GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Tom Brady. Russell Wilson. Matt Ryan. The Green Bay Packers will face all three in a 36-day stretch this season. No matter what their defense does before it takes on Brady in New England on Nov. 4, Wilson in Seattle on Nov. 15 and then Ryan and the Falcons at Lambeau Field on Dec. 9, all judgments should be withheld.
When coach Mike McCarthy first discussed his decision to hire Mike Pettine, he mentioned "five clear components and characteristics" he was looking for in his new defensive coordinator.
He declined to share any of the five at the time.
That changed late Saturday night after the team's annual Family Night practice, when he gave everyone some insight into his thought process.
"The main emphasis is for our defense to compete against Aaron as much as possible," McCarthy said. "That really goes back to the interview process, one of the top-five points of emphasis I was looking for in our new defensive coordinator and speaking with Mike is, to play championship defense against a top-five quarterback."
That explains why Aaron Rodgers' rep count has seemingly soared this summer.
It could prove mutually beneficial.
Not only has the Packers' No. 1 defense faced the two-time NFL MVP at a high rate, but Rodgers and the offense gets challenged by a more dynamic defense than what former coordinator Dom Capers fielded in his final couple of seasons. Rodgers said as much last week.
Rodgers sounded like he knew he would be taking a verbal shot at Capers, but it didn't stop him when he was asked about the challenges Pettine's defense provides.
"Well they're just so multiple; they have a lot of different pressures and types of pressures," Rodgers said. "This may sound -- I don't know how it's going to sound. They're giving you pressures where they can actually get home. We haven't had that issue in a while, where they scheme up pressures to have a free guy on the play."
It may explain Rodgers' seven interceptions during the first five training camp practices, although he dismissed those as meaningless.
Nevertheless, those have provided a confidence boost to both the young players, such as first-round draft pick Jaire Alexander (who has one of those picks), and the returning players who have been part of the weak link that has been the Packers' defense in recent years.
"What a gift we have on defense to be able to go against one of the most elite quarterbacks to ever play the game," Pettine said. "You talk about wearing ankle weights, that's a tremendous thing for us and for us to have that success, it's a challenge for him. He's not going against the same defense that he had gone against and maybe he got used to over years and years and years that he figured out. He's still trying to figure us out, and there's that element. I just love the competition part of it. It's great when our guys can make a play, and I think that from the beginning of camp that's the bottom line, we've had some great competition."
No wonder McCarthy increased Rodgers' workload early in camp -- a workload that likely will taper off starting this week if, as expected, the backup quarterbacks play extensively in the preseason games.
"The old pitch count seems to be kind of thrown out the window," Rodgers said late last week. "No, but I feel fine. My arm never really bothers me. It seems like we're taking a number of reps. In the past where it may have been kind of 1s [starters], 2s [backups], 3s [third-stringers] and then back to 1s, now it's kind of like 1s and then 2s and then 1s and then 3s and 1s and then 2s. So it feels like we've taken a lot of reps."
McCarthy never identified the so-called "top-five" quarterbacks he had in mind, but consider how the Packers' defense struggled in recent years against this fivesome:
Ryan (past four games against the Packers): 1,307 passing yards (326.8-yard average per game), 12 touchdowns, one interception
Brady (one game): 245 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions
Wilson (past five games): 1,004 yards (200.8 per game), six touchdowns, 10 interceptions
Drew Brees (past two games): 642 yards (321-yard average), four touchdowns, two interceptions
Ben Roethlisberger (one game): 351 yards, four touchdowns, two interceptions
In their past 13 games against those five quarterbacks, the Packers have won just four of them.
None of that, however, is on Pettine, whose system and philosophy have been praised by both Rodgers and the defensive players who run it.
"It's been great," Pettine said earlier this offseason. "But obviously here we're still in the honeymoon phase. We haven't given up a yard or a point, so it's all good."
Check back after they play Brady, Wilson and Ryan.