With the Packers coming to town for a crucial division battle on Sunday, it’s time for our weekly “Five Good Questions” segment. This time around we look to Jason Hirschhorn of Acme Packing Company for answers about our upcoming foes. Despite his team affiliation here at SB Nation, Jason is an excellent writer who is worth a follow for any NFL fan. He also covers the entire league for Sports On Earth. You can find him on Twitter at @by_JBH.
So without further ado, here’s our Q&A about Sunday’s game at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Daily Norseman: What's the latest on the health of Green Bay's offensive line? Bryan Bulaga returned last week against Dallas, but looked like he might not have been at full strength. David Bakhtiari has missed the past four games, but might be nearing a return. If you had to guess right now, who will the starting five offensive linemen be on Sunday?
Acme Packing Company: The Packers listed both Bryan Bulaga and David Bakhtiari as limited through Thursday's practice, though all signs point to the tackle tandem suiting up on Sunday. As you mentioned, Bakhtiari hasn't played in the past four weeks and Bulaga has played off and on with an ankle injury. Barring a setback, Green Bay will have its preferred five starters—Lane Taylor, Corey Linsley, and Jahri Evans being the others—along the offensive line for the first time this season.
DN: Wide receiver turned running back Ty Montgomery is practicing this week after suffering a rib injury in Chicago. When Montgomery was out in Dallas last week, Aaron Jones had an amazing game, racking up 134 total yards and a score on 20 touches. This question is a two-parter. First, how the hell does Green Bay keep finding all these no-name, plug-and-play running backs? Second, let's say both Montgomery and Jones are ready to go on Sunday. Who do you think should get the lion's share of the carries?
APC: Ty Montgomery actually practiced before the Packers' Week 5 game against the Cowboys, so that alone doesn't mean the team plans to play him this weekend. Given the injury—multiple broken ribs—and the position he plays, I have trouble seeing him suit up in Minnesota. If he does, Green Bay will probably severely limit his usage.
Regardless of when Montgomery returns to action, it seems like more of the snaps will go to Aaron Jones in some sort of a timeshare. Montgomery has shown difficulty staying healthy, and Jones' 5-foot-9, 208-pound stature might not lend itself to a full workload either.
DN: Green Bay's secondary has been very curious this season. Statistically, they're allowing the sixth fewest yards per game through the air. But a lot of analytics people have them ranked much lower. Football Outsiders has the Packers ranked 19th in pass defense DVOA. Pro Football Focus has every regular player in the secondary outside of Morgan Burnett rated in the 40's on their 100-point scale. From the film I have watched on them, it looks like the secondary has been making some big stops but leaving some big holes as well. So which is it? Is the Packers secondary good or bad? How do you think they'll fare against Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen this week?
APC: I certainly wouldn't characterize the Packers' secondary as good. Cornerbacks Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins have not rebounded from poor 2016 campaigns, and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix hasn't resembled his Pro Bowl form from a year ago. Furthermore, Morgan Burnett left last week's game with a hamstring injury and looks likely to miss some time. The secondary hasn't played badly every game, but it looks subpar overall thus far.
That said, the emergence of Kevin King—who could miss Sunday's game with a concussion—gives the group hope for the second half of the year and Clinton-Dix's struggles shouldn't last much longer. No one will confuse the secondary for the Legion of Boom's golden era, but it could become decent at some point this season.
As for Sunday, the Packers' approach greatly depends on King's availability. If he plays, he could shadow Stefon Diggs for most of the afternoon. Otherwise, I suspect the corners will mostly stay to their sides with safety help shaded Diggs' way.
DN: Despite a seemingly annual early rash of injuries, Green Bay has made it through the first five games of the season with a record of 4-1, a game clear of Detroit and Minnesota in the NFC North. It hasn't always been pretty but they're in good shape and getting healthier. What do you think this team's biggest weaknesses are that would prevent them from achieving their ultimate goal? Do you think this team has what it takes to play at U.S. Bank Stadium again in February? (Note: Please say no. I would have to leave the state for two weeks if that actually happened.)
APC: As mentioned above, the Packers' pass defense ranks as their greatest weakness in 2017. They've made the conference title game with worse units—last year's ranked 23rd in DVOA—so that doesn't preclude a deep run. However, not many Super Bowl teams of recent vintage have featured such problematic pass coverage, so it remains a concern until proven otherwise.
Still, the Packers enter Week 6 well positioned to take over the NFC. The rash of injuries that hit the team early in the year has started to dissipate, and the rest of the field looks comparably flawed in one way or another. Even the Falcons, who hold the head-to-head advantage over Green Bay, play in a more difficult division that could cost them more wins and render the tiebreaker moot. I wouldn't make plans to leave the Twin Cities in February quite yet, but it can't hurt to see if your home qualifies for Airbnb.
DN: Give us one player on offense and one player on defense that might be a bit under the radar but could have a big impact on Sunday's game. Finally, give us your score prediction.
APC: The Packers have featured tight end Lance Kendricks as a deep threat over the past three weeks, recording two catches of 20 or more yards. With Martellus Bennett still finding his way in the offense and Jordy Nelson possibly playing hurt, Aaron Rodgers could look Kendricks' way a few more times on Sunday.
On defense, Josh Jones should play nearly every snap given the expected absence of Burnett. The Packers have used him as one of their coverage linebackers in their "nitro" package—a nickel defense with a safety lined up as an off-ball linebacker—and he could see some snaps as a traditional safety as well. Jones will make some rookie mistakes, but his athleticism allows Green Bay to close down the middle of the field.
I don't do score predictions, but I do see the Packers emerging victorious. The likely return of the team's full starting offensive line should somewhat slow down the Vikings' tremendous pass rush, and Case Keenum's great stat line belies his poor ball placement. I expect that to work against Minnesota at some point and cost them the game.
Thanks again to Jason for his excellent insight on the Packers. Stay tuned for much more as we get closer to kickoff.