The Green Bay Packers (2-1) host Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots (1-2) tomorrow afternoon at Lambeau Field. Sunday will be the third time Belichick leads the Patriots into Green Bay, winning 35-0 in 2006 and losing 26-21 in 2014, both games with Tom Brady at Quarterback. Tomorrow, the Patriots QB situation remains uncertain, as starter Mac Jones suffered a high ankle sprain last week against Baltimore and is questionable to play. If he can’t go, it’ll be 14 year veteran Brian Hoyer making the start, who has a 16-23 record as a starter with 53 Touchdown passes next to 35 interceptions.
The Packers look to build on their current two game winning streak and keep the momentum going at home before next week’s showdown against the Giants at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London. In order for the Packers, listed as 9.5 point favorites, to win against New England tomorrow, they’ll need to do these 3 things effectively.
1) Contain Patriots RB’s Rhamondre Stevenson and Damien Harris
The Patriots rushing attack has progressively gotten better in their first 3 games.
|Week 1 at Miami
|8 carries, 25 yards
|9 carries, 48 yards
|17 carries, 73 yards (4.29 YPC)
|Week 2 at Pittsburgh
|9 carries, 47 yards
|15 carries, 71 yards
|24 carries, 118 yards (4.92 YPC)
|Week 3 vs Baltimore
|12 carries, 73 yards
|11 carries, 41 yards
|23 carries, 114 yards (4.96 YPC)
Specifically, Stevenson looks like a player on the rise. His statistics and carries have increased each week. He ran the ball hard and effectively against the Ravens last Sunday, showcasing good burst, vision and strength. The Patriots were largely effective on offense in that game and if not for a couple of untimely turnovers in key situational spots, would’ve had a great shot to come away with a win.
The Patriots rushing attack is so important to them as it is to any team, taking pressure off the passing game and adding balance to the offense. The Packers defense did a great job bottling up Leonard Fournette, limiting him to 2.9 yards per carry in their win over Tampa. Tomorrow’s game would be a great time to replicate that type of performance, especially after their last home game where the defense was gashed for 180 yards rushing at a 6.7 yards per clip against the Bears.
If Green Bay can bottle up New England’s ground game completely as they did to Tampa Bay, they’ll win. If they can at least keep things respectable and not have another Bears performance, they’ll put themselves in a good spot.
2) The Packers offense still goes through 33 and 28
Week 1, the Packers lost 23-7 and it’s obvious they didn’t do a good enough job of involving Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon.
Week 2 rolled around and everyone was screaming that the offense needed more Jones and Dillon. It happened, and the tandem went off for 237 total yards and 2 touchdowns in a 27-10 win.
Week 3 in Tampa, the Packers knew the challenge ahead versus the formidable Buccaneers defense. Jones got 12 carries for 36 yards, Dillon received 12 carries for 32 yards. Overall, the attempts were there, which was positive! The results however, were not, as the Bucs shut down the Packers rushing attack.
Now, the Packers find themselves in Week 4, winners of two in a row and going against the “lowly” Patriots, who are expected to start a backup QB and are projected to lose by 9-10 points. You, me, your friend who’s a Packers fan, the person who has Aaron Rodgers in fantasy, wants this Packers team to open up. We want to see more deep bombs to Christian Watson, we want 20 yard completions down the field to Bob Tonyan and Allen Lazard. We want Romeo Doubs to continue his potential rookie of the year campaign and improve each week. We want 30+ points, the fireworks, the highlights. We’ve endured the first three weeks of growing pains, it’s time to get things in gear.
I want those things too and maybe they will come. Yet, I’m not expecting the Packers to be there quite yet. Getting too pass happy in this type of game would be the worst thing Matt LaFleur and company could do in my opinion. The Patriots got after the most elusive quarterback in football last week in Lamar Jackson, sacking him 4 times and pressuring him more. They currently are tied for 4th in the NFL with 10 sacks as a team, an average of 3.33 sacks per game.
With the Packers early season question marks of who’s playing (?) and struggles in pass protection, now is not the time to jump the gun. Aaron Rodgers, the line, the pass catchers are all still taking their lumps, as we clearly saw during the 2nd half in Tampa. The Packers are at their best when Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon are touching the football, be it running or catching. Against a Belichick coached team who’s prideful, talented and hungry for an upset win, it would be a mistake to overlook New England and get away from the running backs. Coach LaFleur needs to exercise patience tomorrow and be sure that his two best offensive weapons continue to shoulder a large bulk of the work.
3) Don’t Look Ahead
With the Packers coming off a huge win for their confidence last week against the Bucs and an upcoming trip to London shortly after tomorrow’s game, it could be easy to overlook a 1-2 Patriots team potentially starting a backup quarterback. That would be a mistake.
As I briefly mentioned earlier, this Patriots team is hungry, focused and professional, something you’d expect out of a Belichick coached team. New England is better than people think and while their record is what it is, this team has been improving each week and will be very motivated coming off a tough loss against the Ravens and looking to prove the world wrong this week as giant underdogs. Look at the Packers energy, tempo and body language early in this game – it should give you a good indicator on their level of preparedness. Hopefully, the Packers have executed Coach LaFleur’s “day by day” mantra during practice this week to keep them focused, present and ready for the Patriots tomorrow afternoon.——————
Alex grew up in a family of Chicago Bears fans in the suburbs of Chicago but was always a Packers guy. Alex\'s AIM name when he was in elementary/middle school was PackerAlex. He now lives in Nashville, Tennessee and you can follow him on twitter at @Alex_Mayer93.