Green Bay Packers star quarterback Aaron Rodgers' arm strength, accuracy and improvisational skills have vaulted him to a different level as far as the Ravens' defense is concerned.
Heading into Sunday's game at M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens regard Rodgers and Green Bay's stacked group of offensive weapons as just as dangerous if not more so than a Denver Broncos offense headlined by quarterback Peyton Manning.
That's quite a statement about Rodgers, considering how Manning dismantled the Ravens' defense with seven touchdown passes during a 49-27 win to open the season Sept. 5.
"Personally, I think Peyton Manning is one of the best ever, and I think Aaron Rodgers is taking steps that way," Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith said. "When you're playing a quarterback that has full control over the offense and their receivers are in tune, you have to be on your best game. We're looking at this game like we're facing another Peyton Manning.
"To Aaron Rodgers' credit, he's a little quicker with the ball. He has better arm strength right now. He can fit some balls in there that you wouldn't expect. He's an incredible athlete. He can put the ball anywhere he wants to."
Rodgers' statistics are trumped by Manning's 20 touchdowns with one interception, but are eye-catching with 1,331 yards, nine touchdowns and three interceptions for a 105.5 quarterback rating to rank fifth in the NFL.
Rodgers' game goes beyond numbers with how he orchestrates a balanced offense ranked fifth in rushing, fourth in passing and third in scoring with 29.5 points per game.
"He's one of the best quarterbacks in the game because he can do it all," cornerback Lardarius Webb said. "He's got accuracy, power, wide receivers. He can run with the football, scramble and make all the throws. I haven't seen anything he can't do. He's a tough guy who will stand in there, take the hit and still make the throw."
Rodgers has a knack for pump-faking in one direction, then swiveling his body the other way to fire off passes with enough velocity to sting receivers' hands.
"We've got to be very disciplined, especially with our eyes," defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. "He's a guy who could be looking one way and in a split-second throw it the other way. We've seen quarterbacks so far this season, other than Manning, they drop back and if they look over here, they're probably throwing over here.
"Well, [Rodgers] may be looking over here and that ball may be over here in a split-second. The ball will come out as fast as anybody. He doesn't have to plant the front foot to throw the ball. This guy can throw it with his feet square, off-balance, with one foot forward. He's got great vision. So, we have to have great vision to do a good job against him."
The Ravens have made significant strides defensively over the past month, improving to 14th overall in total defense and scoring defense. Since being shredded by Manning, the Ravens have surrendered just two touchdown passes and have intercepted three passes.
"I think Peyton has been pretty razor-sharp against everybody," Rodgers said during a conference call. "They're starting to have some things they can count on, and I think they've done a real nice job on the back end. It's a real good secondary, but they gave up a couple plays against Peyton and have just been tightening up since then."
The Ravens benched free safety Michael Huff after the opener, replacing him with rookie Matt Elam and installed Smith as a starter with Corey Graham now operating as the nickel back. A revamped defense has begun to mesh, allowing just 335.4 yards per game and 5.1 per play after giving up 510 yards to the Broncos.
"We've obviously improved," Pees said. "The biggest thing in the first game was tackling. If you really think back on the plays that Denver broke for big plays, we missed some tackles and gave them some great opportunities. We've got to do a great job of tackling.
"When we haven't given up big plays, we've played extremely well. Even though I think we played well against Miami, we still gave up a couple big plays that we just cannot give up to this crew."
Although the Packers are accustomed to encountering accomplished NFC North pass rushers like the Minnesota Vikings' Jared Allen and the Chicago Bears' Julius Peppers, the Ravens could exploit mismatches created by 2011 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs. The rush outside linebacker already has seven sacks to rank fourth in the NFL and recorded three sacks in the fourth quarter of the Ravens' 26-23 win over the Miami Dolphins.
The Ravens could use another performance like that against Rodgers, who's only been sacked 11 times. Provided plenty of time, Rodgers piled up 481 yards and four touchdowns on 81-percent accuracy earlier this season against the Washington Redskins.
"He's a Drew Brees-type of quarterback," Suggs said. "We definitely have a game on our hands."
The Ravens rank second in the NFL with 19 sacks with Suggs complemented by bookend outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil's three sacks and two apiece from defensive lineman Chris Canty and Arthur Jones.
"Tremendously, it’s like our best friend right now," Smith said of the Ravens' pass rush. "Once we can ‘sic our dogs’ on them, it’s heaven for defensive backs, because we’re just waiting for the ball to fly out. We’re running with our backs down to the ball, and you hear big cheers that we just got a sack."
In order to corral Rodgers and Co., though, the Ravens know they have to be on guard for Nelson's body control and double moves, Cobb's shiftiness and Jones' acceleration and account for the Packers' power element led by big rookie running back Eddie Lacy.
"I would say we have our hands full, but we're the right guys for the job," strong safety James Ihedigbo said. "We're up for the task. It's going to be a fun game come Sunday. We're ready to get a big-time win."
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