'Aaron is ... Aaron': Vikings prepare for whichever Rodgers they'll get

EAGAN, Minn. -- Mike McCarthy's classification of Aaron Rodgers as "day-to-day" further fuels the speculation as to whether the quarterback will play Sunday when the Green Bay Packers host the Minnesota Vikings.

The way the Vikings are approaching preparation for Week 2 leaves little doubt who they expect to see under center in their NFC North opener.

"We know he's playing," defensive end Everson Griffen said. "I don't know if he's mobile, I don't know if he can run -- we don't know anything. We're just going to go in [with] the game plan that he's running, and we're going to go out there and execute our assignment."

If he does play, Sunday's version of Rodgers may look different than the elite on-the-run improviser who has thrown for a league-high 62 touchdowns from outside the pocket in 127 regular-season games dating back to 2009, according to ESPN Stats & Information. A less mobile Rodgers is still dangerous. He can get the ball out quickly and sense pressure, forcing the Vikings to scheme for every possible way he could attack their defense.

"Aaron is going to be Aaron," cornerback Xavier Rhodes said. "I've seen Aaron sit in the pocket and still drop dimes. He's going to adjust to the game. If he can't be mobile, he's going to adjust to it. They're going to run route concepts for him to get the ball out fast. They're going to figure out our defense -- we have to adjust to their offense."

Once Rodgers returned in the second half against Chicago, he didn't venture much outside the pocket. He didn't have to with an average time of 2.82 seconds to make his throws. That's the third-highest time he's had to make passes from the tackle box since 2011.

Against the Bears, he was 8-for-12 passing for 222 yards and three touchdowns when he stayed in the pocket upon returning from injury, which Rodgers described Wednesday as a sprained left knee. Rodgers completed 28 passes total from the pocket on Sunday night.

Under these circumstances, the trade-off for Rodgers is fewer completions for bigger plays. Since 2011, Rodgers' completion percentage from the pocket with at least 2.5 seconds to throw is just under 60 percent. But he's averaged 9.4 yards per attempt and 11.3 air yards per attempt on those throws. That number dips significantly (down to 7.1 yards per attempt and 5.1 air yards) when he had less than 2.5 seconds to throw in the pocket.

"That's a good thing that they're getting the ball out quick," Griffen said. "If they're checking the ball down every time, that means they're scared to throw the ball downfield. That means they can't take big shots. In that case, they're scared of our pass rush. If a team comes in scared of our pass rush each and every week, then we're in good shape."

Minnesota's defensive line notched 26 pressures in its season-opening win over San Francisco on Sunday, with a combined 15 coming from Danielle Hunter and Sheldon Richardson. The interior push created by Richardson was a main component of how the Vikings were able to keep Jimmy Garoppolo off balance and force him to get rid of the ball quickly. Might that be the strategy they want to replicate this week against an elite pocket passer such as Rodgers?

"That's every week. You want your interior linemen to push the pocket, making sure he doesn't step up to make easier throws," Richardson said. "This is one of those guys who can actually beat you with his arm. You just want to bottle him up and contain him as best as you can."

Keeping Rodgers contained to one area and closing in on him that way is easier said than done. His sprained knee won't hinder his ability to release the ball quickly, which is something the Vikings have faced before. If Green Bay adjusts its scheme with formations that call for Rodgers to get the ball out quickly, he limits the amount of time the pass rush has to get to him, marking the importance of preparing for every version of Rodgers they could get.

"It's all hypothetical to this point," Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said, "but our biggest thing is that you have to prepare for every scenario. If he doesn't move well, try to do these things, and if he looks like he's moving pretty well, then we have to adjust to some other parts of the game plan."