Rodgers has Packers' balanced offense humming
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Yoda would know: Balance in the Packers' offense, Aaron Rodgers senses.
Green Bay is a force again, but not necessarily just for throwing the ball around the field in a "Star Wars" kind of pinball game on grass.
Rodgers is playing as well as ever, even with three of his top receivers out with injuries. Only now, the Packers have a running game to help carry the load.
"This year, the yards are way up, and we're running the football a lot more effectively," Rodgers said Thursday. "We're top five ... in throwing it and running it, which I'm sure hasn't happened here in a while."
The last time Green Bay (5-2) finished the season in the top five in running and passing was 1945, when there were just 10 teams in the league, according to STATS. The impact for this year is clear: The Pack has won four straight to vault back into the NFC North lead heading into Monday's night divisional showdown against the Bears.
Running behind an improved offensive line, rookie Eddie Lacy has 395 yards over the last four games, tops in the league in that span.
And Rodgers is, well, just being Rodgers.
He might be shuffling around the field a little more to make plays, but with typical smarts. The timing and accuracy have been impeccable, like the two touchdown passes to Jordy Nelson in last week's 44-31 win over the Vikings. Pass protection has been solid.
A reporter noted to Rodgers that Nelson wasn't exactly open on both scores.
"Maybe not to you, but I think he was open on both of them," Rodgers said.
For the year, Rodgers has completed 67 percent of his 249 pass attempts for 2,191 yards and 15 touchdowns with four interceptions. All this without Randall Cobb (leg), James Jones (knee) and Jermichael Finley (neck) out for varying lengths.
"We haven't held them back at all," Nelson said. "Everything's been thrown at them just as if Randall and James would be out there ... for the most part making the most of their opportunities."
Just like Nelson. The top playmaker is being moved around the field more to help keep defenses guessing. His 76-yard catch-and-run for a score last week came on a sharply thrown slant pass by Rodgers with Nelson lined up in the slot.
Coach Mike McCarthy said this week that Rodgers is getting more responsibility, too, in making run adjustments at the line.
"The benefits of running the football, I think you're clearly seeing throughout our whole football team. It's a fabric that you need," McCarthy said. "Balance to me is not 50/50. Balance to me is you run it when you want to and you throw it when you want to."
Rodgers doesn't seem bothered one bit. He's said several times that winning is the bottom line.
He raises his game another level against divisional foes. Rodgers has a 110.7 career passer rating against NFC North teams in his nine-year career.
This bodes well given it is Bears week.
"In my humble opinion, this is THE game in the NFL," McCarthy said Thursday of the league's oldest rivalry: 187 meetings.
Rodgers has been great against the Bears of late, with a 69 percent completion rate for 1,090 yards and 12 touchdowns with two interceptions in the teams' last four regular-season meetings, a 117.2 passer rating.
"Certainly, Aaron is playing at a very, very high level, an elite level," Bears coach Marc Trestman said on a conference call.
NOTES: ILB Brad Jones, out the last three weeks with a hamstring injury, was a full practice participant Thursday. James Jones was limited as part of his rehab routine. OLB Nick Perry, out the last two weeks with a foot injury, did not participate ... Finley showed up Wednesday at Lambeau for a team picture. McCarthy said they were still gathering information to determine the tight end's future, but that Finley looked good.
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