Behind Enemy Lines: Part 2

Jon Scott of PatriotsInsider.com returns as we continue our three-part Packers-Patriots preview. Among the topics: Who got the best of the 2009 draft trade between these teams and which of the Packers' numerous injuries have had the biggest impact?

Jon Scott: The obvious question is with Aaron Rodgers hurting from another concussion, what are the odds he plays and how will the team fare with his backup having another week of practice if he can't go?

Bill Huber: I'm probably the only guy on the beat who thinks Rodgers has a decent chance of playing. At practice on Wednesday, while Matt Flynn was taking all the reps, the only other quarterback on the team, practice-squader Graham Harrell (of Texas Tech fame), was lined up at safety on the "look team." If Rodgers is out and Harrell becomes the No. 2, wouldn't you at least want him standing behind the offense rather than mimicking Patrick Chung?

Flynn is a good player. He led LSU to the national championship following the 2007 season. During the offseason, a few teams inquired about his availability, seeing him as a starting-caliber player. Frankly, I don't think he played well last week, but, hey, the guy took six snaps with the Packers' offense all week. That said, they'd have a hard enough time beating the Patriots even with Rodgers at full health. They're not going to win with Flynn unless the defense has a big, big night.

Jon: The Patriots and the Packers were draft-day trade partners in 2009. The deal: New England's first- and fifth-round picks for Green Bay's second- and two third-round selections. Green Bay grabbed Clay Matthews and Jamon Meredith. New England used the picks (combining them with more trades) to land cornerback Darius Butler (second), receiver Brandon Tate (third), tight end Rob Gronkowski (second) and receiver Julian Edelman (seventh). How has that worked out for Green Bay, and do you think they got value for the deal?


Clay Matthews
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Bill: Good breakdown. That's quite a hall by the Patriots, but great pass rushers don't grow on trees. Matthews has 12.5 sacks; New England's leading sacker, Mike Wright, has 5.5. Outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene — who is the leading sacker in NFL history among linebackers and a Pro Football Hall of Fame semifinalist — says Matthews potentially could be the best 3-4 outside linebacker in NFL history because of his combination of talent, desire and intelligence. You know, better than Hall of Famers like Lawrence Taylor and the late Derrick Thomas. That's high praise. Give me one truly great player over a bunch of good ones.

Jon: B.J. Raji was one of the top defensive linemen coming out in the 2009 draft. The Patriots selected his teammate Ron Brace. When you look at what the two have done, how has Raji fared and do you think he was worthy of his draft status compared to, say, Brace?

Bill: Raji's been terrific. As you know, you can't play a 3-4 scheme without a stud nose tackle. You have one in Vince Wilfork. The Steelers have Casey Hampton. The Ravens have Haloti Ngata.

Raji is a notch below those guys but is a big-time player with the potential to become elite. With the laundry list of injuries to the defensive line, Raji's played far too many snaps and he's probably wearing down a bit. But he's a big, physical run-stopper who has the ability to sack the quarterback. He'll be a focal point of this defense for years. No offense to Brace, but that's no comparison.

Jon: Other than Rodgers' injury, what others have impacted the Packers and how have the backups fared filling in for the starters?


Jermichael Finley
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Bill: How long do we have? Let's see: two-time 1,200-yard rusher Ryan Grant, a top-three tight end in Jermichael Finley, a perennial leader in tackles in Nick Barnett, a steady right tackle in Mark Tauscher. And that's just the big names on injured reserve. The Packers have a league-high eight players on injured reserve who have started at least one game and 13 players on IR in all.

At the start of the season, they felt pretty good about outside linebacker, with Brad Jones starting and veteran Brady Poppinga in reserve. Well, they're both out for the year. Their replacement, undrafted rookie Frank Zombo, is out for this week, at least, with a knee sprain. Plan D is Erik Walden, who they signed off the street in late October and has never started in the NFL. And I haven't even mentioned defensive end Cullen Jenkins, who has seven sacks. He's out with a calf strain.

I know the saying that injuries are no excuse, but let's be real. Starters are starters for a reason. They haven't come close to replacing Grant and Finley. Not surprisingly — they're elite players — and it's just killed the offense. They only spent the entire offseason building the offense around Finley. Without Jenkins, the Packers really struggle to get into the backfield.

On the other hand, Desmond Bishop has been pretty good in place of Barnett, and rookie first-round pick Bryan Bulaga has capably taken over for Tauscher. Zombo was tremendous. Charlie Peprah has probably been an upgrade over rookie starting safety Morgan Burnett.

Jon: Is Brett Favre still a sore subject to Packer fans?

Bill: Brett who?

Honestly, not anymore. He was last year, when he was brilliant and the Vikings were championship contenders. This year, he's been afterthought, especially after the Packers beat the Vikings at Lambeau Field. Now, he's the butt of jokes. I think it's pretty clear to the logical fans that the Packers made the right decision to go with Rodgers. You can't cling to the past forever.

Jon: What is the Packers' biggest weakness, and how should the Patriots take advantage of it? What have other opponents done?

Bill: It's funny, because the Packers have five losses but not really anything that just stands out as a major headache, especially in a league in which every team has flaws. The Patriots have two losses and I think they can be thrown against because of their lack of a dominant pass rush and young cornerbacks — no offense to Devin McCourty, who was my favorite prospect in the entire draft class because of his talent and intelligence. What a great kid.

That said, their special teams are a major problem. They can't return kicks to save their life. The punting game, I think, has turned around, but their kickoff coverage is really shaky. That's a major issue this week.

Offensively, Green Bay can't run it but the passing game has mostly glazed over that flaw. The offensive line has really struggled on fast tracks but that shouldn't be an issue this week. Defensively, the Packers lead the NFL in scoring defense but, outside of Matt Ryan, they haven't faced a big-time quarterback all year — and I realize it's an insult to Tom Brady to put him in the same sentence as Ryan.

What should the Patriots do? Just do what they do. That's what all the good teams do. The Packers are really good in the secondary but an accurate passer like Brady is practically unstoppable.


Agree or disagree?: Discuss hot Packers topics in our, free forums. Leave Bill a question in the subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum.


Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, 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.


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