The last time Aaron Rodgers faced the number one or number two pass defense in the NFL was in the 2019 NFC Championship game against the San Francisco 49ers. Rodgers completed 31 of 39 attempts for 326 yards with two touchdowns, but also threw two interceptions, was sacked three times and fumbled three times.
The Green Bay Packers trailed 27-0 at halftime and lost 37-20.
The 2019 49ers had 519 pass attempts against them during the regular season, allowing 23 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 4.8 net yards per pass attempt and they ranked second in pressure rate on the quarterback. San Francisco had 48 sacks and they gained “58.3 expected points” from their pass defense, second in the NFL behind the “117.7 expected points” from the New England Patriots.
The 49ers also ranked second in pass defense DVOA with a mark of -24%.
In 2020, Rodgers had an exceptional statistical season, even for Aaron Rodgers. He threw 48 touchdowns, five interceptions and led the NFL in completion percentage, TD%, INT%, passer rating, QBR and adjusted net yards per pass attempt. He also rushed for three touchdowns.
The only test for a pass defense that is nearly as difficult as Rodgers would be Patrick Mahomes, though prior to him facing the LA Rams three times, Russell Wilson might have been in that conversation too.
Rodgers has only faced three top-12 pass defenses in 2020:
- In Week 3 against the New Orleans Saints — a team ranked third in pass defense DVOA but didn’t seem to find its footing until Week 7 — Rodgers went 21 of 32 for 283 yards, 3 TD and 0 INT with one sack, sending the Saints to a 1-2 record at the time. The game was tied 27-27 at the end of the third quarter and the Packers won 37-30.
- In Week 5 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — a team ranked fifth in pass defense — Rodgers went 16 of 35 for 160 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions, and four sacks in a 38-10 loss for Green Bay.
- In Week 11 against the Indianapolis Colts — eighth in pass defense — Rodgers went 27 of 38 for 311 yards, three touchdowns, one interception, one sack, one lost fumble in a 34-31 loss to the Colts.
The Packers are 1-2 against teams in the top-12 of pass defense, but 12-1 against everybody else. That “everybody else” includes:
- The Lions, ranked 32nd in pass defense, twice.
- The Jaguars, 31st in pass defense.
- The Titans, 30th in pass defense.
- The Texans, 29th in pass defense.
- The Eagles, 24th in pass defense.
- The Panthers, 23rd in pass defense.
- The Falcons, 19th in pass defense (and when Dan Quinn was still the head coach)
- The Vikings, 14th in pass defense, twice.
- The Bears, 13th in pass defense, twice.
To the credit of Rodgers and head coach Matt LaFleur and receiver Davante Adams and so on, Rodgers threw 15 touchdowns and zero interceptions in his four games against the Vikings and Bears.
That gave Rodgers 20 touchdowns and zero picks within the NFC North.
Even his out-of-division stats of 28 touchdowns and five interceptions would be enough on its own to put Rodgers in the Pro Bowl. However, in his three starts against “good” pass defenses, Rodgers was closer to human at six touchdowns, three interceptions and a fumble lost.
And he has yet to face a defense this season that is as good as the LA Rams. They’ll be the best defense Rodgers has faced since the NFC Championship game nearly one year ago ...
ON THIS VERY NIGHT!
The LA Rams faced 548 pass attempts this season, allowing 17 touchdowns (fewest in the league by four), picking off 14 passes, holding opponents to a league-low 5.1 net yards per attempt with 53 sacks and 47.4 “expected points added” by the pass defense alone. That’s 25 “expected points” better than second-place Pittsburgh. The Rams rank fourth in pass defense DVOA (-12%) but by also ranking third against the run, Los Angeles had the number one overall defense in the NFL by DVOA in 2020.
This defense is special. pic.twitter.com/6rXCezhTOi— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) January 8, 2021
The Rams are also going to have some players on Saturday who they didn’t have healthy throughout the entirety of the season, including safety Jordan Fuller, linebacker Micah Kiser, defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson, and linebacker Terrell Lewis.
In his three starts against the Rams this season, Wilson had three touchdowns, three interceptions, and he was sacked 16 times. Wilson’s two worst games of the season by passer rating, including playoffs, came against LA. The Seahawks went 1-2.
BEST DEFENSE IN THE LEAGUE @Dee_Willl2 with the house call! pic.twitter.com/nRoVoxhH3f— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) January 9, 2021
Bills quarterback Josh Allen did threw four touchdowns and rush for a touchdown in a Buffalo win, but was sacked four times (second-highest total of the season) and had two turnovers against the Rams.
Prior to his injury, no team contained Dak Prescott as well as the Rams in Week 1.
Tom Brady completed a season-low 54% of his attempts in a 27-24 loss to LA. He threw a season-high 48 attempts but had 4.5 Y/A and two interceptions.
When it comes to these “epic showdowns” between an elite quarterback and an elite defense, I tend to side with the defense. It’s not necessarily true that the team with the defense will win, but I do believe that they tend to stifle opposing passing attacks more often than not. And that could be what propels the Rams to a win.
If the other phases of the team are also doing their share.
The 49ers got the better of Rodgers in the NFC Championship, but failed in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl against Mahomes. They did reach the Super Bowl and nearly win though and I do not believe that stopping or not-stopping Rodgers will necessarily be the reason that the Rams win or lose on Saturday.
I kind of expect them to stop Rodgers. Can the Rams offense and special teams not pay too much defense against themselves, however?