Rodgers still having trouble stepping out of Favre's shadow


GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, freshly minted the NFC's Offensive Player of the Month, stood at his locker, looking like he'd rather be chewing a mouthful of thumb tacks or bobbing for apples in a barrel of piranhas than answering questions about Brett Favre's return to Lambeau Field.

Since being drafted to supplant Favre one day -- a day that came too early for some fans and one that came too late for others -- Rodgers has been prodded non-stop about Favre. The evolution took him from being excited about the opportunity to learn from one of the all-time greats, to him no longer wanting to discuss what he gained from a player whose shadow still hovers over him.

Rodgers has done everything possible to prove he is worthy, but he's discovered that replacing an icon is rough.

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Brett Favre left behind a nearly incomparable legacy at Lambeau Field.
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"I just try to stay focused on the things that I control," Rodgers, 25, said. "I think I learned that as a 21-year-old sitting in the green room (of the 2005 draft, where he went from a possible No. 1 overall pick to 24th overall). That was kind of the beginning of continuing in the trust of my close friends and advisors. This here is the same kind of thing.

"There's the things you should worry about, think about, spend your energy on, and things you can't control."

While Favre has been remarkable at age 40 in his run with the Minnesota Vikings, Rodgers has been equally, if not more impressive in his second full season as a starter since Favre was unceremoniously traded to the New York Jets last season.

Rodgers has completed 121 of 184 passes for 1,702 yards, 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions while dealing with a patchwork offensive line that has left him sacked a league-high 25 times. Favre, meanwhile, has connected on 157 of his 228 passes for 1,681 yards, 12 touchdowns and three interceptions.

Favre this season has the edge in wins (6-1) over Rodgers (4-2), and he's got those MVPs and a Lombardi Trophy for the franchise that Vince Lombardi made legendary. It's a legacy that would be difficult for anyone to follow.

To Rodgers' credit, he has not portrayed himself as a sympathetic figure while caught in the middle of Favre and the Packers. He's let others worry about that stuff, done his job, earned the respect of his teammates, and answered questions about Favre -- questions that aren't going to stop anytime soon.

Pilot light flickering on The Burner

While there is no discounting the fact that opposing teams have loaded up to stop Falcons running back Michael Turner, there is also mounting suspicion that something else is going on with "The Burner," hence his 3.4 yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust rushing average this season.

The resounding observation I'm hearing is that Turner looks a lot slower this season than last season, when he rushed for a career-high 1,699 yards and averaged 4.5 yards a carry en route to the Pro Bowl.

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Some people who've watched Turner on film say he doesn't seem to be downshifting to the quick burst he's shown in the past when he had an opportunity to get to the second level of the defense. He's never been quick to the line, but he was able to turn it on once he got there with available space to run.

Theories abound that he's hurt, heavy or worn down from the grind of hauling the rock 376 times for Atlanta last year after being a relative bit player as LaDainian Tomlinson's backup for four seasons in San Diego. I've been told that Turner's not hurt, at least when it comes to any dings that should affect his speed. Turner insists he's not worn down, either. As for his weight, he's played around 245 for awhile now.

Turner isn't getting the holes he saw last season, in part because of the concerted effort to gang up on him, which is partly a result of the Falcons playing four teams with 3-4 base defensive fronts, according to offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey. The 3-4 teams have overloaded potential running gaps and sealed off cutback lanes that Turner exploited in the past, so the sledding has been a lot tougher, according to Mularkey. Fullback Ovie Mughelli, a solid technical lead blocker, has been out with a calf injury and has not made a start since Week 1.

Turner has surpassed 100 yards just once this season (105 against Carolina in Week 2) and that came when he had 28 carries (3.8 average). The past two games against Chicago and Dallas, he has a combined 80 rushing yards on 31 carries (2.5 average). Turner recently told me that he thinks things will improve as the season goes on and the passing game opens up some soft spots in the defense for him to run through.

We'll see. The Falcons play just one more 3-4 defense the rest of the way (the Jets in Week 15) and Turner will continue to get his opportunities. I don't know what is the actual reason, but I do know that Turner's backup, Jason Snelling, a 225-pound fullback-tailback combo, got some of the same rushing opportunities and play calls Turner had in last week's loss at Dallas and produced.

