"I was giving him a hard time that he's got to hold him if he beats him," Matthews said of Bulaga's matchup against Dallas' DeMarcus Ware, whose eight sacks trail Matthews' league-leading 9.5. "Obviously, just like myself, I'm sure Ware's looking at those sacks and he's right on my tail. So, I told him, ‘Just hold him if you need to.'"
Bulaga was drafted to eventually be the starting left tackle but instead he'll be making his fifth consecutive start at right tackle in place of Mark Tauscher, who's out with a shoulder injury. At some point, the Packers are going to have a tough decision on their hands between the steady Tauscher and the emerging rookie.
"He's coming along," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "He's making good progress. I think it's a little bit of a brave new world every week, getting exposed to not only the speed but the different schemes. Obviously, last week (against the Jets) was kind of a unique scheme — probably the first time he's faced something like that. He's growing, he's a quick learner. He's not a big repeat-mistake guy. You kind of know with a young player that you're vulnerable to maybe a mistake or two here or there, but he's been sharp mentally and he picks things up quickly. And if you need to make an adjustment over the course of the game, he can handle that, as well."
How he'll handle Ware will play a big role in Sunday night's outcome as well as his long-term grasp on the starting job. Bulaga, who said Tauscher has been "nothing but helpful" — the Wisconsin-Iowa rivalry notwithstanding — gave the politically correct answer on who should be the starter once Tauscher is healthy. But, he knows he'll have his hands full when Ware lines up across from him.
"He's a heck of a player," Bulaga said. "He's a high-motor guy, great player. It's going to be a great challenge for me and Chad (Clifton). They flip him back-and-forth between the strength and the weak side. He can do everything. He's a great athlete who brings power, good moves on him, smart player. He's got it all."
Considering Ware has half of Dallas' sack total and the Packers are 11-3 when Aaron Rodgers is sacked zero or one times, Bulaga vs. Ware is the game's big matchup.
"He's a guy you're concerned about when you game plan because he has that much ability and he's productive and he plays hard," Philbin said. "I think on their side of the ball, when they're looking to play the Green Bay Packers, they want to devise plans where they won't get beat by our best players. So, we spend time thinking about, ‘This guy can change the game.' He's kind of got it all. He'll keep you up at night."
And what about Matthews' interruption?
"Clay has to step his game up is what it is," Bulaga joked. "That's what I tell him, ‘Why don't you get three sacks and don't worry about what he's doing.'"
Ain't it grand? No …
Jackson needs some big games to get to 1,000 yards.
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Last year, the Packers became the only team in league history to have a 1,200-yard rusher, two 1,000-yard receivers and a 4,000-yard passer in back-to-back seasons.
This year, Aaron Rodgers remains on pace for another 4,000-yard season, with his 2,011 yards through eight games equating into 4,022 yards over 16.
However, at this rate, he won't have a single skill player reach 1,000 yards. Leading receiver Greg Jennings is on pace for 942 yards and leading rusher Brandon Jackson is on pace to finish with 836 yards.
When you go NFL.com's team stats page, you'd think the San Diego Chargers are an unstoppable juggernaut. Chargers logos show up on four of the six main stats, where they rank No. 1 in total offense, passing offense, total defense and passing defense.
A lot of good that has done them, with San Diego languishing at 3-5.
It's sort of the same story for Sunday night's game. Green Bay ranks 16th in offense and 18th in defense compared to Dallas ranking fourth in offense and 14th in defense. The Packers, of course, are 5-3 and atop the NFC North while the Cowboys are 1-6 and at the bottom of the NFC East.
How do you explain it?
Just look at the defense.
Behind last week's shutout, the Packers rank fourth in points allowed per game at 17.0. Incredibly, the Packers' 13 giveaways have cost them only 18 points — all coming on field goals. Green Bay is one of only four teams in the league to have not given up a touchdown after a turnover. By contrast, opponents turned the Packers' league-low 16 turnovers into 70 points last season.
With five interceptions the last two weeks bumping up their season total to 12, opposing quarterbacks have a league-low passer rating of 68.8 against Green Bay.
And the Packers are allowing 40.3 more rushing yards per game this season compared to last year's league-leading and franchise-record mark of 83.3 per game. Discard quarterback scrambles and last week's fake punt, and the Packers are allowing 90.8 rushing yards per game. That would be good for sixth.
