Early Bird Breakdown Week 13: New England Patriots @ Green Bay Packers
Hello all! Welcome to another Early Bird Breakdown! Let’s begin with the recap:
Last week the Green Bay Packers survived a tough game in Minnesota when the Vikings gave them everything they could but the Packers edged them out 24-21. The Vikings successfully completed a two-point conversion after a touchdown to put themselves into position with just over three minutes to go in the game, but Eddie Lacy was able to churn out first downs to close the game out and never give the Vikings another chance with the ball. As for the New England Patriots, they destroyed the Detroit Lions in New England 34-9 in a statement win before they get ready for arguably the game of the year in Green Bay. And now, let’s break that game down.
Packers’ Offense vs. Patriots’ Defense:
New England’s defense has been really heating up the past few weeks, having shut down offenses led by Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, and Matthew Stafford in consecutive weeks. The way they accomplished this was threefold. They built early leads to force the teams to become one dimensional, coupled with that they stuffed the run which forced the teams to abandon it, and that lead to quarterbacks turning the ball over. As with the Eagles two weeks ago, the Packers are already ready for this as they most of the season have not attempted to run the ball much anyway, with last week being the first time Lacy has eclipsed 20 carries in a game and the second time he has had more than 14.
However, New England boasts arguably the best cornerback combination in the NFL, with Darrelle Revis back to form as one of the best corners in the league, and former Seahawk Brandon Browner. With two shutdown corners and a very talented safety to back them up in Devin McCourty, New England will be able to man up on the outside with Green Bay, giving them one of their toughest matches defensively.
Fortunately, the Packers only true weakness offensively comes when teams can pressure the quarterback without blitzing, and this is something New England is not particularly effective at doing. Aaron Rodgers should have the time he needs to find openings, but most of them are going to be coming from the role players this week. Revis most likely will be locking on Cobb as Browner this season has tended to cover the larger targets, such as last week he was covering Calvin Johnson. While it is unlikely that both corners will completely shut out both receivers, I would not be shocked if both are held to under 100 yards with Cobb potentially locked out if Revis stays on him all game. Rodgers today will have trouble getting the ball to his primary weapons, but with the way he has been slinging it, throwing perfect balls into virtually no space is not out of the question. Having said that, this is the best week for a breakout performance from the X-factors in the passing game, Davante Adams and Eddie Lacy, as well as tight ends Richard Rodgers and Andrew Quarless. Aaron Rodgers is one of the best ever at distributing the ball to multiple players in multiple packages.
Head coach and playcaller Mike McCarthy will have to utilize schemes to poke holes in a defense that has allowed plenty of yards to good quarterbacks but have forced them to turn it over and miss throws, something that Aaron Rodgers has not done all season, especially in Lambeau. While I think they will give Lacy enough carries to keep the defense honest, I expect him to do some damage out of the backfield as a receiver this week as New England will focus their attention on the outside receivers. While the defense has been hot recently, they still are only 14th overall in the league, and they have holes that can be exposed. Green Bay will need to be highly efficient this week as New England will do their best to keep Rodgers on the sidelines and use clock control, but the offense can help the defense out in that regard by scoring early in the game to throw New England’s attempt to lockout Green Bay’s offense out the window. If New England on offense fails to keep Rodgers sidelined, he can score on this defense, especially with the way he is playing in Lambeau.
Packers’ Defense vs. Patriots’ Offense:
This is the best quarterback and most versatile offense Green Bay will have faced or will face all season, so to say they have their work cut out for them is an understatement. New England is the sixth-ranked offense for total yards gaining 385.9 yards per game. They also adjust to the opponent to exploit their weakness, for instance against the Indianapolis Colts two weeks ago, they ran the ball 44 times and only threw it 30 but against Detroit and the league’s best run defense, they threw the ball 53 times with only 20 rushing attempts.
What this means is with Green Bay having the 12th best pass defense and the 30th (or third-to-worst) run defense, expect New England to run the ball and run it a lot. Against the Colts they even played six offensive lineman formations, daring the Colts to try to stop the run. Unlike the shifty-footed LeSean McCoy of two weeks ago, who the Packers successfully contained, New England uses two big power backs in Jonas Gray and LeGarrett Blount for pounding the ball while smaller and more-elusive Shane Vereen is used as the change-of-pace option as well as receiving back. With New England not only seeing a weakness in the run game but knowing that their defense’s best chance to slow Rodgers is to simply leave him on the sidelines, except New England to try and run it unless behind by more than ten.
Not only are the running backs integral for New England’s success, but also their offensive line. New England’s offensive line has done not only exceptional at run blocking, they have also kept Brady relatively spotless all season. Only four teams have surrendered fewer sacks than the Patriots. Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews need to be in top form Sunday, as well as defensive coordinator Dom Capers preparing a great scheme to stop the Patriots.
While Clay Matthews move to middle linebacker for run situations has been a blessing for the Packers, this will be the new-look defense’s biggest test. If Green Bay’s defense can slow the run enough to force throws this will be their best chance to succeed. The only truly consistent weapon the Patriots possess in the passing game is Rob Gronkowski, though that alone has been enough to jump start New England and their current seven-game winning streak.
Ever since Rob Gronkowski returned to health week five against Cincinnati, New England has not lost and won every game but one by over ten points. Rob Gronkowski is a matchup issue outside of the redzone for Green Bay as no one will be fast enough and large enough to consistently cover him. Fortunately for Green Bay, the wide receivers are not talented enough to dictate a need at safety help as the Packers do, so look for Haha Clinton-Dix to help on Gronkowski all day. In the redzone, one matchup Green Bay could try is putting Julius Peppers on Gronkowski since there is not enough space for Gronkowski to simply outrun Peppers and Peppers can use his unique size and athleticism to cover up Gronkowski.
The Weather Factor:
Green Bay will be a cool but still pleasant 27o during kickoff Sunday. It will be partially cloudy with no snow and a light wind, optimal December conditions for two teams both used to the cold.
The game of the year, and it should not disappoint. Right now the two hottest and best quarterbacks in the game square off with very different schemes. New England will look to run the ball all day and have Tom Brady throwing to Rob Gronkowski and a cast of assorted misfits at wide receiver off of play-action. Green Bay will look to have Aaron Rodgers spread the field and connect to a plethora of offensive weapons.
If New England is successful at chewing the clock with the running game, this will be a relatively low scoring game for both teams. If Matthews and the Packers can have key third down stops to get off the field and let Rodgers open the game up, look for New England to follow suit and attempt a shootout. A shootout would heavily favor the Packers, especially in Lambeau while a grind-out slugfest is what favors New England. My prediction is that Green Bay does enough on defense in the first half to slow the run and Green Bay’s offense puts the Patriots into a bit of a shootout. If this game was in Foxborough on the Patriots’ home field, I’m pretty sure New England is able to control the game enough to end up winning by 10. Fortunately for Green Bay, the Packers are the home team, where they score nearly three more touchdowns than they do on the road. Green Bay’s offense will score enough to win this game in a nail biter, with a final score of Green Bay 41-37 over New England.
Davante Adams- This is his week, as arguably the best corner combination in football will focus themselves on Cobb and Nelson, leaving Adams suddenly as potentially the number one option.
Eddie Lacy- McCarthy looks to finally be warming up to Lacy, and even if he doesn’t carry the rock, Rodgers is more than happy to throw it his way.
Randall Cobb- I say this ONLY if you have the depth or another quality receiver that is tier 2-3, because it appears Revis will be on Cobb the entire game and if so, he may not break four points.As always, go Pack go! Stu Weis -Journalism graduate 2012, Carroll University