Snelling, who head coach Mike Smith said is going to get more playing time -- maybe at the expense of Turner and/or Jerious Norwood -- gained 68 yards on seven carries against the Cowboys' 3-4 defense and has produced at nearly every turn he's earned. Maybe it's because he hasn't developed the rep Turner has or maybe he just has some extra pep in his step.

Leinart still waiting

With Vince Young seemingly destined to start against visiting Jacksonville on Sunday, and Jay Cutler starting (and not playing so well) in Chicago, their fellow draft classmate, Matt Leinart, continues to sit on the bench in Arizona.

That doesn't mean he's not getting better.

"As difficult as it was for him last year to not play (after losing a preseason battle to Kurt Warner), he took it as an opportunity to learn," Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "He got an opportunity to watch a quarterback that was playing as good as anybody in the league and how he prepared and studied. It's a tremendous difference from where he was two years ago -- what he did in our third preseason game vs. Green Bay (34-of-38, 346, three TDs, 0 INTs), his command of the game, even in some of the games he's gotten in this year.

"He's done a very good job. I'm very excited about his future with us. Look at Aaron Rodgers. He didn't play for a few years. I equate this situation to that, with Aaron having to sit behind Brett Favre. I have no doubt that helped him, and this is helping Matt. We're excited about that."

Back to Young for a minute ...

What a watershed moment it is for Jeff Fisher now that the Titans coach has decided to stary Vince Young on Sunday over Kerry Collins. The issue isn't that Fisher -- in his 16th season with the Titans and one of the most respected coaches in the NFL -- changed his quarterbacks. It's that, by all appearances, no matter what he says, he acquiesced to the owner -- which, for most of us interested in keeping our jobs, is a good thing.

If that's not hairy enough, what if Young doesn't play well against the Jaguars? Does Fisher send him back to the bench or does he let him continue to play and work his way though things? If he yanks him, then Fisher might as well ride Collins through Week 17 and Young can go ahead and put up a for-sale sign in his front yard.

If Fisher lets him play his way through things, then the purge to go younger might as well push through other parts of the roster. That would tear things down even further. The only thing that would make any of this better, regardless of who plays quarterback, is a victory. Breaking that ice would soothe, maybe just temporarily, a tough scenario for Fisher and a lot of other potentially moving parts.

On the issue of quarterback changes

Good for the Buccaneers, who are attempting to find out what they have in rookie Josh Freeman. He was named the starter Wednesday and you won't hear any complaining from the already distraught Buccaneers nation. The Bucs are not a good team and he is their future. It can't get any worse for Tampa Bay -- unless he gets hurt.

Delhomme is Panthers' best option
Dspite his miserable play, Jake Delhomme probably gives the Panthers their best chance to win, especially when you look at who's behind him, Bucky Brooks writes. More ...

At least the Buccaneers have options. Carolina and St. Louis are stuck with ineffective veterans (Jake Delhomme and Marc Bulger, respectively). Meanwhile in Cleveland, the team's alternative beyond Brady Quinn -- Derek Anderson -- already has lost his job once. What about the Redskins? Jason Campbell is shell-shocked and is not playing well, but is Todd Collins going to make things any better?

What's interesting is that a lot of people around the league think that Campbell still could have a decent future in the NFL (the same can't be said about the other guys mentioned in the previous paragraph -- or JaMarcus Russell), but just not in Washington.

Player to watch this week

Antrel Rolle: The Cardinals safety is playing the best football of his career. He already has three interceptions and he will play against Carolina's Delhomme, who continues to be the gift that keeps on giving for opposing defenses with a league-leading 13 interceptions. Remember, Delhomme's run as one of the NFL's most generous turnover donors began in the 2008 playoffs against the Cardinals, who had five picks, one by Rolle.

Rolle will be used to cover against the deep ball as fellow safety Adrian Wilson will play closer to the line of scrimmage to help against the run. With Delhomme getting far less pop on his throws, the improving Rolle will have time to get to the ball and continue doing what he's doing.

Wyche's winners

Here are my picks for Week 8: Texans over Bills, Bears over Browns, Cowboys over Seahawks, Dolphins over Jets, Colts over 49ers, Giants over Eagles, Lions over Rams, Chargers over Raiders, Titans over Jaguars, Vikings over Packers, Cardinals over Panthers, Saints over Falcons.

Upset of the week

Ravens over Broncos. Both teams are coming off a bye, which is what the Ravens needed to regroup, but not what the undefaeted Broncos needed. The breather was the only thing that could seem to disrupt their momentum.



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