Packers vs. Rams Preview: 5 Things to Watch
When: 12:00 CDT; Sunday, Oct. 16, 2011
Where: Lambeau Field; Green Bay, WI
TV: FOX; Chris Myers and Tim Ryan with the call, Jamie Maggio on the sidelines
Radio: 620 AM WTMJ (Milwaukee), Packers Radio Network, Sports USA Radio, NFL Sunday Drive (Sirius Radio)
Series: Rams lead, 43-46-2 (Packers won the last regular season game, 36-17, in St. Louis on Sept. 27, 2009)
Five things to watch
1. Throwback jerseys, throwback offense?
For the second time in as many seasons, the Packers will wear their 1929 throwback jerseys. Some love the brown-on-blue-on-yellow-on-tan color combination, some hate it. But like the ’29 team that went 10-0-1 and won the NFL championship, the Packers could look to the ground game on Sunday to move the football against the Rams. While it won’t be Verne Lewellen or Johnny “Blood” McNally lining up in the backfield, the Packers will likely use a heavy dose of their own duo of James Starks and Ryan Grant against the NFL’s worst rushing defense. St. Louis is giving up almost 180 rushing yards a game, which is a ridiculously high number in this age of football and 34 yards higher than the next best team. The opposition is averaging 5.3 yards every time they run the ball on the Rams defense.
The Packers are still a passing team and will want to throw it plenty against the Rams banged up secondary, but there’s nothing wrong with attacking such an obvious weakness in an opponent. An effective running game could also take pressure off the Packers offensive tackles. Marshall Newhouse will be making his first career start at left tackle on Sunday, and Bryan Bulaga might have some rust after missing two games with a knee injury.
2. Mistake prone
Few teams in the NFL have self-destructed at such critical points like the Rams have this season. Take the Rams 17-10 home loss to the Redskins in Week 4, for example. St. Louis had nine penalties, seven sacks allowed and six dropped passes in that contest. St. Louis was probably lucky that Rex Grossman played so poorly, because the final easily could have been 35-7 or worse with the way the Rams played through the first three and a half quarters.
It’s hard enough to win in the NFL, but when you make those kind of repeated mistakes—penalties, drops, sacks—it becomes nearly impossible. That’s where the Rams sit right now. If they aren’t more fundamentally sound on Sunday, the Packers will embarrass them. It’s that simple. But you can’t count on a team to self-destruct that way every week, and they’ve had an entire bye week to clean up some of the mistakes. The onus will be on the Packers to apply the pressure and force them into making errors on Sunday.
3. Only hope?
The Rams have been the worst offense in football through four games, as they rank No. 32 in yards per game (279.5), passing yards (748) and points per game (11.5). But they still feature one of the top running backs in the NFL in 28-year-old Steven Jackson, who should be back to 100 percent after injuring his quadriceps in Week 1 against the Eagles. Jackson said this week that the Rams bye came at a perfect time this season, as he’s been limited and anxious about the quad since returning in Week 3.
Those concerns are now gone, which is good news for an offense that desperately needs him to play well on Sunday. The Rams will likely feed Jackson early and often in an attempt to keep Aaron Rodgers and the Packers red-hot offense on the sidelines. In reality, that might be their only hope of sticking with Green Bay. Rams quarterback Sam Bradford simply doesn’t have the weapons in the passing game to go toe-to-toe with Rodgers in a shootout.
While the Packers have the third best rushing defense in the NFL (75.8 yards/game) through five weeks, the Rams have no other choice than to throw Jackson right into that fire. He needs to have his best game of the season for the Rams to have a chance.
4. Getting home
No team in the NFL has given up more sacks per pass attempt than the Rams, which means the Packers should make several visits to the Rams backfield on Sunday. Green Bay has gotten sacks this season, but not nearly at the rate they did in 2010, when they brought down the quarterback 47 times. The Packers have just 12 in 2011, putting them on pace for around 38 sacks. That’s not a terrible number, but it’s certainly something the Packers can admittedly improve heading into Sunday. Clay Matthews, who has been double teamed as much or more as any player in the NFL in 2011, has just one sack this season. Opposite Matthews, Erik Walden only has one himself.
The pressure from the outside of the front seven has to be better for the Packers, especially with how often teams have passed against them through five weeks. You’d have to think that both Matthews and Walden can get to Bradford on Sunday, and the availability of Frank Zombo could give the pass rush a lift.
The Redskins duo of Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan sacked Bradford 3.5 times two Sundays ago, a number that the Packers could realistically match with Matthews, Walden and Zombo.Both tackles for the Rams—Roger Saffold on the left, Jason Smith on the right—are having down seasons and can be beat consistently. But no matter where the Packers pass rush comes from this Sunday, it should be more effective overall against a Rams’ offensive line that, as a whole, is struggling mightily to start the 2011 season.
5. Return to Lambeau
Three former Packers will make their return to Green Bay on Sunday, and each will likely play a big role in trying to slow down Rodgers and the Packers offense. 36-year-old Al Harris, who intercepted 14 passes in seven seasons in Green Bay, is scheduled to start at one cornerback spot. He’s always going to give maximum effort, but Harris is one of the oldest corners in the NFL and has lost several steps. He will have his hands full with the Packers receiving corps in his first game at Lambeau Field since being released last November.
Second-year player Josh Gordy will join Harris in the Rams secondary. Many thought Gordy could make the Packers 53-man roster this preseason, but he was let go during final cuts and now figures to play at nickel back for the Rams on Sunday. Gordy is athletically superior to Harris, but he’s still adjusting to the Rams defense. Don’t be surprised if Rodgers picks on No. 38 several times on Sunday. Finally, Brady Poppinga returns to Green Bay after signing a free agent contract with the Rams this offseason. Starting all four games at weakside linebacker for the Rams, Poppinga has 17 tackles and one pass defensed. He was never very athletically gifted, but Poppinga will put in the work each week.
It probably says something about where these two teams stand at the moment that three former players, who really didn’t have a chance in the world to contribute to the Packers 2011 team, are starting for the Rams. Injuries have hit the Rams hard, but it’s a telling observation. All three will need to play well in their returns.
Prediction: Packers 38, Rams 17
The talent discrepancy between these two teams is wide, and there’s a reason why the Packers are 5-0 and the Rams 0-4. No team is playing as well as the Packers are right now. On the flip side, you could make a strong argument that the Rams have been the poorest looking team in 2011. But if we’ve learned anything from the first five weeks of football, it’s that anything can happen. Could the Rams, who are fresh off a bye week and really have nothing to lose at 0-4, come into Lambeau Field and snap the Packers 11-game winning streak? The chances of that are obviously very low.
I do think the Rams can certainly hang around in the first half, however, and I don’t expect them to self-destruct the way they have in recent weeks. In the second half, the Packers will impose their will. A secondary that features Harris and Gordy in large roles simply cannot hang around with the Packers passing attack for 60 minutes. This will also be the week that the Packers defense, and Matthews in particular, generates the kind of consistent pass rush they displayed in 2010. All that adds up to another big win for Green Bay, who rolls to their 12th straight win overall.——————
Zach Kruse is a 23-year-old sports journalist with a passion for the Green Bay Packers. He currently lives in Wisconsin and is working on his journalism degree, while also covering prep sports for The Dunn Co. News.
You can read more of Zach's Packers articles on AllGreenBayPackers.com.Follow @zachkruse2