The Green Bay Packers’ 2021 minicamp has come to an end, leaving cheese heads with a five week lull in the NFL calendar before training camp kicks off early August.
The dead period isn’t all bad, though. Now is the time for bold predictions, schedule breakdowns, and entertaining analysis as the excitement builds for the regular season.
Today, we take a look at the game within the game – the key matchup in every game of the Packers 2021 schedule. Let’s have some fun.
Only the first matchup against NFC North opponents are analysed.
Week 1: Packers @ Saints
Key matchup: Jaire Alexander v. Michael Thomas
Buckle up, this isn’t just the key matchup in this game. This is one of the key matchups of 2021. Jaire Alexander has cemented himself as one of the premier shutdown corners in the NFL.
Now with Joe Barry coordinating the defense, Alexander will be used like Jalen Ramsey is in the Rams defense – a neutralizer to the oppositions top receiving threat.
His week one assignment is one of the league’s best pass catchers in Michael Thomas. Before his injury riddled 2020 season, Thomas was targeted 652 times from 2016-2019. He remains the Saints’ top option even without Drew Brees at the helm.
Alexander will have his hands full in this matchup and should expect his fair share of targets.
Week 2: Lions @ Packers
Key matchup: Davante Adams v. Jeff Okudah
Davante Adams was arguably the best receiver in the NFL in 2020, posting ridiculous numbers on a weekly basis. One of his best games came against Jeff Okudah and the Detroit Lions in week 14 when Adams caught seven balls for 115 yards and a touchdown.
Okudah had a rough rookie season, leaving many to question his 3rd overall draft position.
I may be an Ohio State fan, but I believe Okudah is going to have a bounce-back sophomore campaign and make this a much more interesting matchup to watch this season.
Week 3: Packers @ Niners
Key matchup: David Bakhtiari v. Nick Bosa
Both Bakhtiari and Bosa suffered season-ending knee injuries in 2020. For the Niners, Bosa was among the first of many key injuries in their season to forget.
For the Packers, Bakhtiari was a critical late-season blow to Super Bowl chances.
With both expected to be healthy for this one, the best pass protector in the business will take on one of the best pass rushers in the league, under the lights on Sunday Night Football in Santa Clara.
Week 4: Steelers @ Packers
Key matchup: Packers DBs v. Steelers WRs
The Pittsburgh Steelers get the ball out of their hands quick. In fact, Ben Roethlisberger led the NFL in time to throw last season, taking just 2.3 seconds per snap to throw.
The emphasis on smoke screens, bubble screens, and quick slants don’t allow DBs to make a lot of plays on the ball. Instead, those concepts place a lot of pressure on the opposition’s DBs to rally to the football to prevent damage after the catch.
The Packers DBs will need to diagnose screens quickly, get hats to the football, and secure a tackle.
Having a big, physical secondary bodes well for the Packers in this matchup.
Week 5: Packers@ Bengals
Key matchup: Packers DBs v. Bengals WRs
This week five meeting between two outer-conference teams won’t garner much attention from the media, but this in-game matchup will be a treat for the eyes.
The Bengals receivers are a young, exciting group headlined by 2021 first-round pick Ja’Maar Chase. The LSU product joins veteran Tyler Boyd and second-year receiver Tee Higgins in a Bengals pass attack that has brought excitement to the franchise for the first time in a while.
Aggressive and fast, these groups will add a layer of excitement to a matchup that otherwise won’t be talked about much.
Week 6: Packers @ Bears
Key matchup: Kenny Clark v. Bears interior offensive linemen
Kenny Clark enters 2021 as an anchor on the Packers defensive line, searching for more production than he had in 2020.
The Bears enter 2021 with some question marks on the interior of their offensive line. Aside from Cody Whitehair, who else will make up this part of the line?
The Bears have found a bit of an identity with David Montgomery emerging as a solid running back. Montgomery and the rushing attack make the offense tick, so it will start with Kenny Clark in the middle to wreck the Bears game plan.
Week 7: Football Team @ Packers
Key matchup: Packers offensive line v. Football Team front-4
The Packers’ offensive line, when healthy, has proved to be one of the very best in the NFL.
The Football Team’s front-4 , made up of blue-chip talents, had 2.9 sacks per game in 2020 – good enough for 5th in the league.
Chase Young, Matt Ionnadis, Jonathan Allen, Da’Ron Payne, and Montez Sweat are all former first-round picks forming one of the scariest pass rushes in the league.
