Sunday, the Chargers will play the Packers in Green Bay. Packers beat writer Bill Huber gives us an inside look at some questions surrounding Green Bay's undefeated team:
This defense has 20 sacks. Is this pass rush just getting better as the season goes on? How much will it be affected by Nick Perry's absence if he doesn't play?
Green Bay ranks second in sacks – with 16 of those coming in the last three games -- and second in sack percentage. But before you get to that, I think you’ve got to back it up a bit. The Packers have played really good run defense for the past month, and that means a bunch of third-and-longs. Green Bay has cashed in on those because of a deep and versatile pass-rushing unit.
Clay Matthews goes from inside linebacker to outside linebacker, and Perry, Mike Neal and Julius Peppers can either play outside linebacker or defensive tackle. Matthews, Perry, Peppers and Datone Jones are former first-round picks and Neal was a second-rounder, so there’s plenty of firepower.
As for Perry, he’s got 3.5 sacks and really adds a physical, pocket-collapsing presence. They have the pass-rushers to produce without him but he’s been pretty good as an every-down performer and that’s where he’ll be missed. Fortunately for Green Bay, former undrafted free agents Jayrone Elliott and Andy Mulumba are pretty good players.
The Chargers defense has allowed at least 100 rushing yards in the last four games. Will the Packers capitalize on this?
Heading into last week’s games, Green Bay was No. 3 in rushing and just a few yards out of first place. Then came last week, when the Rams’ defensive line had their way with Green Bay’s front in that phase of the game. It’s a prideful unit and I’d expect a bounce-back performance from the run game. Right guard T.J. Lang, who missed the final two-plus quarters last week with a knee injury, is expected to start. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga missed three games with a knee injury before returning last week, so he should be a week better. Running backs Eddie Lacy and James Starks form one of the top one-two punches in the league. Lacy is the bruiser and Starks is a slasher. They complement each other well.
Besides, if you’re just looking at the numbers, running the ball seems to be the way to attack the Chargers. San Diego’s secondary is pretty darned good and the Packers have had trouble getting guys open the past couple weeks.
How beloved is Melvin Gordon to that area? Is it surprising that he hasn't notched a TD yet this season?
He’s going to get a rousing ovation the first time he gets the ball. What a remarkable player and person, too. This isn’t the stereotypical dumb jock. He’s a well-spoken, intelligent, thoughtful player. So you combine that with the production and his Wisconsin roots and you get a guy that fans gravitate toward.
Getting to the on-the-field stuff, much like the Vikings’ Adrian Peterson, every time Gordon touched the ball in college you expected him to be breaking through the linebackers and into the secondary. I know the big-play production hasn’t shown up yet with the Chargers but his talent has shown up. Just look at ProFootballFocus.com’s numbers: Gordon is third among running backs with 19 missed tackles.
As for the touchdowns, so much of that is out of the running back’s hands. As with the Packers and Aaron Rodgers, so much of the game is dictated by Philip Rivers at the line of scrimmage. So in that regard, it might be up to Rivers to decide when Gordon gets that first touchdown. I’d be surprised if he doesn’t score on Sunday. It’d be a great story.
The Packers are 5-0. Where do they need to improve, though? What's been their weak spot, if anything?
The offense is the problem. When’s the last time that’s been said around here? Without Jordy Nelson, the Packers lack a deep-ball threat. Defenses have responded by really focusing on taking away the short, quick-hitting passes that worked so well earlier in the year. I’m not sure there’s a solution to that. To get around it, the Packers have to run the ball at a high level. They did for the first four games.
On defense, the numbers are great but the quarterbacks have been Jay Cutler, Russell Wilson, Alex Smith, Colin Kaepernick and Nick Foles. That’s a pretty decent list of quarterbacks but there’s a huge gap between those guys and Philip Rivers. Is Green Bay’s pass defense for real? We’ll learn that answer on Sunday.
Of the players who are injured, who do you expect back and which player leaves the biggest void in his absence?
Lang (knee) is going to start. That’s huge. He’s one of the most underrated offensive linemen in the game. I’m not sure about safety Morgan Burnett (calf), receiver Davante Adams (ankle) or nose tackle B.J. Raji (groin). Assuming none of those three play, Raji would leave the biggest void. After missing all of last season with an injury and coming back on a one-year deal, he’s been impressive as a run defender and pass rusher. The Packers’ defensive line is good but it’s short on depth – if Raji can’t play, they’d have only four so likely would have to promote someone off the practice squad. Burnett is their top safety but he’s only played in one game and Adams has played only one series the past three weeks.
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