The Packers finally got themselves over .500 by hanging on to beat Brett Favre and the Vikings last Sunday, but they will face an even tougher task this week when they head East to take on the Jets. New York (5-1) has been one of the best teams in the league in the early going and will look to attack a depleted Packers’ defense. Green Bay certainly has a chance to leave with a victory, but here are five things they must do to give themselves a chance.
1. Get and Stay Healthy on Defense
Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last seven weeks, you know the Green Bay Packers have a plethora of injuries to deal with. We know who’s out for the season, but there are four players whose health will be key to the Packers’ success. Cullen Jenkins and Ryan Pickett were forced to miss the majority of the Week 7 win over Minnesota and it showed as the Vikings ran for 196 yards on the ground.
While Minnesota has a strong running game (10th in the league), New York’s is just as good, if not better (5th in the league). The tandem of Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson will give the Packers’ front seven fits if these two are not healthy and are forced to play with just four defensive linemen.
In the secondary, many are awaiting the return of cornerback Al Harris and safety Atari Bigby. Both practiced all last week but were held out of Sunday night’s game. There’s a chance they could return this week and it would do a lot for a thin secondary, starting third stringer Charlie Peprah and using Sam Shields as a nickelback.
2. Establish the Run
The torch has finally been passed. If you didn’t believe Aaron Rodgers and the Packers had officially moved past the Brett Favre era, there’s no doubting it after they defeated the Minnesota Vikings Sunday night. It was the first victory for Rodgers over the Favre-led Vikings and put themselves for a tie atop the NFC North. It was a gutsy performance from the Packers, who desperately needed a win to avoid falling below .500 for the first time. Here are ten players (or units) who deserve game balls for tonight’s game.
1. Aaron Rodgers
He wasn’t overly productive and missed a handful of throws he usually makes but tonight was monumental for Aaron Rodgers. He finally got the monkey off his back that was Brett Favre’s legacy and at the same time may have turned the season around for his football team. He finished the night 21-of-34 for 295 yards and two touchdowns, and while his red zone production wasn’t spectacular (two interceptions), he led the offense to convert 6-of-11 third downs, something that had hurt the Packers the last two weeks.
2. Defensive Line: C.J. Wilson, Jarius Wynn, B.J. Raji
The Packers finished the game with three defensive linemen after Cullen Jenkins strained a hamstring in warm-ups and Ryan Pickett re-aggrevated his ankle injury. To do that in a 3-4 defense against one of the best runners in the league was special to say the least, and those three guys deserve all the credit in the world. The Vikings were able to rush for 196 yards on 36 carries, but the line was solid and provided pressure on Favre throughout the game, leading to mistakes and a sack from Wynn. Wilson, a seventh round rookie, played well and finished the contest with eight tackles.
3. Greg Jennings
The 1972 Dolphins have already popped the champagne bottles and the AFC contains arguably the top three teams in the NFL with Pittsburgh, New York, and Baltimore. But what about the NFC, which at this point seems as wide open as it has ever been? Even at 3-2 and a long list of injuries, the Packers still have a legitimate chance of representing the NFC in Super Bowl XLV in Dallas.
With all the “sky is falling” comments from Packer nation over the past few weeks after losses to Chicago and Washington and an unspectacular home victory over the Lions, it’s easy to pass over the fact that the Packers are still 3-2, just one game removed from both the lead in the NFC North and the best record in the NFC.
Those two teams, while in the preseason might have seemed like huge flops, have in actuality come against the division leaders in the NFC North and East. That’s not to say the Packers have played well or up to par with offseason expectations, but the Bears and Redskins look to be contenders in the NFC as well.
A win is a win in the standings, but the Packers sure didn’t make things easy on themselves Sunday in their 28-26 win over the Detroit Lions. Despite being 3-1 and tied atop the NFC North with the Bears, the Packers showed sloppy special teams play for the second straight week, allowed career back-up Shaun Hill to pass for over 300 yards, and the offensive line struggled once again.
While the Packers have plenty of positives to build off of as they enter the second quarter of their season, there seem to be more questions than answers.
When will Bryan Bulaga get his shot on the offensive line?
It’s certainly not time to press the panic button in Green Bay, but it might be time to start thinking about it. The Packers fell to 3-2 after a 16-13 overtime loss in Washington against the Redskins. After a hot start, the Packers’ offense sputtered and the defense couldn’t make stops down the stretch, allowing Donovan McNabb and the Redskins’ offense to put up 10 unanswered points in the fourth quarter before sealing the victory in overtime.
The loss undoubtedly stung the Packers, who now sit a full game behind the Chicago Bears, but the bigger story might have been in the training room, as tight end Jermichael Finley, linebacker Clay Matthews, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers all suffered injuries that could cost them time in the future.
Here are some post-game thoughts regarding the Packers’ Sunday loss.
-Aaron Rodgers was picked by many experts to be the league’s MVP and the starting quarterback for the eventual Super Bowl champs. Five weeks in, Rodgers looks anything like an elite level quarterback. The offensive line was shaky again and the Packers abandoned the run game early, but Rodgers seemed to lack poise and confidence and missed throws he usually makes. His numbers have been above average, but he’s going to need to play much better if the Packers want to play in Dallas in February.