Early Bird Breakdown Week 9 – Green Bay Packers @ Carolina Panthers

Hello and welcome back to Early Bird Breakdown. Before we get into this week’s breakdown, we need to go over last week’s recap and it is more important than usual.

The Recap:

Last week every weakness the Packers have had in small segments was exposed over the course of a full game. Offensively Aaron Rodgers had the worst start of his entire career, throwing for only 77 yards. The reason for this was two-fold. One, the Broncos were able to get consistent and strong pressure on Rodgers, not giving him the time to setup and move around to buy time for his receivers to get open often. Second, the Packers receivers could not get open. The Broncos have multiple incredible pass rushers, so the first issue is not as big of a deal as the second. While Denver does have great corners, the Packers have this season had issues creating space and have had to rely on Rodgers to get them the openings to complete plays. This has been an issue of both play calling, where they have not called any deep routes to try and take the top off of the defense, and because the Packers have been out matched talent wise. While the Packers are deep at wide receiver scheme wise, the lack of a truly dynamic weapon (see Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, Rob Gronkowski, Amari Cooper, etc.) has been the biggest problem. There was a reason James Jones was cut from the Giants, and while Randall Cobb is very good at what he does, he is elite when someone else can force the defense to have to play deep. Right now, Cobb cannot get the separation because the Packers deepest throws are only for 10 yards and the defenses know that.

Defensively, the scheme was really bad for what Denver was already known for as well as how the game was going. Casey Hayward kept playing the deep option for Demaryius Thomas, who would continually turn in on the coverage for 10-15 yards consistently. Not only does Peyton Manning have issues throwing deep due to the nerve damage in his neck, they kept going to this play in key moments. The Packers failed to adjust, instead of bracket covering with a safety over the top and having Hayward cover short, they never adjusted and it cost them. The Packers did breakdown against the run, but they have not consistently been able to stop the run so that was less of a headache.  The Packers were beaten 29-10, but the game was not even that close.


The Breakdown:

Packers’ Offense vs Panthers’ Defense

Unfortunately for the Packers, this will be another road test against one of the best defenses in the league. While Carolina is not as strong as Denver, especially at edge rushers, they still are a formidable foe. Led by All-Pro (and best middle linebacker in the league) Luke Kuechly, the Panthers have been holding opponents to the 10th fewest yards per game.

Also playing incredibly well for Carolina is their breakout corner Josh Norman, who co-leads the NFC with four interceptions on the season.

However, compared to last week this week is much easier. Denver is on a historic pace, has significantly better pass rushers, and more talent overall. Having said that, Green Bay has had significant issues going back the last couple of years on the road. Rodgers was only able to throw for 77 yards last week, it bears repeating because Green Bay now officially has big issues at the skill positions on offense, they are not athletic enough to get open against the corners covering them, especially with safety help short. Unless the Packers work Adams in as a deep threat and try and take the top off of the defense, passing will not be easy again this week for Green Bay.

The Packers best odds for success is to run the ball consistently against Carolina. Despite having Kuechly, the Panthers are only 20th against the run, giving up 113,7 yards per game. Lacy will need to turn his season around and help carry the offense to give the Packers a chance.

Packers’ Defense vs Panthers’ Offense:

The Panthers will have a simple game plan against the Packers, and the Packers historically have not faired well against it. Carolina will run a heavy dose of read option with quarterback Cam Newton & running back Johnathan Stewart. So far on the season, Carolina leads the league in rushing gaining 144 yards per game on the ground, and with Green Bay giving up 124.4 per game, good for 25th in the league, it is a big mismatch in Carolina’s favor.

Cam Newton has made key plays all season to keep drives going for Carolina.

Cam Newton may not have the most impressive numbers this season, but he has come up huge on third downs and in key spots in the game. Sometimes with his arm, sometimes with his legs. He has been making crucial plays all season and has carried Carolina to 7-0 despite missing his only capable wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who went down in the preseason similar to Jordy Nelson and also is out for the year. Newton has one of the best tight ends in Greg Olsen, but outside of that is a bunch of cast offs and none of them create mismatches for the Packers, who should do a better job against the pass this week.

The Weather:

Early forecast is for low 50s and cloudy conditions but only a 15% chance of rain.

The Game:

This one could really go either way. On one hand, Cam Newton is not the kind of quarterback that exploits the weaknesses of the secondary like Peyton, using intermediate accurate throws. On the other hand, we’ve seen Green Bay struggle recently against the run, a consistent problem dating back for a few years. Add in the fact that Newton can take off and run on third down with his 6-5, 245lb frame and Carolina easily could move the ball for long enough stretches to keep Rodgers sidelined. This is a big gut check game for Green Bay, Carolina is 7-0, not only does this particular game have playoff seeding implications but Green Bay looked lost last week, and this is their chance to right the ship. On paper, there is a clear way Green Bay can win this key road game: run the ball, move Rodgers around easier than Denver due to a  lesser pass rush, and do everything they can to stop the run. But this season, nothing has gone as easy as it should of it seems. The Packers are the better team talent-wise, but Carolina is playing better football. Recent history shows Green Bay has not lost back-to-back in 5 years, and perhaps my bias is clouding my judgement. I will go out on a limb and say the Packers can pull this through, but I imagine at half they will be losing. They will then follow the Colts’ blueprint from Monday night and engineer a second half comeback. Unlike the Colts, the Packers will close out the Panthers before it gets to overtime. Green Bay comes away late with a 27-24 win.

As always, go Pack go! Stu Weis -Journalism graduate 2012, Carroll University