ALLEN PARK — When the Detroit Lions beat the Packers twice in 2017, it was worth noticing. While there was no asterisk, there was no Aaron Rodgers on the field either.
The Green Bay Packers quarterback owns a 13-3 career record against the Lions. One of the most vivid memories of seeing Rodgers at Ford Field was his 61-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass with no time left on the clock to beat the Lions on Dec. 3, 2015.
Rodgers, his gimpy knee and the Packers (2-1-1) will play the Lions (1-3) In a NFC North divisional contest at 1 p.m. on Sunday at Ford Field.
Lions coach Matt Patricia has nothing but praise for Rodgers, who ranks No. 1 in NFL history in career passer rating (103.6).
(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)
“A guy who does a great job of studying the game, and you keep mixing different looks at him but he does a good job of really identifying what it is and attacking the defenses,’’ Patricia said of Rodgers on Wednesday.
Rodgers injured his knee in the opener, a win over the Chicago Bears. On a conference call on Wednesday, Rodgers said he was not practicing but hoped to go on Thursday. He hasn’t missed a start this season and, in fact, after he was carted off with that injury he returned to the game.
“I didn’t necessarily feel great last week. I went through practice on Thursday and Saturday, but I felt really good on game day. I’m not regressing but I’m not taking huge leaps week-to-week. It’s just kind of small,’’ Rodgers said on a Wednesday conference call. “When the adrenaline kicks in on game day, I’ve felt a little better the last couple games.”
Packers coach Mike McCarthy said he thinks he’s played well since the injury.
“I think each week, it’s like anything, you get a little more comfortable playing and calling the game and doing the things that you need to focus on,’’ McCarthy said.
Even with Rodgers at less than 100 percent, the Packers have scored seven of their nine touchdowns in the air with one rushing and one on a return.
McCarthy said the run-pass balance is a game-to-game decision. He didn’t say if the Packers would take to the ground more often against the Lions’ rushing defense which is ranked dead last in the NFL allowing 157.8 rushing yards per game.
“(Rodgers) is super competitive — never really wants to stay from anything, I just think it’s part of his nature. So, that’s the challenge that you have sometimes as the play caller because you have to be smart, I think that’s understood,’’ McCarthy said. “If anything, if there has been a time during these last couple games where I may have been conservative it was — I think it’s natural to go down that road sometimes. He’s getting better each and every week, and that’s what’s most important for him.”
Rodgers expects the best from himself and his offense. He didn’t feel he got it last week in the 22-0 win over Buffalo even though the Packers finished with 423 yards and scored a pair of touchdowns on their first three drives.
“I think the most important thing is — he’s super competitive. I think we all feel the same way when it comes to games and when you go out there and see you see opportunities and sometimes emotion pushes forward,’’ McCarthy said. “I didn’t feel great about our offensive performance when I walked off the field Sunday myself, too.’’
Rodgers will be the top quarterback the Lions’ revamped Patricia-style defense has faced. The quarterback can see the differences in Detroit from watching film.
“Following (Patricia) in New England I always enjoyed watching them. We played against them one time back in 2014 and him and Bill (Belichick) just always put together a fantastic plan. They’re great at adjustments. They try to take away what you do best and make you go to your third and fourth options to try and beat them and they adjust on the fly very quickly,’’ Rodgers said. “So, it’s a different looking defense from that standpoint and I’m sure they’re going to continue to expand their scheme as the season goes on and those guys get more comfortable in the scheme.”