This may be this offensive line’s toughest task all season. Chase Young will be the focal point, but don’t discredit what the rest of this line is capable of.
Week 8: Packers @Cardinals
Key matchup: Jaire Alexander v. DeAndre Hopkins
When you have two players who’re arguably the best at what they do going head-to-head, it’s tough not to mark it as the key matchup.
Kyler Murray and the Cardinals’ air-raid offense relies on DeAndre Hopkins heavily each game, targeting him 160 times in 2020 – the most in the NFL. Unfortunately for him, Alexander allowed just two touchdowns and 41 completions on 80 targets in 2020.
These are two finesse players who aren’t afraid to get physical. Get your popcorn ready.
Week 9: Packers @ Chiefs
Key matchup: Packers special teams v. Chiefs special teams
For the Packers in 2021, special teams might be highlighted more than in past years.
Sports Illustrated’s Rick Gosselin ranked Green Bay 29th in special teams in 2020 under Shawn Mennenga. He also had them dead last in kickoff returns and punt coverage.
Enter Maurice Drayton.
Drayton spent three seasons as assistant special teams coach for the Packers before being promoted to special teams coordinator this offseason.
In week 9, he’ll have his hands full preparing for the Chiefs. Gosselin ranked Kansas City, led by Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman, fourth in kickoff returns in 2020.
The Chiefs also tied for first in points scored on special teams. Hill and Hardman carry game-changing speed in the punt and kickoff return game.
The Packers will need to stay disciplined in coverage so they don’t give Patrick Mahomes and that high-powered offense any short fields.
Week 10: Seahawks @ Packers
Key matchup: Aaron Rodgers v. Bobby Wagner
This should be the key matchup any time these two teams play.
Rodgers is undoubtedly one of the best signal-callers in NFL history and the same can be said about six-time first team All-Pro Bobby Wagner as a linebacker.
Wagner is the quarterback and heartbeat of his defense. He is one of the best of his generation, large in part to his football IQ. He makes the in-game adjustments for the Hawks’ defense, just as Rodgers does for the Packers’ offense.
This is a chess match that will be must watch TV.
Week 11: Packers @ Vikings
Key matchup: Packers WRs (not named Davante Adams) v. Vikings DBs
After Davante Adams embarrassed the Vikings defense for 14 receptions, 156 yards and two touchdowns in week 1 last season, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer decided to try taking Adams out of the game when they played again in week 5.
The Vikings double-teamed Adams throughout the game, forcing Rodgers to look elsewhere. That is until the Packers reached the red zone. Adams finished the day with seven grabs for just 53 yards, but found pay dirt three times.
After spending a lot of time upgrading his defense this offseason, Zimmer might look to double Adams again, leaving the rest of the Packers’ receivers in single coverage.
Week 12: Rams @ Packers
Key matchup: Davante Adams v Jalen Ramsey
Adams will find himself in single coverage in this game, but it’ll be against one of the best in the business.
I highlight this matchup not only because of the quality of these two players but because of the mutual respect they have for one another.
When the Packers and Rams met last year in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs, Ramsey and Adams were seen trash talking before the game started.
Both players knew all eyes were on them and they made sure to put on a show for the fans and their teammates.
Week 12 will be no different when the physical shutdown corner, Ramsey takes on the shifty receiver, Adams in America’s Game of the Week.
Week 14: Packers @ Ravens
Key Matchup: Lamar Jackson v Packers edge rushers
Although under a different regime at the time, Packers fans have endured some tough times against read-option quarterbacks.
It’s no secret Lamar Jackson can change a game with his legs.
It will be up to players such as Rashan Gary, Za’Darius Smith, and Preston Smith to maintain their gap integrity and not allow Jackson to escape easily.
This will be a crucial week 14 matchup between two, presumably, playoff contenders.
Priority #1: don’t let Lamar dictate this game with his legs.
Week 15: Browns @ Packers
Key matchup: Browns offensive line v. Packers defensive line
The Packers veteran defensive line takes on one of the best offensive lines in the NFL in this week 15 tilt.
The line of scrimmage battle will be crucial in this game as Kevin Stefanski’s offense runs through Nick Chubb in the run game and that starts those big boys in the trenches.
Limiting the damage through the run game won’t allow Cleveland to control the ball or the pace of the game.
Forcing the Browns to put the ball in Baker Mayfield’s hands will give the Packers the best chance to win this game.