More immediately, his challenge is to prepare for the same Rams defense he and the Packers handled well in the playoffs last January, but L.A.’s unit will look a bit different.
The changes have less to do, though, with Raheem Morris taking over as defensive coordinator for Brandon Staley (now the Chargers’ head coach) and assistant Joe Barry now running Green Bay’s defense.
The bigger differences are up front in the addition of veteran edge rusher Von Miller and the health of three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald.
Donald tried to fight through a rib injury in the playoff meeting 10 months ago and clearly wasn’t himself. In the meantime, the Packers are dealing with yet another change on their offensive line, with Yosh Nijman now stepping in at left tackle for Elgton Jenkins, who was lost for the season to a knee injury from the Minnesota game.
“A healthy Aaron Donald is a menace to any offense he goes against,” Rodgers said. “We’re going to have to have a good plan for the protection. Last year, we ran the ball pretty well.
“You’ve got to run the ball against teams that want to play two-high (safeties). That’s always going to be a part of what we’re trying to do.”
With the running game, Aaron Jones was back on the practice field Wednesday for the Packers after missing last week’s game, and Head Coach Matt LaFleur said he’d be evaluated at week’s end regarding availability. AJ Dillon was the primary running back against the Vikings and churned out 97 total yards on 17 touches (11 rushes, 53 yards; six receptions, 44 yards).
Rodgers pointed out the ground game was the difference-maker in the playoff matchup, with the Packers piling up 188 rushing yards. Jones’ 60-yard run early in the second half allowed the Packers to pound away on the ground to set up a 58-yard TD pass to Allen Lazard that put the game away in the fourth quarter.
But again, that all was accomplished against a compromised Donald, for whom the Rams scheme as best they can to get single blocks. Calling Donald a “monster” and a “game-wrecker,” LaFleur said the Rams will line up Donald in different spots to make it harder for offenses to target him with their blocking schemes.
He’s as good a run defender as he is an interior pass rusher, according to LaFleur, which is saying something about a guy who’s had double-digit sacks five times in the last six years and has six sacks through 10 games this season.
“You better know where he’s aligned on every play and you’ve got to make sure that you’re putting your players in the best position possible to go against him,” LaFleur said. “He plays a lot of snaps, his effort is relentless, he is a guy that just can completely take over a football game.”