|The Packers started last season 13-0 and lost just once, but Rodgers thinks they can do better. (US Presswire)|
GREEN BAY, Wisc. –- Aaron Rodgers sits comfortably at his locker and is asked about the future. The immediate future. Rodgers' belief is that these Packers will be better than last year's. Think about that for a moment.
The Packers went 15-1 after starting the season 13-0. They did things in the regular season no other Packer team had really done before. Then they lost in the divisional round to giant-killing New York which went on to beat juggernaut New England in the Super Bowl. The Packers were ballin' last year. They can be better than that?
"We're going to be a better team this year," said Rodgers. "We're going to play better. We'll be better up front [on defensive side], I think. Different attitude, I think. We brought in some guys with some nasty to them."
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To Rodgers, there is something else that will help the Packers be better. He looks around the league and sees fan and media attention -- both of whom possess attention spans measured in milliseconds -- focused elsewhere. Rodgers mentions both New York teams, the Patriots, Peyton Manning, among other media fascinations of the moment, and believes that, in a strange way, the Packers are cheesing slightly under the radar. This, Rodgers says, is when the Packers play their best.
Listening to Rodgers is reminiscent of when I spoke to him several years ago during training camp before the Packers went on to win the Super Bowl and was catapulted into Packers lore. He was extremely confident the team had a championship run in them and his body language and words are eerily similar now.
But the main reason the Packers could be better than last year is because of Rodgers himself. He was the league's MVP in 2011 and already it's easy to see he's even better. Right now, no quarterback is better than Rodgers. None. Zippo.
What I'm seeing with Rodgers is something I've personally witnessed with only two other quarterbacks: Joe Montana and Dan Marino. When those two were at the top of their games almost no one was better. Not Unitas. Not Bradshaw. Not Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. No one. Montana and Marino were at a quarterback perfection precipice.
Rodgers right now is on that level.
While a myriad of young guns (Cam Newton), middle aged ones (Eli Manning) and older ones (Brady) are all obviously great, Rodgers remains the prototype for the 21st-century pass thrower. Newton may be Neo but Rodgers is the Oracle.
The reason: the two-pronged physical means of attack Rodgers can provide. He can sit in the pocket and pick apart a defense with passing accuracy that rivals Peyton Manning or Brady. But he can also roll out, using athleticism to make it look easy and, while doing that, throw with great precision.
In other words, Rodgers is part Brady and part Newton ... RodgBrewton. As franchises attempt to grapple with the rapid evolution of the position -- Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck are both attempts at finding the next Rodgers -- the fact Rodgers is so far ahead gives Green Bay a marked advantage.
Rodgers predicted five years ago the shift from pocket passing to a more flexible pocket. That wasn't Nostradamus-type stuff but it's interesting to see he is now at the center of that prediction.
In practice this week some of the throws and footwork done by Rodgers were so textbook they should be shown to every high school quarterback in the nation. There is no wasted energy in his passing motion, and his drop back is just as efficient, down to the way his back right foot digs into the ground, the way a right-handed boxer's does when throwing a hard cross.
Even when his passes look errant, they aren't. In one drill, Rodgers tossed a backside pass to the left corner of the end zone. It looked like an overthrow but Rodgers knew wide receiver Donald Driver could out-jump the corner and Driver did, making the catch with one hand.
When Rodgers was asked about the playoff loss to New York, his answer was quick, and slightly irritated. "Playoff game ...," he said, "we just turned the ball over." It didn't sound like Rodgers was refusing to give the Giants credit. Sounded more like the anger from the loss was still there.
"I think there was a little bit of some too comfortable mentality," Rodgers explained. "One of the things that winning does is it masks some of the issues you might have. When you have a real successful season, the little things get swept under the rug and the big things become little things. It's hard to knock a team on energy and enthusiasm and effort when you're still going out and winning. But it can catch up to you at some point, and it did with us."
Green Bay's schedule is nasty (opens against San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle, New Orleans) but not overly horrible. Rodgers may be right in that the Packers could be better but win fewer games.
If they do get better it will be because of Rodgers who continues to be the standard for the position.