9

December

Detroit Lions vs. Green Bay Packers Key Matchups

 

Aaron Rodgers and Ndomukong Suh

The Packers are hoping Suh won’t get this close to Rodgers on Sunday

We’re back to the Detroit Lions already?  It seems like just three weeks ago I was breaking down the key matchups between these same Lions and the Green Bay Packers.  That’s because I was.  Due to the fate of the 2012 scheduling, the Green Bay Packers ended up with five divisional games in their final seven and didn’t see either the Lions nor the Vikings for the first time until week 11.  That means there will be a short time in between each matchup.  In the case of this rivalry, it was a mere 21 days.

With not many changes in the game’s key matchups, I’m going to drill down on the top three and spend more time on them.

Packers Offensive Line vs. Lions Defensive Line

No, not an earth shattering proclamation and yes, it’s a repeat from the first matchup.  But alas, it’s still a key in this game.  Since the last matchup, the Packers are dealing with yet more injuries on the line.  Starting guard/tackle T.J. Lang did not participate in practice on Wednesday and Packers head coach Mike McCarthy did not seem too optimistic with his progress early on this week.  I don’t expect Lang to play on Sunday which clears the path for rookie undrafted free agent Don Barclay to make his first NFL start at right tackle.

Barclay will be matched up against Lions left defensive end Cliff Avril.  Avril has had another solid year for the Lions and has 8.5 sacks on the season.  His quick initial burst will immediately test Barclay’s footwork and I expect the Packers offensive game plan to slide some help to that right side.  In a one-on-one matchup, I would expect Barclay to struggle.  For the football junkies out there, keep an eye on this matchup throughout the game as there will surely be a few mano-a-mano opportunities.  This will tell us a lot about what the Packers have in Barclay.

One source that may provide that much-needed assistance to the right side is newly acquired veteran running back Ryan Grant.  Grant was signed after it was determined the James Starks would miss quite some time with a knee injury.  While not the fleetest of foot, Grant is solid in his pass protection and should provide a boost there.  He knows the offense and should be able to step in and contribute right away.

1

December

Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers Key Matchups

Jordy Nelson scores against the Minnesota Vikings

The Packers are hoping to see this familiar scene on Sunday versus the Vikings

The Minnesota Vikings visit Lambeau Field and face the Green Bay Packers for just the first time this season.  The two teams will square off again in week 17 in Minnesota.  Both teams are coming off of a big loss and are fighting to keep postseason hopes alive.

The Packers were handed their worst loss in years at the hands of the New York football Giants while the Vikings were soundly defeated by the first-place Chicago Bears.  Both teams will likely be fired up and looking to get back on track.  At least they should be in a divisional game this late in the season.

Let’s take a look at the key matchups that will manifest themselves this Sunday.

Vikings Defensive Line vs. Packers Offensive Line

In the number one slot is the matchup most critical to Green Bay’s success this week.  As is likely to be the case for the rest of this season, the Packers have to find a way to protect Aaron Rodgers and start winning their matchups up front.

Minnesota features Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen, who will square up on Packers left tackle Marshall Newhouse.  Last season, Allen had three total sacks on Rodgers in the two games and that was when the Green Bay offensive line was playing better than they are now.  Allen is athletic and can get after the ball so Rodgers and the offense need to be mindful of where he is at all times.

My guess is that Green Bay is going to need to provide some extra help on the blind side with either a chip block by the back and release for check down or a straight up double team.

On the right side is Vikings defensive end Brian Robison.  You may recall an incident last season when, after a play, Robison gave TJ Lang a foot shove a la Ndamukong Suh (couldn’t resist the reference) right to the mid section.  Whatever Lang needs to do to find his motivation this week, he needs to do it in a big way.  True, he’s filling in for the injured Bryan Bulaga and is out of position.  But he still has to find a way to neutralize the rush.  Rodgers rolls out right more often than he does left and this matchup will be key.

17

November

Green Bay Packers vs. Detroit Lions Key Matchups

CB Tramon Williams and S Morgan Burnett fight for an interception against the Saints

Packers CB Tramons Williams and S Morgan Burnett will need to be on the same page this Sunday

The Green Bay Packers are back in action this week after their bye.  They head to Detroit to face the Lions for just the first time in 2012.  The Lions are coming off a loss to the Minnesota Vikings and have battled inconsistency all season.  They have yet to beat a division opponent and are 0-3 against the North so far.

In looking at a breakdown of the key matchups, it is much of the same old story.  Stop either team’s passing attack and you likely win this game.  Here are the areas to watch as Sunday’s game unfolds.

