Behind Enemy Lines: Inside the Packers

Bill Huber of answers five burning questions about the Green Bay Packers as they prepare for the regular-season opener against the Chicago Bears.

Aaron Rodgers lost his top target Jordy Nelson and now Randall Cobb has a shoulder sprain. Do you see Cobb playing and, in reality, does it really matter who lines up at receiver as long as Rodgers is throwing the ball?

Nelson is a big loss. He had five touchdown catches of at least 60 yards last season. That’s more 60-yard pass plays — touchdown or nontouchdown — than 30 teams. That’s going to be impossible to replace. More often than not, it was Nelson who was the focal point for opposing defenses. Now, it’s Cobb. Can Cobb beat constant double coverage if there’s no deep threat to worry the safety?

To answer your questions, Cobb expects to play. The history of that injury is that guys are ready to get back on the field after about 10 days, so he should even get some practice time. Does it matter with Rodgers? We’ll see. He’s certainly good enough but he has zero tolerance for mental mistakes. There’s bound to be some mental mistakes with rookie Ty Montgomery and second-year player Jeff Janis forced into more prominent roles.

The Packers are banged up along the offensive line. Who will be playing where and will it be enough to keep Rodgers upright in the pocket?

I think it’s all hands will be on deck. Left tackle David Bakhtiari, left guard Josh Sitton and right tackle Bryan Bulaga practiced last week. Left guard T.J. Lang didn’t practice due to a concussion but he was on the field for Thursday’s preseason finale. If Dallas has the best line in football, then I’d say Green Bay might have the second-best unit, with impressive second-year center Corey Linsley rounding out the group. Other than Rodgers, this is the unquestioned strength of the team. That group fueled an offense that ranked sixth in rushing and second in sacks allowed during the second half of last season.

Eddie Lacy went on a tear to end last season. To offset the injuries at receiver and the question marks at tight end, does Lacy become the focal point of the offense this year?

If you’re asking about the run game in general, I would say yes. I’m not sure how much it’s going to impact Lacy at the start of the season, though. Coach Mike McCarthy has the big picture in mind and I don’t think he has any interest in running Lacy 20 times a game in September and October. As I always tell the fantasy football audience, Lacy averaged 12.9 carries in the first 10 games. In the final eight (including playoffs), he averaged 19.6. So I think that means more work for James Starks than last season. He averaged only 5.3 carries last season with just two games of more than eight attempts. He’s a darned good No. 2 runner, as evidenced by his NFL-leading 5.5 yards per carry in 2013.

How will the loss of defensive end Letroy Guion impact a Green Bay front seven that finished 23rd against the run last year?

Guion is suspended for the first three games of this season. It’s a big loss — and certainly a bigger loss than that of former first-round pick Datone Jones, who is suspended for the opener. Guion started all 16 games last season and, once he settled in after missing most of training camp, played well at nose tackle in place of B.J. Raji. Raji is back, which allowed Guion to move outside to end. Without him, former undrafted free agent Mike Pennel will take his place. Pennel had a good camp, especially against the run, but he lacks Guion’s experience and versatility.

Dom Capers has always had Jay Cutler’s number. What does the Packers defense do so well that always brings out the worst in Cutler?

It starts with Green Bay’s cornerbacks. In Capers’ six seasons, the Packers’ cornerbacks have 72 interceptions. That’s 10 more than any cornerback group in the league and at least 20 more than 27 of the other 31 teams. Green Bay doesn’t just want guys that can cover. It wants guys that take away the ball. That may seem like an obvious point but the track record speaks for itself. Tramon Williams signed with Cleveland during the offseason, with Casey Hayward taking Williams’ spot in the lineup. Hayward had a pick-six vs. Chicago last season. Including one start while with Denver, Cutler is 1-11 against the Packers with 14 touchdowns vs. 22 interceptions. I wonder if that eats at him to such an extent that one interception becomes two and then two becomes three.

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