Early Bird Breakdown Week 15 – Packers @ Panthers
Hello and welcome back to Early Bird Breakdown. It’s week fifteen of the regular season. Before diving into the breakdown, let’s look back to last week’s game.
Last week the Packers traveled to Cleveland to face the worst team in the NFL. The Packers offense actually looked pretty good overall and on the first drive even converted a pair of fourth downs (the first one being with a fake punt). The Browns then struck back and for the first time this season their offense came alive. The Browns former prolific receiver Josh Gordon returned from suspension and the Packers secondary showed old holes against a dynamic weapon. After being down 21-7 in the third quarter, Hundley led an incredible comeback to force overtime. After Clay Matthews forced an errant throw for an interception, Hundley hit Adams on a screen to win 27-21.
Packers’ Offense vs Panthers’ Defense:
Welcome back Aaron Rodgers! While Hundley had multiple solid games including last week’s overtime victory the Packers passing offense will have a massive upgrade and the playbook will be more opened up now that Rodgers has returned. He has already made comments about getting back and slinging it around, specifically to get Jordy Nelson a lot of touches. Rodgers will also have the help of a good running game now that rookie backs Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams are both playing well.
Defensively Carolina boasts the fifth-best total defense lead by the best interior linebacker in the NFL in Luke Kuechly. Thanks to a terrific pass rush by a quality front seven, the Panthers are nearly as strong against the pass as they are the run and will be a difficult defense to score on, especially if Rodgers has any rust coming back from his injury.
Packers’ Defense vs Panthers’ Offense:
The Packers defense will need to play a lot better this week than they did last week. While Carolina’s offense is not all that prolific, Cam Newton still is a dynamic quarterback and has had success against the Packers before. Not to mention that Dom Capers’ defensive schemes always seem to struggle to contain mobile quarterbacks and it has been an Achilles’ heel for the Packers for years. The best gameplan to have is going to be generating pressure internally from Mike Daniels while playing a zone defense behind it to create a psuedo-QB spy for the middle of the field in case Newton tries any runs up the middle. The outside linebackers will need to be careful when pressuring the quarterback. The general rule of thumb is that the outside shoulder can be no further back than parallel to the quarterback, otherwise if they are any further up the field the quarterback will have a running lane to escape through.
For the Packers it will feel pretty nice, with an expected kickoff of 43 degrees with cloudy skies.
This game is not an easy one to call. While Rodgers is medically cleared and back we do not know if he has any rust or any lingering effects from his collarbone break. Not to mention the fact he has to warm up versus one of the best defenses in league. On the flip side, Cam Newton presents a quarterback archetype that has dominated Capers’ defense consistently for years. Carolina did not get to 9-4 by accident and are at home, this will be a hard fought game for the Packers. However, Carolina does not have a weapon offensively that is a mismatch for the secondary and will have to rely on Newton to do too much. The Packer secondary also will be a little extra motivated after giving up a lot of big gains against Cleveland and will have a bounce back performance. In general, I think the Packers will get an extra boost just knowing they have Rodgers back and this being a win-or-go-home game as they fight for a playoff spot. Packers win 27-20.As always, go Pack go! Stu Weis -Journalism graduate 2012, Carroll University