Lions WR Calvin Johnson vs. Packers CB Tramon Williams

This is becoming an old rivalry.  Since taking over as a starting corner in 2009, Williams has been blanketing Johnson in each matchup.  Minus last season’s finale when the Packers sat many of their starters, Johnson hasn’t had any more than six receptions in a game in which Williams matched up on him.  He did have a two-touchdown game in 2010 and the Packers struggled to contain him in that contest.  They can’t afford to allow Johnson to take over on Sunday.

While Williams will surely have help over the top, I am featuring him in this section because he will play the most vital role in keeping Johnson from becoming a quick and easy target.  A receiver of Johnson’s stature has been a problem for the Packers in seasons past and when tackling was an issue.  Any success with the quick slant could spell problems in trying to keep Detroit in long down and distance.  Johnson is also a matchup nightmare at the goal line and with the jump ball.

Williams has re-emerged thus far in 2012 and is playing more like the corner we saw in 2010 when he broke out and became key defensive contributor.  With the success that he has had vs. Johnson over the years, I expect Tramon to come into Sunday’s game confident that he can continue that trend.

20

October

Green Bay Packers at St. Louis Rams Key Matchups

Jordy Nelson

Jordy Nelson will be a focal point of the Rams defense

The Packers head to St. Louis to take on the Rams this Sunday.  Both teams are 3-3 and seem to match up evenly on paper.  Let’s take a look at the key matchups this game will bring.

Rams CB Cortland Finnegan vs. Packers WR Jordy Nelson/Randall Cobb

Finnegan has been a good free agent pick up for the Rams and is reunited with Jeff Fisher, who was Finnegan’s head coach in Tennessee.  According to ProFootballFocus, Finnegan has been targeted 40 times this season and averages just 8.8 yards/catch.

I have Finnegan matched up on both Nelson and Cobb because Finnegan is likely move over to the slot in the Rams’ nickel package.  Packers QB Aaron Rodgers passed just 29 times in last year’s game so depending on how many 4-5 wide sets the Pack use will determine who Finnegan lines up on.

In last season’s matchup between these teams, Nelson had just 2 catches but the most memorable was a 93 yard catch and run on a slant for a TD.  Of course, St. Louis didn’t have Finnegan or this same quality secondary.  Whoever Finnegan is blanketing will definitely be earning every ball caught.

With the Rams secondary needing to respect Nelson, Cobb and James Jones, one of the three should put up some good numbers.  My bet is on Cobb as it’s just plain dumb to leave Nelson one on one, even against the trusty Finnegan.  The Rams can only offer so much help over the top so they will have to pick their poison.

Packers OLB Clay Matthews vs. Rams LT Joe Barksdale

It was noted via Twitter on Friday that Rams LT Wayne Hunter has not practiced at all this week and is doubtful to play on Sunday.  Hunter was already in to replace the injured Roger Saffold who was the Rams’ opening day starter at left tackle.

Getting the start in Hunters’ absence would be Barksdale.  Barksdale was just recently awarded to the Rams after being waived by Oakland in late September.  He is a backup tackle at best and only has to come in and face one of the best pass rushers in Matthews.  With the Rams extremely thin at left tackle, they are forced to play Barksdale despite the fact that he has virtually zero experience on the left side.

14

October

Green Bay Packers at Houston Texans: Key Matchups

J.J. Watt

J.J. Watt has been the NFL’s best defensive player so far in 2012

The Green Bay Packers have a big road matchup on Sunday Night Football against the Houston Texans.  It’s a tough matchup following an tough loss at Indianapolis last weekend.  The Texans are clearly one of the best teams in the NFL and are undefeated at 5-0.

The Packers will need to put together their best overall performance in order to get a win.  Doing so would be big step in the right direction for the Pack.  Let’s look at the key matchups that will likely factor into the outcome.

Texans DE JJ Watt vs. PackersBryan Bulaga and Josh Sitton

Normally a QB matchup would lead off this segment but JJ Watt is the most important guy on the field for the Texans right now.  He leads the NFL in sacks with 8.5 and talk of his being Defensive Player of the Year has already begun.

The Texans run a base 3-4 and Watt lines up on the left side of the line.  Because of his skill set, Watt can stunt outside or in and will likely matchup against both Bulaga and Sitton along with C Jeff Saturday.  Houston will likely mix it up in order to keep the Packer OL off balance and create favorable matchups.  Any success by Watt spells trouble for the Packer offense.

Bulaga’s play has dropped off, at least statistically this season.  Our very own Adam Czech breaks it down further.  As mentioned, the Packers are going to have to turn in one of their most technically sound games to come out with a win.  This rings especially true for the O line and Bulaga.  Confidence is a big part of a player’s success on the field.  In addition to the fundamentals, Bulaga needs to come in determined to win his matchups.

