Early Bird Breakdown Week 15 – Green Bay Packers @ Oakland Raiders
Hello and welcome back to Early Bird Breakdown! As the season winds down and the Packers look to get into the playoffs, each game becomes more and more critical. Before we can look at this weeks matchup, we first must review last weeks game.
Last week Green Bay won 28-7 over Dallas at home for their first home victory since October. The Packers exploited Dallas’ 5th ranked overall defense (heading into the game last week) by focusing on their one weak spot, the run defense which ranked only 15th overall. Eddie Lacy and James Starks both had big days and the team combined for 230 yards on the ground. The Packers defense also looked good, though it was against Dallas’ backup QB.
Packers’ Offense vs Raiders’ Defense:
The Packers will have the impossible task of trying to stop Khalil Mack this week. The second-year pro is leading the NFL in sacks with 14, nine of which have come in the previous three games. Trying to stop him are tackles Bryan Bulaga and David Bakhtiari, both of whom are listed as probable however they are hurt and have not been as effective for a few weeks now. Barring an unforeseen jolt of health for this offensive line that has been nursing injuries for weeks now, Mack and an improving Oakland line should be able to harass Rodgers consistently. Rodgers this season has only completed 41.9 percent of his throws against pressure with his yards per-pass-attempt dropping to only 5.7, so the passing game once again will have limited output. Rodgers only has three games this season when he has surpassed 300 yards, and this one despite Oakland’s defense not being good on the season against the pass (271.5 yards per game, only 28th overall) I do not expect Green Bay to have much success there.
What success they will have passing will be to James Jones and Randall Cobb on short, quick, crossing route style plays that create natural legal pick plays. Now that head coach Mike McCarthy is calling plays again, this is one of his signature styles in his play calling. By calling plays that have the receivers run near each other it causes defenders in man coverage to have trouble following the receivers since they have to get around the other defender covering. This is key for Green Bay, as they have struggled heavily against man coverage this year. McCarthy should be able to call up a few key plays on third downs against a weak Oakland secondary. While the defensive line for Oakland will limit Rodgers, the secondary will not do much to stop Cobb and Jones will get some space for a few first downs as well. If Rodgers can get one to two free plays off with his signature snap count, I expect Cobb will have a big play that will lead to points.
The area where Green Bay will have to focus most on is with their running game. Coming off of a big performance, the Packers will and should give the ball to Eddie Lacy at least 20 times and James Starks at least 10 times. Oakland on the season has been more stout on the run than they have the pass, but they are still giving up over 100 yards per game and have not been that great stopping the run. On the other hand, Green Bay has been running the ball better nearly every week (apart from the week where Eddie Lacy broke curfew in Detroit). Eddie Lacy getting to 100 yards and Starks adding another 40 or so is the best chance Green Bay has to win.
Packers’ Defense vs Raiders’ Offense:
Clay Matthews and the Packers have been rolling as of late and will need to keep up the momentum to win this one in Oakland. As it has been in recent weeks, the game most likely will be decided by the Packers’ defense.
Oakland’s offense ranks only 20th overall in the league (with 344.5 total yards per game) but they can be explosive thanks to their second year quarterback Derek Carr and rookie wide receiver Amari Cooper. Derek Carr has taken a big step forward in his second year in the league and looks more poised and a like a future franchise QB while Cooper has some highlight reel plays and looks to be one of the better receivers in the league within the next couple of seasons. Veteran receiver Michael Crabtree has also found a second life in Oakland and looks better than he has in a while, giving Oakland a pair of good receivers.
The Packers will be without cornerback Sam Shields for the game, so either Casey Heyward or Damarious Randall will be tasked with keeping Cooper contained. Cooper has been hobbled by an injury recently but looked fully ready to go in practice this week and is listed that he will be playing.
Mike Daniels this week signed a lucrative (and well deserved) extension this week and the newest report suggests that he is now likely to play after being questionable earlier this week. He will get his chance to live up to his contract against a surprisingly strong offensive line this season that has given up only 21 sacks on the season, good for the 4th best overall.
While Oakland has shown promise offensively, they are young and can make mistakes. Green Bay should be able to hold them out of the end zone as they have been doing to most opponents this season, giving up only 18.8 points per game.
The weather will be chilly for Oakland, mid forties with 0% chance of rain.
This game should be a close battle throughout. While on paper Green Bay should be able to win, Rodgers has struggled throughout the season when faced with pressure and will need his receivers to play at a higher level than they have shown this season to bail him out. Pressuring Rodgers is the league leader in sacks who has nine in the last three games and singlehandedly stopped Denver’s offense last week in Khalil Mack. The Packers best chance to consistently gain yardage will be to follow the same pattern they used last week and keep pounding the ground game, which should keep the defense fresh.
Defensively Green Bay has the talent at corner to matchup with Oakland even without Shields. Matthews, Peppers, and Daniels will need to generate some pressure against one of the toughest teams to sack in the league to prevent Oakland from getting too many points. As it is right now, Green Bay defensively gives up a lot of yards but then keeps opponents out of the red zone. They will need to get a key sack or stop just outside of field goal range more than once to keep the Packers in control.
Overall, I think Rodgers uses some of his guile to get the young Raiders defense to jump at least twice, which combined with some other penalties or bad coverage from a spotty secondary will be just enough to get the Packers a couple of touchdown drives. Packers come away and win 20-17.As always, go Pack go! Stu Weis -Journalism graduate 2012, Carroll University