week 11 (which he recovered). His last lost fumble came against Chicago way back in Week 7.

That one was recovered for a touchdown by the Bears and was Rodgers’ third lost fumble in a span of five games. It prompted him at practice during ball-security drills to begin running with the receivers and running backs through the gauntlet, a multi-armed apparatus that can knock loose a ball not held tightly enough.

“That was definitely a conscious effort on my part,” Rodgers said. “I’ve always been fairly conscious in the pocket of really trying to keep two hands on the ball. There are some that are kind of out of your control if a blind rusher hits you, but the ones that were disappointing were when I was running with the football – and I had one against Dallas – and you lose the football, that’s just uncalled for.

“So I’ve been really harping on that on myself, and (offensive coordinator) Edgar Bennett does a great job of really preaching that ball security all the time.”

Rest assured, the one he referenced against the Cowboys – which was knocked out by David Irving on a QB draw near the goal line – has been part of the Packers’ film study this week.

So has Rodgers’ extraordinary TD pass last Sunday against the Giants to Davante Adams, when the quarterback danced around in the pocket for upwards of eight seconds before firing the ball.

“We showed it today in the team meeting, because of the emphasis on ball security,” McCarthy said. “Dallas is outstanding at taking the football away. Their takeaway opportunities are very high, probably one of the best teams we’ve seen all year.

“That particular clip, Aaron’s ball carriage throughout that time is outstanding. It’s part of the way we play.”

Rodgers’ attention to detail there is a lesson for everyone on offense, which as a unit hasn’t had a turnover during the winning streak other than the previously mentioned fumbled snap vs. Houston.

If that streak, which lies within the interception-free one, can continue, the Packers like their chances. But other than the occasional knock on wood, no one’s getting overly superstitious.

If they were, they wouldn’t be talking about ball security at all, and that wouldn’t be McCarthy’s Packers.

“At this point, it’s all about winning,” Rodgers said. “Those streaks are great, but it’s about winning, however you do it. If you throw a pick and you win, nobody gives a (rip) about the pick. It’s about winning right now.”

 
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