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Matt LaFleur knows Aaron Rodgers can’t keep absorbing hits from defenses

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Bears linebacker Trevis Gipson sacks Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers during the first half last week at Lambeau Field.

GREEN BAY — While the television cameras aren’t always trained on Matt LaFleur, the Green Bay Packers coach can say with certainty that if they were zoomed in on him whenever his quarterback gets walloped, they’d see the same, wincing expression.

“Every time he gets hit, I kind of cringe,” LaFleur confessed as the Packers got ready for Sunday’s matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. “I want to make sure he gets up.”

"I won't be. I'll be doing something else," Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers said of playing to age 45 like Buccaneers QB Tom Brady.

Through two games, LaFleur has been cringing a lot. And fortunately for the Packers, Rodgers has always gotten up.

At least, so far.

“No doubt, I think he has (absorbed too many hits),” LaFleur said. “We’ve got to do a better job.”

In the Packers’ opening two games — their 23-7 loss to the Minnesota Vikings in Minneapolis and their 27-10 win over the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field — Rodgers has absorbed seven sacks and nine total quarterback hits.

After not losing a fumble last season, he’s lost two already this year — one when he turned the wrong way on a handoff to AJ Dillon, the other when he got Malachi Crunched by the Vikings’ Jordan Hicks and Za’Darius Smith — and while opposing defenses haven’t blitzed him much (only eight times in nearly 70 dropbacks), he’s been hurried 15 times and pressured 24 times.

“I’ve taken a few hits,” Rodgers acknowledged with a smirk at his locker during his usual midweek Q&A session with reporters. “I think the first game, yeah, way too many hits. The last game, I don’t know how many of those are avoidable.

“(I) would not like that to be the standard, so we’ve got to get open on time, the ball’s got to come out on time and hopefully we can clean some of that stuff up.

“I’m assuming I might take some shots this week. They’re a blitzing defense (so) there could be some free runners. I’ve got to deal the ball on time this week and make sure I’m not letting them get some momentum with some sacks.”

Indeed, the Buccaneers defense comes into Sunday’s game having recorded 10 sacks and 17 quarterback hits through two games, along with nine hurries and 28 pressures, and they’ve blitzed on roughly a third of opposing quarterbacks’ dropbacks.

On today’s episode of Up & Adams, Kay Adams discusses some of the biggest stories from around the NFL. Kelsey Conway, Cincinnati Bengals reporter for the Enquirer, joins the show to talk with Kay about what is going on with the Bengals that might be different than the 2021 season. Kay talks to Rick Stroud, a Tampa Bay Times reporter, on whether the Bucs defense will be able to contain Aaron Rodgers and the Packers and to Tom Curran, NBCSports Boston Patriots Insider on whether the Pats defense can handle Lamar Jackson and what the week 2 win means for the Patriots. Kay breaks down her top underreactions from week 2 in the NFL. And lastly, Danny Woodhead, former NFL running back, is on the show to play a golf game with Kay, discuss what it is like to be universally beloved by NFL fans, and talk about which NFL player he would choose to have as his caddy.

There’s no singular reason the soon-to-be 39-year-old Rodgers has taken as many hits as he has so far. The offensive line struggled in the opener and still had lapses against the Bears — a rusty Elgton Jenkins, back in the lineup for the first time since tearing the ACL in his left knee last Nov. 21 at Minnesota, gave up two sacks — and Rodgers’ lack of familiarity with his wide receivers (from rookies Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs to veteran newcomer Sammy Watkins) has led to either guys not being open or some indecisiveness on Rodgers’ part.

“It starts up front with the offensive line, the backs, the tight ends in protection. It always does,” offensive coordinator Adam Stenavich said Thursday afternoon. “And then just like Aaron said, a lot of times he’s been known for holding on to the ball, creating those extra plays downfield. There’s a fine line you kind of walk when you do that.

“I’m sure as the season goes on and he gets more comfortable with the wideouts and everything like that, hopefully we’ll see less of those where he’s running around and taking big hits. (But) we’ve just got to clean it up. You definitely don’t want to see the quarterback getting hit — ever.”

The issue of guys not getting open — or Rodgers not trusting that they will come open — has been somewhat reminiscent of the 2018 season, Mike McCarthy’s last as head coach. That year, Rodgers took 49 sacks — third most of his career, behind 2012 (51) and 2009 (50) — and was hit another 38 times, hurried 90 times and pressured 177 times. He also said this week that he had more than 70 intentional throw-aways, the most he can remember having in one year.

"Their defense is fantastic," Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said of the Buccaneers' defense.

“I wouldn’t like to be anywhere near that number; I don’t think we’re going to with this offense,” Rodgers said. “It’s just, we have to clean the timing up on some of the route concepts so we’re getting open at the right time and I’m just trusting some of the windows and throwing it through those windows.”

Or, as LaFleur put it, “Whether it’s moving the pocket, whether it’s chipping edges, maybe calling quicker-developing plays, (it’s about) making sure everybody’s on the same page. … You never want to see your quarterback getting hit, and we firmly believe that if we give him the time, that he’s going to make a great play.”

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