We knew two weeks ago that this portion of the schedule would be difficult. The road games would become more frequent, and the opposing defenses were going to be much more difficult.
Sure enough, here we are. The Packers suffered their first loss at the hands of the league’s top defense and another top defense is looming in the Pack’s path.
This is a week that should show us what the coaching staff is worth. They had two weeks to work on what ails this team, but it didn’t show last week. Now, with one week to prepare, they will show us whether any steps forward have been taken or if we should start expecting the same disappointing results from this team the rest of the way.
Here are some of the matchups that be be key to the Pack’s victory, as well as key to telling us what the coaches have been able to correct.
Packers Wide Receivers vs Carolina’s Cornerbacks
The wideouts have to start winning their one-on-one battles; we’ve been saying it for weeks on the podcast, Aaron Rodgers can’t be Aaron Rodgers without SOMEONE getting open. Last week was a sad commentary on just how bad this situation really is. Denver knew just how to handle Randall Cobb, James Jones, and the rest of the receivers.
Carolina will employ several corners in the game, not the least of which is Charles Tillman. Tillman certainly knows enough about the elder receivers of Green Bay, even if he hasn’t seen them for a while. He’s not as sharp as he used to be though.
This is a great opportunity for the older wideouts to get back on track, but also a chance for Davante Adams and Ty Montgomery to break out. However, if we don’t see somebody step up this week, the outlook for the season is going to be very dark indeed.
B.J. Raji/Letroy Guion vs Carolina’s Interior O-Line
The nose tackle of a three-man line is ALWAYS crucial to a defense, whether it be a 3-3 stack, a high school 3-5, or the Pack’s own 3-4 set. Raji was limited last week, both in his coming off an injury and inability to open up the rest of the defense. In fairness, he wasn’t terrible, and the Pack’s offense forced him and Letroy Guion on the field too often.
Raji’s position is not only to “activate” the rest of the defense by commanding a double-team on every play, but also to stuff the running game. Against the league’s top running attack, there is no more important time for Raji to execute that element of his job: stuff Jonathan Stewart and even QB Cam Newton if necessary.
As I’ll mention later, the Panthers’ wide receivers aren’t anything special, but they are effective, and you’d better believe that it’s primarily because of the running game. If the running game can’t open up the passing game, Newton is going to have one other option: throw deep to the speedster Ted Ginn Jr. Hear me loud and clear on this friends: Ted Ginn Jr. is no Jeff Janis.
Packers Interior O-Line vs Carolina’s Interior D-Line
Last week, Aaron Rodgers was hounded by pressure coming up the middle. The line wasn’t playing poorly, but they were getting split open like a hot dog bun, and unfortunately, the hot dog was made up of Denver’s linebackers.
The Panthers employ a 4-3 scheme, so the pressure will generally come more from the front four. Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short will be the primary opposition for Lang, Sitton, and Linsley. Should the Panthers decide to bring extra pressure, which probably won’t be often, they have some very skilled linebackers who can (and very likely would) create havoc for Rodgers.
Packers Cornerbacks vs Carolina’s Wide Receivers
It may be easy to say this as someone who hasn’t seen much of Carolina’s offense, but the receivers on this team are basically “system guys,” players who fit the offensive scheme in terms of blocking, distracting opposing the back seven of the defense, and running their routes crisply. They don’t need to be outstanding hands guys or have any other distinct skill set. They simply need to be in the right place at the right time. They are not guys asked to “make a play” very often the way a Calvin Johnson or Dez Bryant might.
I mentioned Jeff Janis tongue-in-cheek earlier. He might not be more than a fourth receiver on the Panthers roster because he’s not as consistent as what I’ve just described a Panther receiver to be. That said, if the running game ever goes south for them, they could use someone like him.
The top receiver for Carolina is their tight end Greg Olsen. Their wideouts include Ted Ginn Jr. Devin Funchess, Philly Brown, and Jerricho Cotchery. Nothing frightening. With or without Sam Shields, this is a group that the secondary should do well against. Not to say they won’t get some yards through the air, but with any help at all from the front seven, the secondary shouldn’t have a problem making a play now and then to hold the Panthers offense at bay.
Packers Linebackers vs Greg Olsen
Olsen is the real threat in Carolina’s passing game, and tight ends historically do well against the Dom Capers defense. Olsen is far and away the best option Cam Newton will have through the air, but he is not a serious risk to go deep (not to say that he won’t go 20 yards downfield now and then.) They’ll utilize him in the short passing game, which will be fine for them if the rushing game is effective. Limiting Olsen will require making Carolina a one-dimensional team.
Thank you for reading. David Bobke is a featured writer for Titletown Sound Off. You can follow him on Twitter @ThatsOurBobbo. For even more Packers content, follow us on Twitter and Like us on Facebook.