GREEN BAY – Don't let Philip Rivers' 1-3 record against the Packers fool you.
The veteran quarterback has always kept Green Bay's defense on its heels, and he'll look to continue that Sunday with his new team, the Indianapolis Colts, at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Of all the longtime AFC quarterbacks in this generation, Rivers has thrown for the most passing yards against Green Bay – 1,488 in four meetings as the Chargers' QB. That's an average of (gulp) 372 yards per game.
His total is more than Tom Brady (1,129 in five games with the Patriots), more than Ben Roethlisberger (1,284, four games, Steelers, including Super Bowl XLV) and more than Peyton Manning (1,256, four games, Colts and Broncos).
Somewhat ironically, Rivers' lowest passing yardage total in his four games against the Packers produced his lone victory, last year when he threw for "only" 294 in a very efficient performance (21-of-28, no TDs or INTs, 108.3 passer rating).
His other outings produced many more highlights, despite close defeats:
- 306 yards and three TDs in 2007, only to be outdone by Brett Favre's 57-yard TD on a slant pass to Greg Jennings with two minutes left, followed by Rivers' own interception on the ensuing possession. Final: 31-24.
- 385 yards and four TDs in '11, but two early pick-sixes that gave the Packers a big lead they hung onto, barely. Final: 45-38.
- 503 yards (second-most in the history of Lambeau Field) with two TDs in '15, all for naught when a fourth-down pass was broken up at the goal line in the waning seconds. Final: 27-20.
Last year was the only time a contest against Rivers didn't come down to the wire, mostly because the Packers played a "lethargic" game, according to safety Adrian Amos.
With that being an issue again last week when the Packers hosted another AFC team, Jacksonville, the energy should be overflowing for Sunday's showdown in Indy.
What the Packers are also focused on are Rivers' smarts and their own perseverance.
Never very mobile, Rivers has made a career of getting the ball out quickly, and it's no different in his first year with the Colts. Behind Indy's stout offensive line, he's been sacked only eight times in nine games, the lowest total in the league.
He diagnoses defenses in an instant to get his offense into the best possible play, much like Aaron Rodgers. It can be maddening for a defense because mentally and physically he stays one step ahead.
"He knows what you're in before you know what you're in sometimes," defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said. "We have to be on point. We can't get caught up too much in that chess match, either. We have to be able to line up and just (play) fundamental football. It's going to come down to winning our one-on-ones."
That's where the persistence comes in, because he'll throw the ball quickly play after play, not allowing the pass rush to get there and helping get himself into a rhythm. Pass rushers can feel like they're wasting their time and effort.
But that's only going to hasten a defense's demise.
"You can't get frustrated," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said. "You have to keep attacking it because you never know."
When he's going to hold the ball for a big strike, that is. For all the immediate, short throws he'll make to keep the pass rush at bay, he also will pick his spots to take shots.
Those 1,488 passing yards against the Packers over the years? They've come on 117 completions, an average of 12.7 yards per catch. He's not just some dink-and-dunk artist, and while his longest completion thus far in 2020 is 55 yards, nine different Colts have recorded a reception of at least 28 yards – nine!
"He knows where he wants to go with the ball really early once he sees coverages," Packers outside linebacker Preston Smith said. "He sees a lot of things quicker than most people."
Fellow pass rusher Za'Darius Smith, who with Baltimore faced Rivers multiple times before coming to Green Bay, called the veteran QB "a guru." His awkward throwing motion, quick-strike rhythm, and profanity-free trash talking make the father of nine a one-of-a-kind quarterback.
Last year aside, the Packers' history against Rivers indicates they're in for a 60-minute tussle. Barring a Super Bowl matchup, or the soon-to-be 39-year-old playing four more years or suddenly signing with an NFC team, this will be the last time Green Bay faces him.
Are the Packers due to finally get the best of him, both statistically and on the scoreboard in the same game? Or is it just a matter of surviving his style and production and finding a way at the end of the day?
"We've got to do a great job of giving him some tough looks and try to make him hold that football a little bit longer," LaFleur said. "Our pass rush has got to be relentless in this game. Has to. It can't get discouraged if he's able to get the ball out quickly.
"We've got to keep fighting and be resilient for four quarters."