Sitton continues to be one of the Pack’s best O linemen, but the line as a whole has not been consistent.  He will surely have his hands full with DT Shaun Cody as well as Watt.  Again, confidence is key to Sitton’s performance.  It’s the one factor he can control and improve between now and game time.  Houston’s pass rush has been effective this year and keeping Watt at bay will help neutralize a majority of it.  It will also dramatically increase Green Bay’s chances of winning this one.

7

October

Green Bay Packers at Indianapolis Colts: Key Matchups

Cedric Benson

Cedric Benson could have a big day against the Colts

This Green Bay Packers head to Indianapolis this weekend to face the Colts, who had their bye last week.  Each team is in need of a win to set the tone heading into the season’s 2nd quarter.  Before we dive into the key matchups, a little bit on each team and this matchup’s history.

Last week, it was announced that Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with a treatable form of leukemia.  He will take leave from the team to treat the illness and according to Colts Owner Jim Irsay, it’s very possible that Pagano may not return to the sideline this year.  This is something that is sure to rally the Colts in this game as they will be playing with a bit of extra emotion for their coach.

The Packers are coming off their come-from-behind win vs. the New Orleans Saints.  A week removed from the very controversial loss in Seattle, the Packers were nearly victimized again by the officiating despite the return of the union refs.  They hung on and evened their record to 2-2.

While these 2 teams rarely see each other, these contests have not typically been short on points.  Back in 1997, the defending champion Packers came into Indianapolis heavy favorites but were outdone for 1 of only 3 losses that season.  In 2004, again in Indianapolis, quarterbacks Brett Favre and Peyton Manning duked it out in a shootout that ended with Indianapolis again getting the win at home.  The last matchup was in 2008 at Lambeau Field where the Packers defense starred in the win, taking 2 INT’s back for scores against Manning’s Colts.

While the Packers appear to be clear favorites tomorrow, let’s look at a few keys that will likely emerge as the game progresses.

Aaron Rodgers vs. the Colts secondary

The Packers are and will likely be a pass-first team as long as Rodgers is their QB.  Even with the emergence of Cedric Benson as a more legitimate threat on the ground, the Pack’s success rests on the arm of #12.

Tomorrow will present a good opportunity for Rodgers and the offense to continue some of that success they had last week when he threw for 4 TD’s against the Saints.  The Colts are dinged up in a secondary that was already not top-flight.  CB Vontae Davis, who was acquired from Miami during the offseason, will not play due to an ankle injury.

30

September

New Orleans Saints at Green Bay Packers: Key Matchups

Clay Matthews vs Saints

Clay Matthews helps take down Saints QB Drew Brees

One of the better games in week 4 is tomorrow’s game featuring the New Orleans Saints, who are still looking for their first win, and the Green Bay Packers, who look to get back on track at Lambeau Field.  The game is FOX’s nationally televised game and will kick off at 3:25pm CDT.  Let’s take a look at some of the key matchups in this contest.

On paper, this one looks to be a shootout between 2  teams that feature very good QB’s.  Drew Brees threw 46 TD passes last season and had nearly 5,500 yards passing.  Those gaudy numbers will be tough to duplicate this season, but he’s still Drew Brees.  So far, he has 7 TD passes to 5 INT’s in the Saints 3 losses.  It’s hard to digest the Saints being winless at this point but don’t be fooled.  This team can still light it up and likely will before long.

Aaron Rodgers also had an incredible 2011 season with 45 TD’s in just 15 games and over 4,600 total yards passing.  This year, Rodgers has just 3 TD’s to 2 INT’s through 3 games.  He has faced San Francisco’s, Chicago’s and Seattle’s defenses who are both solid against the pass.  In overall defense, San Fran is ranked 11th, Chicago is ranked 6th and Seattle is 4th, just behind the Packers.  By contrast, Brees has faced Washington, Carolina and Kansas City.  KC leads those 3 in defensive ranking but is 16th.

Here are what I see as the key matchups to keep an eye on tomorrow:

Aaron Rodgers vs. the Saints defense

As Aaron Rodgers goes, so do the Packers.  Despite the team’s “resurgence” in the run game, the Packer offense starts and finishes on the arm of Rodgers.  His stats indicate that he has struggled of late and they surely are down, but the Packers have been in every game they have played.  Some, ok mostly everyone would argue that they should be 2-1.  He has played well enough to win.

The reigning league MVP will face the league’s 32nd (last) ranked defense tomorrow.  Now, keep in mind that the NFL’s defensive ranking is solely based on total yards surrendered.  There is much more to a defense’s makeup than yards.  Last year, the Packers were last in total defense but were also one of the top defense’s in terms of taking the ball away.  The Saints will likely do what they can to get after the ball and mask some of the issues they have stopping teams from moving the ball.