Kolb vs. Packers: The Great Unknown

The Packers' defense baffled first-time Bears starter Jay Cutler last year. Can they do it vs. Kevin Kolb? In a game featuring unscouted looks by both the Eagles' offense and the Packers' defense, Kolb has the advantage of a year's worth of film on Green Bay.

Sunday will mark the third straight season opener in which the Packers play a part in the highly anticipated beginning of a new era for a quarterback.

In 2008, it was Aaron Rodgers, of course, making his debut against the Vikings after Brett Favre was traded.

In 2009, it was the opponent's quarterback, Jay Cutler of the Bears, making his debut with his new team against the Packers.

And this season, it will be Kevin Kolb of the Eagles beginning the "Life after Donovan McNabb" era when the Packers come to town.

Kolb, like Rodgers, spent much of his time on the bench for three years before finally getting his chance to take over. The Eagles' offseason trade of 11-year starter McNabb to the Redskins gave Kolb the job full-time to start the 2010 season.

"It is always a little different for the quarterback the first time he has the ball and it is totally his," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "But I think he (Kolb) is very well prepared for this opportunity."

By all accounts, Kolb has the makings of a star. McCarthy noted on Wednesday how he can make all the throws, how he has played fast in limited game action, and how he looked comfortable running the team in the preseason. The Packers might not know his tendencies headed into the game, so instead they will rely on their defense to dictate the action.

"We want to disrupt every quarterback that we play, and that will be no different this week in Philadelphia," McCarthy said. "I think it's real important that we play to our strengths and exercise our scheme accordingly. I'm more interested in what we do than what they do. We'll spend today and tomorrow talking about Philadelphia in all three phases. But at the end of the day, by the end of the week, it's going to be about what we do. That will be our focus."

The Packers had success taking that attitude into last season's opener against the Bears. Unveiling their new 3-4 scheme on defense for the first time, they kept Cutler off balance all game, forcing him into four interceptions.

Could the same be expected for Kolb? Under the pressure of kicking off a new era?

"We're going to try to," said safety Nick Collins. "We're just going to go out there and have fun. This is a game where you can't go out there and expect to jump a lot of things because it's just the first game for both teams. So we just want to go out there and make sure that we can just control the game the best that we can."

According to McCarthy, 25 percent to 30 percent of Week 1 volume an opponent sees comes from what the Packers call "unscouted looks," or things that they may not have seen or been prepared for. For Cutler in last season's opener, that number may have been even higher considering the Packers were employing a new defense.

"They didn't really have any tape on our first unit defense last year, so they weren't able to study it," said cornerback Tramon Williams. "A guy like Cutler, he lives for the moment, too, so it's give and take."

Of course, the unscouted looks go both ways.

"An offense like the Eagles, they give you an awful lot to prepare for," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "You're going to see numerous personnel (groups), numerous formations, you're going to see probably two different quarterbacks, you're going to see wildcat, you're going to see some formations that they might be the only people to run. That's always a challenge."

Kolb also will have the benefit of the Packers' film from last year running the 3-4. But the Packers know that. That is why they will likely have something more for him to absorb.

"We like the packages that we've put together," said McCarthy. "(We) didn't really use any of them in training camp. We're going to get them ready to go, and it will start in Philadelphia."

Added Collins of bringing more than the average share of unscouted looks against Kolb: "It's a possibility. We just have to be ready for anything. We don't know what Philly's going to do. We're just watching the film from the preseason."

An additional challenge for the Packers will be a depleted secondary. With cornerback Al Harris and safety Atari Bigby on the PUP list to start the season, the depth has shifted. Williams moves into a starting role and raw undrafted rookie Sam Shields most likely mans the equally importantly nickel back spot. Rookie Morgan Burnett is a starter at safety alongside Collins.

"We feel like we can help out the secondary by getting pressure up front," said Cullen Jenkins, who is ready to go full time on Sunday after being limited in training camp with a calf injury. "You don't want him to have all day to sit back there and get comfortable because he's got a lot of ability. The games he came in last year, he threw for a lot of yards. If you let him sit back, a good quarterback will find open guys. We have to put it upon ourselves to disrupt him a little bit."

Linebackers Clay Matthews (hamstring) and Brad Jones (shoulder) have returned to practice this week, which should help. Kolb threw for 391 and 327 yards in his only two career starts a year ago, so he has shown the ability to light up a field. He likely will take the un-Cutler approach, however, in his third start and play risk-free football like Rodgers did in his debut in 2008. His comments on Wednesday about picking on the weaknesses in the Packers' secondary at least indicate that.

"I think that you just can't get caught up in that," he said. "I think that you have to just read it out and trust what you see and trust your own personnel. Whatever the situation calls for, hopefully that's where the ball goes."

Combine that with that fact that the Packers essentially have no meaningful game film on him and there will be more unknown involved than usual.

"Week 1 is always tough because you can never really get a sense of what the team is or what they're mindset is going into the game," said Jenkins. "So you have to kind of just go in there with question marks and be ready for a lot of different stuff."


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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at matttevsh@hotmail.com


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