Matt Flynn doesn’t have any insider information on Aaron Rodgers. As Rodgers’ backup and best pal, the Green Bay Packers No. 2 quarterback may be privy to a few things that the general public isn’t, but coach Mike McCarthy hasn’t clued Flynn in on what’s going to happen on Sunday – perhaps because McCarthy himself doesn’t really know, either.
“It’s not like they sit me down and update me every day or anything,” Flynn said after practice Wednesday, as he and the Packers prepped to face the Dallas Cowboys. “It’s going to be one of those things that if I’m at practice and Aaron’s taking the snaps, then I know he’s playing. It’s one of those things that I just prepare like I’m going to be the guy until I see Aaron there.”
And even then, there’s still uncertainty. On Wednesday, Rodgers took some first-team snaps in 11-on-11 periods, according to multiple players. After being unable to execute simple maneuvers like taking snaps and handing off without pain during individual drills a week earlier, this constituted significant progress.
Whether that’s enough to return Rodgers to the starting lineup for the first time since fracturing his left collarbone Nov. 4 against the Chicago Bears remains to be seen and is out of Flynn’s control – which means he’s going to go about his week just as he did last week, when he parlayed his first full week of practices as the starter into a more-than-solid performance, completing 24 of 32 passes for 258 yards with one touchdown, one interception and five sacks for a 95.6 passer rating in the Packers’ 22-21 victory over Atlanta.
“I feel more comfortable after today’s practice than I did last Wednesday, just because of reps and getting to run plays, call plays and throw to the guys. Every time I step on the field, I feel I get more and more comfortable, more familiar, and everybody’s starting to get in sync a little bit,” Flynn said.
“This is kind of the job of being a backup quarterback, being able to go in there and execute when your number’s called. You don’t always know when that’s going to happen. It’s one of those things that I prepare like I’m the guy right now. Hopefully, Aaron comes back. Who knows? It’s not fair to myself, my teammates or anyone else if I don’t prepare like I’m going to take the first snap on Sunday.
“If they tell me Aaron’s playing today, tomorrow, whenever it is, that’s part of the gig. I go out there and mentally do the things that I would normally do if I was the full-time starter.”
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett backed up Troy Aikman during the franchise’s 1990s heyday, so he knows a thing or two about Flynn’s gig. From his perspective, though, the Cowboys are preparing for both Rodgers and Flynn, and he said that’s slightly easier because the Packers’ offense isn’t vastly different in terms of concepts and play-calls when Flynn is in the game.
“One of the things that we try to do is we try to see if there’s a difference between how they play with the starting quarterback playing or the backup quarterback playing. It doesn’t seem to be a significant difference in scheme and in plays that like they to run,” Garrett said in a conference call with reporters at Lambeau Field. “So you start there, but you certainly start your preparation with Aaron and then in this case Matt Flynn, who’s been playing the last couple of weeks. We certainly study him and understand what he wants to do and try our best to get ready for both as we go.
“I think [Flynn] is a smart player, there’s no question about that. I think he’s an under-appreciated athlete. I think he can throw the ball well, he moves around and can make a lot of plays.”
What Flynn has to make sure he has fewer of, though, is sacks. He’s been taken down 12 times in the past two games – seven times at Detroit on Thanksgiving, and five times last week by the Falcons – and admitted that some of them have been a function of not being confident enough or quick enough in his progressions.
“A lot of that was on me. I think I was getting hung up on a couple receivers, and I’ve got to do a better job and [I] take a lot of the fall for that,” Flynn said. “I’ve just got to get through my reads a little cleaner. I wasn’t real sure about throws. Some of those sacks come when I’m not 100 percent sure about the throws, what kind of leverage the DB has on the receiver. I’m not going to make a throw that I think there’s a chance it’s going to get picked, there’s a chance that something bad’s going to happen.
“It’s just a matter of seeing it enough times to know when it’s a safe throw, when it’s not a safe throw. When it’s not a safe throw, get it to the next guy. There’s a couple times where I just kind of hung onto it, just trying to decipher where that DB was on the receiver.”
McCarthy intimated that was the case against the Falcons as well, drawing a distinction between the Lions game, where Flynn was often overwhelmed before having a chance to go through his progressions, and the Falcons game, where McCarthy felt protection was acceptable, save for a pair of sacks where there were free runners who came through unblocked.
The Cowboys aren’t exactly generating a ton of pressure themselves, with only one sack in their last two games and 27 on the season, leaving them tied for 26th in the league.
“We assign the sack to the breakdown of the individuals involved and there’s plenty of there for everybody – the line, the running back and even the quarterback,” McCarthy said. “The game up in Detroit, I would like to think is an anomaly. You get sacked seven times in a football game, there isn’t a whole lot of good going on. That was definitely the case. [Against Atlanta], I thought the pass protection was pretty good. He had a pretty good pocket to step into. Timing is definitely a part of it.
“We have to do a better job, that’s for sure.”
That’s Flynn’s goal on every level. Having grown up in Texas rooting for Aikman and the Cowboys’ dynasty, he’d like nothing more than to lead the Packers to their first victory in Big D since 1989, when Flynn was 4 years old.
Assuming, of course, that Rodgers doesn’t return to do it himself.
“I know when he’s ready, he’s going to let us know. So we don’t really talk about it,” Flynn said. “But I can just see it in his face, that he’s definitely itching to get back. He wants to be out there, and if he’s not out there, there’s a good reason for it.
“I think we’re confident. I think we all know that we’ve got good players, we’ve got good skill players and we have guys that can make things happen. Last week, it wasn’t like the offense went out there and won the game or the defense did. Everyone, all phases of the game, made the plays when they needed to make them. That’s something good to build on. If you ask anyone in this locker room, everyone thinks we can win. We just have to go out there and prove it.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.