Remember when everyone thought the Green Bay Packers were dead in the water after three games into this season? There were calls to fire defensive coordinator Dom Capers, some to dump Clay Matthews and even a disgruntled few even called for Mike McCarthy’s head.
Fan bases are passionate, no doubt about that. And across the country there were similar “idiot trolls,” as Aaron Rodgers likes to say, bemoaning the same downfall of the New England Patriots.
Funny how things change 11 games into the season.
A couple of hiccups later, and both the Packers and the Patriots sit atop the power rankings and aren’t just jockeying for a spot in the playoffs. They are both fighting tooth and nail for the right to home field advantage throughout the post-season in their respective conferences. Not to put the cart before the horse, but could this be a potential preview for a match up in February? (I won’t be responsible for cursing them. I won’t even mention that game by name.)
Needless to say all eyes will be on Lambeau Field this Sunday and Packers will need to be bringing their A game until the very last whistle.
It will be very evenly matched in the Rodgers vs. Brady battle. Both are playing lights-out football this season. Aaron Rodgers has only a slight statistical advantage in the battle of the numbers. 30 TDs, 3 interceptions, 2957 passing years and a rating of 119.2.
But Tom Brady is nothing to sneeze at. Yes, he has twice as many interceptions, but he’s nipping at Rodgers’ heels with 26 TDs, 2998 passing yards and a rating of 101.0.
While Brady is a traditional pocket passer unlike younger quarterbacks like Wilson and Kaepernick, he can still gash teams. This will be the first big test for Clay Matthews as an inside linebacker. Brady needs to be shut down early and often. That means Mike Daniels and Letroy Guion need to break through the line. If they can’t reach him, then then need to create a big enough hole for Matthews to reach Brady, or at least distract the offensive line long enough for Julius Peppers to reach him from outside. It will be absolutely key for the speedy NASCAR defense to knock Brady out of synch and not allow him to get into any sort of rhythm.
On the other side the the ball, the offense can’t play scared like they did against Seattle. Yes, Revis Island is located in New England these days. it means that Jordy Nelson will be covered all game. The Packers simply cannot concede one entire side of the field like they did in Seattle. Rodgers will need to trust Jordy more than ever and trust that the route will be perfect and they can leave Revis in their wake. That can’t happen if they play in avoid mode.
Yes, they played that way against Richard Sherman in the first game of the year. This is a less timid team now. They need to challenge and assert their authority to claim ownership of the field. Throw in that winter home field advantage at Lambeau, and the Packers can hopefully make Darelle Revis look like an old man with a refurbished knee.
But while Nelson will likely be covered like white on rice all game, Davante Adams will need to play the best game of his young career. He can’t have sloppy routes where he doesn’t sense the back shoulder pass like last week. He needs to gain Rodgers’ trust this week in practice and know that he will be called upon in a bigger capacity. He still makes rookie mistakes from time to time, but his confidence grows each week. Rodgers may need to call on him as he scrambling in the pocket.
Finally the special teams cannot have a game like it did two weeks ago against the Philadelphia Eagles. This game could very well come down to a victory determined by who has the ball last at the end of the game. Special teams cannot let the team die from a death by a thousand paper cuts. Each extra point could mean the difference between a win and a loss. They cannot take these points for granted. Kicks cannot be blocked. That means punts too. Mason Crosby has had a very accurate year, and he needs to have a perfect game as well.
And for god’s sake, they cannot let an offensive lineman run a kickoff back to score.
It will be a battle to the very end of the game. It won’t be a home blowout like we have become accustomed too. The Packers and the Patriots are evenly matched, and this will be a fight to the final whistle. But unlike the last time they met, it won’t be Matt Flynn taking snaps. It will be Rodgers. Just like last week, the game will not be won on the back of one player. It will need to be a team effort.
While hope will not be completely dashed should the Packers lose on Sunday, there is absolutely no question that a win against the best in the AFC would be a powerful shot in the arm in the race to January.--------------