There are worse jobs in the world than being the guy in charge of stopping the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers, who has thrown 18 touchdown passes in his past seven games without an interception.
But none comes immediately to mind.
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Still, someone has to do it, and the task for Sunday’s wild-card playoff game will fall to Giants coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, architect of the unit that won Super Bowl XLII and survivor of last season’s defensive debacle.
The secret, it turns out, is accepting that there is only so much you can do about the future Hall of Famer.
“Aaron Rodgers is one of the elite and in some regard, you are not going to change that,” Spagnuolo said after practice Thursday. “What you have to do is try to affect the other 10, and that is what we are going to try to do.”
The Giants lost to the Packers at Lambeau Field in October, 23-16, but that night Rodgers threw two interceptions and had a season-low passer rating of 65.0.
Spagnuolo lamented the Giants did not tackle well in that game.
“They are going to complete balls,” he said. “That is just the way it is going to be. That is what he does. We just have to make sure that wherever the receiver catches it, he needs to be tackled there.”
One of the tricks to limiting Rodgers is pressuring him out of the pocket without inviting him to extend plays by moving around and either finding a running lane or a late-breaking receiver.
“Take away this and he goes that way; take away that and he goes this way,” as Spagnuolo described it.
Giants coach Ben McAdoo used to work with Rodgers in Green Bay, and Spags has found himself walking down the hall to speak to the boss for some insights into what he has seen on game tapes.
“Sometimes Ben has an answer and sometimes he is like, ‘I don’t know; he is just a great athlete and figured it out,’ ” Spagnuolo said.
The pressure on the secondary is enormous because of how long they have to stick to receivers. The good news for the Giants is that they have one of the best sets of defensive backs in the league.
The bad news is sometimes there is not much one can do.
“The most amazing thing to me about Aaron Rodgers is all the different places and positions he can throw the football and be accurate,” Spagnuolo said. “A lot of guys have to be perfect when the ball is accurate. Aaron can be anywhere.
“He can be running right, running left, being up inside, off his back foot, not have his feet set, and he can flick the ball anywhere and he is just accurate with every throw that he makes.”
Rodgers also is one of the best in the business at what coaches call “throwing his receivers open,” by leading them just so to make it difficult or impossible to defend them.
“I think that he is as good at that as anybody,” Spagnuolo said.
Spagnuolo makes it all sound dire, but players and fans generally have faith in him to figure something out. He lost out on the head coaching job to McAdoo last winter but in sticking around has revived not only the Giants defense but his own reputation.
In the public’s mind, anyway, but not his own. When asked whether the infusion of free agent talent and better results has “invigorated” him and reminded him he could get the job done, he said, “You are assuming that there was a time when I didn’t think I could. But I can tell you that I never felt that way.”
Spagnuolo credited the players and the other defensive assistants for making it all work. Then it was back to more questions from reporters about more problems presented by Rodgers.
Another point of emphasis: not leaving one’s feet in the face of one of Rodgers’ world-class pump fakes.
“It is easy for me when I am standing up there [in a meeting room] with the remote saying, ‘Don’t do this and don’t do that,’ ” he said. “But I think it is sinking in, and I think the guys will take that and try to do that in this game. But he is a master of that.”
Perhaps the most important thing of all, Spagnuolo said, is being sharp from “whistle to snap” as much as from “snap to whistle.” By that he meant that it is essential to be coordinated in calling plays and making substitutions before Rodgers moves on to the next play.
“He wants you out of sync and he wants to get you to substitute and he got us once the last time we played,” Spagnuolo said. “We got stuck with 12 guys on the field. We are trying to avoid that this time around.”
So, to review: There’s a lot to think about.