Injuries are a pain
Last season, the Packers were one of the healthiest teams in the league, ranking 12th in the NFL with 40 games lost due to injuries by starting players, according to a tally by the Dallas Morning News' Rick Gosselin. This year, they've already lost 28 games from starters — a figure that will rise to at least 33 this week because Week 1 starters Nick Barnett, Morgan Burnett, Jermichael Finley, Ryan Grant and Brad Jones are on injured reserve.
In fact, even if the Packers don't lose another starter for one game the rest of the year, they'll have lost 68 games from their starters this season. Only four teams lost more than that last season. Of those four, only Philadelphia made the playoffs.
New but familiar face
Jenkins sacks Kitna
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Kitna threw for 379 yards with four interceptions last week against Jacksonville, though three of the picks came on drops by his receivers. Kitna has faced the Packers six times, with 53.7 percent accuracy, eight touchdowns, nine interceptions and a passer rating of 67.7. In his last game against Green Bay, Sept. 14, 2008, at Ford Field, Kitna threw three interceptions — including pick-sixes by Charles Woodson and Nick Collins.
Kitna got a feather in his cap as a first-year starter in 1999, when he threw two touchdowns in Seattle's 27-7 victory at Lambeau Field in Mike Holmgren's return.
"I don't know that anything really helps you," Kitna said of his experience at Lambeau. "We're in a situation that's very difficult right now. We need a win. We're playing a good football team on the road at night. Those are difficult situations to be in, but that's where we're at. The one night game I had at Lambeau was successful, so hopefully that happens again."
The Packers face one more big challenge before the bye.
It's easy for an offense to overcome a shortage of one or the other, but being short-handed at both position groups presents a challenge.
"The two-tight end offense that we have, you've got to be careful about how much you're going to use it because you're one injury away from not having it," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "I don't think it's going to restrict us from not having any of that stuff. It may force us to be a little more moderate, a little more balanced with what we have."
Tim Masthay was named the NFC's special teams player of the week after not allowing a single return yard on eight punts last week.
"Obviously, his game against the Jets was outstanding," special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said. "But as I've said all along, the punters who stay in this league for a long time are the ones that are the most consistent. There are a lot of guys with big legs who can hit 5-second hang times. But what you can't do is hit that low liner in the middle of the field and these explosive returners kill you."
Such as Dallas' Dez Bryant. The rookie receiver is averaging 16.5 yards per punt return with two touchdowns. He trails only Chicago's Devin Hester (16.7) in average and is tied with Hester for the lead in touchdowns. He's also fearless, with no fair catches.
"He's an outstanding player," Dallas coach Wade Phillips said in a conference call. "We said that earlier and a lot of people said, ‘Oh, my gosh, you say it too much about him.' He's really a really talented player that works hard and can make plays, and he can make plays at anytime. You can throw him a short one and it can be a big play, or a long one. He can return kicks. He can do about everything well. He's got great hands and I really like him. He's a great competitor, too."
— Blame it on Rodgers: There have been 342 passing touchdowns this season, the second-most in NFL history behind the 346 in 1987. Rodgers has thrown for 12 touchdowns. At this point last year, he had 16.
— Woodson's 47 career interceptions are tied with Denver's Champ Bailey for most among active cornerbacks.
— This game will feature two of the NFL's big-play threats. Jennings' average touchdown reception has covered 33.8 yards, with 14 of his 33 career scores covering at least 40 yards. Meanwhile, Dallas' Felix Jones has scored eight touchdowns (seven rushing, one kickoff return), with the average length being 47.1 yards.
— This game also features two of the top sack artists. Since the start of last season, Matthews leads the NFL with 19.5 sacks, including a league-leading 9.5 this year. Ware ranks second in the NFL with 19 sacks since the start of last season. He has seven sacks in the last five games and is tied for second in the NFL with eight this year.
— The Packers, who beat the Cowboys at home in a Sunday night game last year, are 22-8 over their last 30 home games. That .733 winning percentage is the best mark in the NFC.
— The Packers will get a much-needed bye week after this game. Since 1994, Green Bay is 11-5 in its game preceding the bye.
— Talking turnovers: Even after failing to punch it into the end zone last week, the Packers have scored a league-high eight touchdowns off of turnovers and scored touchdowns on 53.3 percent of their takeaways this season, which ranks second in the NFL among teams with at least 10 takeaways. Their 59 points off of turnovers trail Tennessee's 63 and Detroit's 61. With five interceptions over the last two games, their 12 interceptions rank third in the league.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.