Packers’ Aaron Rodgers ready for the challenge of facing Bears with Khalil Mack
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The Bears have been coming after Aaron Rodgers for years with little success. Players such as Brian Urlacher, Julius Peppers and Jared Allen all have had their turns, so facing Khalil Mack is unlikely to rattle Rodgers.
“He’s a really good player,” Rodgers said in a conference call Wednesday. “He’s a matchup problem, so you’re going to have to find ways to account for him in the passing game. He’s a really talented guy. He’s got a great motor. Very good player. And he’s a young guy [with] a lot of years left. So it’ll be definitely adding to the rivalry having him on the other side.”
For years, Rodgers has made mincemeat of the Bears-Packers “rivalry.” He’s 16-3 against them in games he started and finished. The one time they actually knocked Rodgers out — a 27-20 Bears victory on Nov. 4, 2013 — it was Shea McClellin doing the honors with a sack that left Rodgers with a broken left collarbone that cost him seven games.
Rodgers has been more susceptible to injury later in his career. He missed seven games last season with a broken collarbone when the Vikings’ Anthony Barr sacked him. But Rodgers has made a living taking the heat from the best pass rushers in the NFL, shaking it off and leading the Packers to victory.
Last year, the Cowboys’ DeMarcus Lawrence sacked Rodgers twice to give him 9½ in five games — and Rodgers led the Packers to a 35-31 victory.
When J.J. Watt was on his way to his first NFL defensive player of the year award in 2011, he also sacked Rodgers twice to give him 9½ in five games — and Rodgers led the Packers to a 42-24 victory over the unbeaten Texans. When Allen threatened the all-time, single-season sack record with 22 in 2011, the Vikings lost to Rodgers and the Packers 33-27 and 45-7.
Can the Bears and Mack turn that tide? Rodgers historically has had some of his best success when facing a lot of pressure. His intelligence, resilience and feel for the game make him the player he is. That said, Mack still can be a game-changer if he takes the Bears’ defense to another level — certainly a possibility with Vic Fangio guiding an established unit that ranked ninth in points allowed and sixth in sacks per play last season. Rodgers figures Mack will be there when the Bears and Packers open the regular season Sunday at Lambeau Field.
“I think they’re going to try to get him in there as much as possible,” Rodgers said. “Vic’s had some great edge rushers over the years. Khalil, he’s a fantastic player. You have to account for him when he’s in there and expect him to be his usual active self.”
Rodgers has faced Mack only once, in Oakland in 2015. Mack sacked Rodgers for a five-yard loss on a third-and-eight play, spinning away from right tackle Bryan Bulaga to trip Rodgers from behind. The Packers won 30-20.
“He’s one of the best,” Mack said. “He can get out of the pocket and still throw the ball downfield. He’s good at everything — what you want from a quarterback. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”
The Packers scrambled to review film of Mack after hearing the Bears traded for him. But they don’t have film of Mack with the Bears, so — as deft as Rodgers is at avoiding pressure — the Packers’ protection schemes could be challenged to figure out just how Fangio is going to use Mack.
“What I really appreciate about his game is his motor,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “I think he’s an excellent fit for Chicago’s defense. Probably one of their strengths is their second and third reaction and the way they rally to the ball.”