Early Bird Breakdown Week 1 – Packers @ Jaguars
Hello and welcome back for another season of Early Bird Breakdown! We will be diving straight into the match ups this week.
Packers’ Offense vs Jaguars’ Defense:
The Packers enter this game healthy and confidant. The Packers’ offense floundered last season without a reliable way to stretch the field. The return of Jordy Nelson from his season-ending ACL tear last pre-season should fix those issues for Green Bay. Week one Nelson gets to try and get back into the swing of things against a rookie but this is not going to necessarily be a walk in the park for him. Jacksonville will intrust their first round selection (and fourth overall pick) in the NFL draft Jalen Ramsey to cover Nelson, and physically he is up to the task. He is 6’1″ and ran a 4.41, giving him the height and speed to matchup with Nelson. Ramsey has no fear of the situation either, this week daring Rodgers to throw his way. However, as many Packer fans know it is not Nelson’s athleticism but his guile that results in the big plays; he has the best double move in football & always has perfect timing with Rodgers. In fact, Ramsey would be better off squaring off against more athletic wide receivers at this point in his career vs a savvy veteran like Nelson. I expect Nelson will get off one-to-two big plays on the rookie who most likely will not be ready for the crisp routes Nelson runs.
Also returning to the field healthier is Eddie Lacy, though in this case it’s in regards to his weight not an injury. Lacy owned up to concerns regarding his weight last season and dropped over 20 pounds this offseason and has said he feels far more explosive this year.
The biggest question will be regarding their new-look offensive line, as long time starter Josh Sitton, who has made the All-Pro list for the last three seasons, was cut by the Packers last week. Stepping in to left guard will be career backup Lane Taylor. His first test will be an incredibly difficult matchup in Jacksonville’s new starting defensive tackle Malik Jackson. Jackson was a prized free agent acquisition from the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos, and was a strong and powerful presence for their defense and will be a challenge for Taylor. Rodgers has a knack for dodging pressure from the outside but historically the best way for defenses to attack the Packers was through pressure on the interior of the line. Right guard TJ Lang & center JC Tretter should hold their own just fine against Roy Miller and any blitzes, but it will be up to Taylor to hold off Jacksonville’s best defensive player. Jacksonville’s second best defensive lineman has not played a single down in the NFL yet, that being former top-five pick Dante Fowler Jr. who missed all of last season with an ACL tear. He will give David Bakhtiari a bit of trouble with his athleticism but Bakhtiari should be able to hold his own thanks to his experience.
Jacksonville has multiple talented editions to their defense this year, and they needed them due to how poor they were the last few seasons. Jacksonville has not been able to cover any wide receivers or get to the quarterback. Jacksonville will be leaning on Malik Jackson to collapse pockets, rookie corner Jalen Ramsey to cover opponent’s top receivers, and effective rookie Dante Fowler. Down the road this defense could become quite good, but this early into the season they are relying on a lot of young and inexperienced talent and the Packers should be able to take advantage.
Packers’ Defense vs Jaguars’ Offense:
The Packers defense has a few question marks heading into this season. Since the mid-2014 season, due to ineptitude at middle line backer, Clay Matthews had to play in the center of the defense and the defense was much improved because of that. However, his best skill-set was at outside linebacker where he is able to rush the passer more frequently and that is where he returns this season. However, in those two seasons the Packers have not prioritized the position and will be relying on sophomore Jake Ryan & rookie Blake Martinez. Jacksonville does not have a particularly strong rushing attack, ranking 27th in rushing yards per game last season, but their running back trio in starter TJ Yeldon, free agent addition Chris Ivory, and the explosive Denard Robinson will get their chance to test Ryan & Martinez.
Mike Daniels, the best overall Packer defender, will have to live up to his contract extension this season for the Packers and carry the load for run stopping and interior pressure. Fortunately for the Packers, the pass rush overall should be improved with Matthews’ return to the outside to play opposite of the ageless Julius Peppers, who enters most likely his last season with the Packers.
The strength of the Packers defense is the secondary, which is arguably the second best secondary behind the Seattle secondary, and quite possibly the deepest in the NFL. The Packers have three talented corners in Damarious Randall, Sam Shields, & Quinten Rollins and two very good safeties in Morgan Burnett & Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. The secondary will be tested this week by Jacksonville who boast two talented wide outs in Allen Hurns & Allen Robinson. Hurns & Robinson became the third pair of receivers age 24 or younger to both get 1000 yards receiving last season and both being 6’3″ will be a bit of a trouble for the Packers corners. The key will be if Matthews and Peppers can get to quarterback Blake Bortles before the physical advantages of Hurns & Robinson create problems. The Jaguars also have an extremely talented tight end in Julius Thomas, who had a down season last year after being a star on the Broncos in 2014. The Packers historically have had issues covering big, athletic tight ends and the safeties will need assistance from the inexperienced line backer pair of Ryan & Martinez to help on Thomas or he could be open all day.
Quarterback Blake Bortles saw a huge improvement last season and threw for over 4400 yards and 35 touchdowns. However he also lead the league in interceptions. The Packers opportunistic secondary should be able to get one or two good chances for a turnover, and if they capitalize they should be able to keep Jacksonville down.
It’s going to be 91o and humid, both teams will have to deal with potential cramping which is normal for the Florida teams this time of season.
The Packers enter this game as the favorites on the road against a young-but-talented Jaguars team. The Jags have the offensive weapons to give the Packers’ defense trouble, but inexperience all around and a turnover prone quarterback will give the Packers’ defense enough chances to make a big play. On the other side of the ball I expect the Packers’ offense to be significantly better than it was last season, though with Nelson over 30 and coming off a knee injury I am not sure they will be as good as they were in 2014 and before. Also, while Jacksonville has historically struggled on defense they have added quite a bit of young talent and will eventually get better overall. Having said that, the improved offense should put up enough points to get comfortably ahead and force Jacksonville to become one dimensional. The only way I see Jacksonville winning this game is if Julius Thomas goes off and is uncoverable & Malik Johnson becomes unblockable for Lane Taylor. If Lane Taylor does his job well enough, Rodgers will lead the Packers to multiple scoring drives. I think he does enough of a job to buy Rodgers time, and Rodgers takes advantage of a young secondary. Packers win 31-24.
As always, go Pack go! Stu Weis -Journalism graduate 2012, Carroll University