EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Stopping Aaron Rodgers is one of the great challenges in football. And in the view of Minnesota Vikings secondary coach Jerry Gray, it falls on so many more than just the defensive backs.
"Your offense has got to play just as well as their offense. Your defense has to play as well as their defense," Gray said. "And then, you can't turn the ball over. And hopefully you get some turnovers, and then you get the upper hand. You can't give them the upper hand, because they've got a good quarterback."
The Minnesota Vikings' best defense against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday might be an offense that can hold the ball and take a lead, keeping Rodgers on the sideline, minimizing the role of running back Eddie Lacy and allowing pass rushers to come after Rodgers when he is on the field. But that's a tall task for an offense that's 22nd in the league in time of possession, and even the most recent team to beat the Packers -- the New Orleans Saints -- did so with the help of two deflected interceptions, as Gray admits.
In reality, Rodgers will put a unique degree of stress on the Vikings' defense on Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium, and as the Vikings try to recover from giving up 468 yards against the Chicago Bears last week, Gray has a simple directive for his young secondary as they face the top-rated quarterback in the league: Don't give up anything cheap.
That, too, is easier said than done. Rodgers has been the league's best deep passer this season, completing 14 of his 27 throws that traveled at least 20 yards. According to ESPN Stats & Information, those throws have covered 652 yards. Eight have gone for touchdowns, none have been intercepted and Rodgers' 24.15-yard average on such throws is the best in the league by nearly six yards.
The 66-yard shot he hit to Jordy Nelson on Oct. 2 put the Packers ahead 14-0, and while Rodgers only attempted two more deep balls the rest of the night, "one is too many," safety Harrison Smith said.
On the deep ball to Nelson, Rodgers faked a handoff to Lacy while Nelson cleared Captain Munnerlyn in zone coverage, stemming to a corner route before breaking back inside on Smith, catching a 55-yard throw from Rodgers and jogging into the end zone.
"That's the thing that any safety has to understand: You've got to respect him, especially when they put guys close to the core, and they're trying to protect all the edges," Gray said. "It's a two-man route, and they run it every week. If you bite on a '7' [corner] route, he runs a post. You stem on the post, he runs a '7.' He's got the option of both worlds."
Rodgers has only tried six passes of 20 yards or more when the Packers have trailed by at least seven points this season; he's taken 17 when Green Bay is ahead. It goes back to Gray's belief that beating Rodgers is a total team effort, but if Green Bay gets ahead on Sunday, the Vikings have to be ready for Rodgers to let it fly.
"If he can go down and beat you with a 15-play drive going 80 yards, that's one thing," Gray said. "But 80 yards on one play, that's no good in the NFL."