GREEN BAY – Without making any declarative statements about Sunday, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers made his mindset pretty clear on Wednesday.
Asked about his confidence in backup QB DeShone Kizer should Rodgers not be able to play this week against Minnesota, the two-time MVP simply said, “I haven’t even thought about that.”
So yeah, Rodgers has every intention of getting his body ready to play. After coming back from a knee injury to lead a Green Bay rally from 20 points down against Chicago, Rodgers did not practice Wednesday due to what he termed a “sprained knee,” but he’s feeling better each day.
As for whether he needs to practice at all in order to walk out of the Lambeau Field tunnel on Sunday against the Vikings, Rodgers gave another simple answer: “Nope.”
Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer is certainly expecting to see No. 12. In a conference call with Green Bay media, Zimmer’s thoughts on Rodgers’ status were that “he walks on water, so I’m sure he’s going to play.”
Having played through a significant amount of pain against the Bears, Rodgers’ measure of his fitness to play comes down to mobility. He doesn’t expect to be able to scramble out of the pocket and extend plays like he does so often, but as long as he can shift and slide within the pocket to create throwing lanes, he’s confident he can play well.
“The small circle I was moving in Sunday night, if I can get back to that, hopefully a little better than that, without pain, then hopefully I’ll be able to go,” he said.
Rodgers has dealt with issues in his left knee since he was 16 years old, having undergone surgeries multiple times over the last two decades. So dealing with some measure of discomfort in that knee is nothing new, though this is to a significant degree.
“I want to play, obviously,” he said. “Just taking it one day at a time, see how it feels tomorrow, see how it feels Friday, Saturday, and then hopefully ready to go Sunday.”
One of his premier receivers, Davante Adams, is taking the same approach. Adams sat out practice Wednesday due to a shoulder injury that occurred when he was tackled at the end of his 51-yard catch-and-run in the fourth quarter against the Bears.
As with Rodgers, the in-game adrenaline helped Adams play through the rest of the contest, and he caught a touchdown pass three plays after the hit on the shoulder. He called the injury “minor” and is “feeling good” about being ready to go Sunday.
Adams, with 88 yards, and Randall Cobb, with 142, accounted for roughly two-thirds of the Packers’ passing yards in the win over the Bears.
That was partly due to Chicago’s game plan against tight end Jimmy Graham, who caught just two passes for 8 yards in his Green Bay debut. But Graham’s impact on the game was still meaningful.
Rodgers said the Bears often were using a linebacker to prevent Graham from getting a clean release off the line of scrimmage, disrupting his route and timing. The attention the Bears paid to Graham helped create the opportunities for Adams, Cobb and Geronimo Allison, who each had at least five receptions and a TD.
“That was a big part of their plan, to not allow him to get going down the field, and then when we were in the red zone, to double him,” Rodgers said of Graham. “That just opens it up for everybody else.
“It’s a long season. You don’t know whose night it’s going to be each time you lace it up.”
Facing Minnesota’s defense is difficult enough, but the challenge grows, of course, with a less-mobile Rodgers. The Vikings ranked No. 1 defensively in both yards and points allowed last season, and virtually the entire unit is back, plus the additions of veteran defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson and rookie nickel cornerback Mike Hughes.
The Vikings will pressure the quarterback from all levels – linemen Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter, linebackers Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr, and safety Harrison Smith all have their moments in opposing backfields – but Rodgers said it would be a mistake to think the only way he could play Sunday would be with short, quick passes.
Those types of plays weren’t the sole reason for the comeback against the Bears, though they certainly played a role.
“You saw the other night, just because I wasn’t escaping the pocket, I was still moving in the pocket, subtle movements,” Rodgers said. “It doesn’t mean you have to get the ball out right away. We’re playing a great defense, but no, I don’t think it just makes you have to go all quick game.”
Whether or not the Vikings do anything different schematically on defense due to Rodgers’ limitations might be the biggest question that remains come Sunday.
Take a look at Wednesday's practice as the Packers prepare to take on the Vikings this Sunday.