Aaron Rodgers' elusiveness continues to be a problem for Lions

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions are used to this by now. They've faced Aaron Rodgers season after season, and the Green Bay Packers quarterback has eluded them time and time again.

When he's healthy, Rodgers has been close to untouchable. When he's played with a busted-up leg that former Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh stepped on, he still managed to beat Detroit. And one of the ways he's been able to do it is one of his biggest strengths -- evading would-be sackers every step of the way.

So while the Lions would like to get to Rodgers, they recognize how difficult it will be.

"That's going to be hard because he always buys time. Like it always is with him, it's a chess match," Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said. "You've got to pick your times and pick your spots when you're able to get after him and do the best you can to keep him in the pocket.

"Really, the biggest thing is the loose plays because you're going to have them. You've got to be able to cover the guys on the loose plays when he slides up in the pocket, slides out of the pocket. We've got to be able to match up and make sure those don't become giant plays."

The Lions have sacked Rodgers 34 times in his career, an average of 2.3 times per game. (Austin's defenses have accounted for 10 of those in five games.) Rodgers has thrown 30 touchdowns in those games, too, and completed 66.3 percent of his passes for 3,758 yards.

The last time the Lions saw Rodgers was in Week 3, when he threw for four touchdown passes and completely shredded Detroit's defense.

Lions head coach Jim Caldwell described their longtime nemesis as "an unusual cat" because of the way he plays. And Rodgers forces teams to make decisions, primarily to sit back and try to confuse him with coverages or blitz him and risk him evading the pressure and burning you downfield.

He's done both equally well, which is why he's one of the best in the NFL.

"He's difficult. That's why he's been able to do what he does for so long. You want to put pressure on him, but you don't necessarily want him to escape either because ... he is so good," Caldwell said. "But you also can't let him stand back there in the pocket all day. He has the ability to buy time anyway. He's got a natural knack to do it.

"So, yeah, that's why he's been so productive and so hard to handle, because he can do everything extremely well."

It's also a problem for the Lions, a team that has struggled with pass-rush all season. Detroit is 29th in the league in sacks (25) and sack percentage (4.9). Some of that has been neutralized by opponents' decisions to get the ball out of the quarterback's hands on quick routes, but Detroit hasn't been able to get to quarterbacks with frequency even when that doesn't happen.

Austin recognizes that his defensive strategy -- allow the short pass to keep from the big play -- takes away one way to get a negative play (a sack), but he said he believes the Lions win those more often than they lose.

"It all works together, and I think at the end of the day we have to try to figure out what helps us win," Austin said. "The bottom line is if we can stop the run and we cannot let the ball go over our head, it gives us a great opportunity to win."

Against the Packers, though, there's that added element. It's Rodgers. And for the Lions to reach the playoffs, they are going to have to find a way to at least control his elusiveness just a little bit.