Tex Western, one of the writers over at the Packers SB Nation blog Acme Packing Company, agreed to do a Q and A with me about Sunday's game. We both met under a white flag in the middle of No Man's Land, and we were able to exchange information before both sides started shelling us and forced us back to our respective trenches.
Thanks to Tex for his solid insight. Hope you enjoy.
The Packers seem to have more than their fair share of injuries every year. This season, there are currently 14 players on injured reserve, and two guys, James Starks and Charles Woodson, are 'out indefinitely'. What is the status on those two guys, first of all--are they playing Sunday or are they being held out for the playoffs? Secondly, with Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings hobbled, how effective do you see them being on Sunday, and the receiving corps in general?
Woodson was just ruled out for Sunday's game, and frankly I don't think the Packers' defense will miss him. He was transitioning out of a cornerback role and playing a lot of safety before his injury; with the emergence of Casey Hayward, the great return from injury that Sam Shields has had, and the steady play of second-year man Davon House, they won't miss him on the outside. Morgan Burnett's development has also helped the young safeties come along. Even if and when Woodson returns during the playoff run, I see him playing strictly safety.
As for Starks, he'll be out this week as well. He'll probably be a key piece in the run game when he does return, but Mike McCarthy tends to ride the hot hand, so if Alex Green or Ryan Grant are on a roll, they'll get the bulk of the carries regardless of Starks' health.
Nelson practiced this week and looks to be back to full strength for this weekend's game. Jennings has been back for a few weeks and is at full strength this week as well. The big question this week is about Randall Cobb; he twisted an ankle last week against Tennessee. He should be healthy enough to play on Sunday, but he may be limited somewhat.
Overall, Green Bay's defense is much better this year than in recent seasons. What has been the key that has turned around that unit, and how do you see them trying to stop Adrian Peterson? (That's a trick question, because you can't stop a cyborg).
I think there are two big reasons for the Packers' defensive turnaround. The first is the exceptional play of the Packers' young defensive backs. Casey Hayward would definitely have my vote for Defensive Rookie of the Year, and while the safety tandem of M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian have gone through some growing pains, they're playing well on the back end. Plus, Tramon Williams is playing back to form, and the young guys have made his job easier.
The second reason is that the Packers are getting much better production out of their defensive line. Mike Neal especially has played well recently, while B.J. Raji has been great against the run and Jerel Worthy has brought some good energy to the unit.
Even when Aaron Rodgers has just an 'okay' day, like he did in the first meeting at Lambeau, he still managed to throw for 286 yards. Is there an Achilles Heel to his game, and if so, what is it?
The biggest (and possibly only) knock that we have on Rodgers is that he will sometimes hang onto the ball too long and take unnecessary sacks. Any quarterback can be susceptible to quick pressure; if Rodgers' first and second reads aren't there and the defense has sustained pressure from multiple relentless players (which is certainly an adjective I'd use to describe Jared Allen), he can have a tendency to hold the ball instead of throwing it away. Other than that, there aren't a whole lot of knocks on the guy.
Green Bay's offensive line has been a patchwork unit again this year. Brian Bulaga is on IR and out for the year, and Jeff Saturday was benched in favor of Evan Dietrich-Smith. How well is that unit playing, and do you consider them to be a team strength or team weakness?
They definitely aren't what I'd call a great strength right now, but they're getting the job done. With as many injuries and struggles as that unit has had, that's all we can really ask for. The run blocking has definitely improved with Evan Dietrich-Smith and Don Barclay moving into starting roles. Pass blocking continues to be an issue, but no more than it was to start the season. The team has won despite allowing a lot of sacks the whole season long; with the line helping out more in the run game, Packers fans are pretty excited about the potential of a balanced offense for a playoff run.
Your running attack does not scare me in the slightest, but should it? Injuries have really hurt you here, though, first with Cedric Benson and then James Starks. Is Green Bay going to even try and run the ball with Ryan Grant, or is it going to be bombs away from the opening kickoff until the final gun?
There's no doubt that Mike McCarthy is going to stick to the run game, and he would be smart to do so with the success that Green Bay has had the past several weeks. It all started a few weeks back with James Starks' touchdown score against the Vikings the last time these two teams met. The past few weeks it hasn't mattered a whole lot who is running the ball - Alex Green, Ryan Grant, even DuJuan Harris have all had success on the ground recently. As I mentioned earlier, the recent changes to the offensive line have actually helped the run game without significantly affecting the pass blocking; if they can keep up their recent balance, this offense should be frightening to any opponent.
Bonus Question with Declarative Statement: So what's your prediction for Sunday's game? Also, I hate Aaron Rodgers and his Discount Double Check touchdown dance. Love the commercials, though (Don't tell the guys on DN. Wait, aw damn it...).
The Packers really don't want to have to play next week, so it's not like they'll be content to limp into the playoffs. Oh, and knocking a divisional rival out of the playoffs is a little extra bonus motivation. With Clay Matthews back, the Packers' defense is better all around, both rushing the passer and against the run. I don't see any way this defense gives up the 208 yards Adrian Peterson needs to set the single-season record, and the offense likes games indoors - Packers win, 27-17.
Thanks again to Tex. You can find my answers to his questions over at Acme Packing Company.