Game Preview Notes: 21 Things You Don't Know

We clean out our notebook in time for Sunday's game with a story that's overflowing with news, notes and quotes. Leading off, Greg Jennings will get the "Fitzgerald treatment" from the Panthers' defense. That and 20 more things in the most extensive preview you'll find anywhere.

Last week, Carolina Panthers cornerback Chris Gamble shadowed Larry Fitzgerald, holding the All-Pro receiver to three catches for 62 yards.

Green Bay Packers receiver Greg Jennings is expecting the same treatment for Sunday's game at Carolina.

"That says a lot about the talent and the work that a guy has put in," said Jennings, who caught eight passes for 91 yards and a touchdown while seeing a lot of Gamble in the 2008 game at Lambeau Field, which the Packers lost 35-31.

"Obviously, Fitzgerald has a plethora of body of work that he's put down. His resume is long. With a guy like Gamble, you see him travel. I get it pretty often. I anticipate it but my study is everyone in their secondary, not just Gamble."

Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said Gamble is a cornerback who likes to get his hands on receivers to disrupt their routes. Whether Gamble chases Jennings or not is of little concern to Philbin, who has plenty of weapons at his disposal if the Panthers tilt their game plan to slowing down Jennings, who leads the NFL in receiving yards over the last 12 regular-season games.

"We spend more time worrying about the things that we can control," Philbin said. "If their decision is to put Gamble on Jennings, they're certainly entitled to do that. We're not going to be able to do anything about it if they want to do that. Hopefully, our package is extensive enough that they're going to have to spend some time on their matchups based on where we line people up. It's a little bit of a chess match."

Digging for info on their defense

The Packers had to scour the videotape vault to get ready for this game. The Panthers have a new coaching staff, with Ron Rivera as head coach and Sean McDermott as defensive coordinator.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy said he and his staff spent part of the offseason watching Rivera's defenses in San Diego the past three seasons. McDermott was the coordinator in Philadelphia last season, so the Packers went up against his attacking schemes in Week 1 and the wild-card game.

"You can see both coordinators opinions and viewpoints in the way they perform," McCarthy said on Friday. "Obviously, Sean is calling it, he's running it (and) that's what I'm preparing for."

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was impressed by what he saw last week. Even though the Panthers lost at Arizona 28-21, Carolina allowed only 15 first downs and kept the heat on quarterback Kevin Kolb. It was the mistakes, though, that were costly. They blew coverages that allowed tight end Jeff King to score a 48-yard touchdown and Early Doucet to score a 70-yarder.

"I don't know that this game is going to be as much about computer analysis of defensive tendencies as it's going to be about execution and how well they execute their defense as opposed to how well we execute our offense," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "Certainly, we've looked (at past years' tape). We know the coordinator's background and he's a very good defensive coach. Ron Rivera — the Chargers were No. 1 in the NFL in defense last year. He's a very accomplished defensive coach. So, they've got a good staff and we've looked at a little bit of everything. But with a young staff in their development, they could come out with a bunch of different stuff. We don't know what they've been working on but we've certainly done our homework."

Homecomings

Among the Packers' ties to Carolina, Dom Capers was the Panthers' first coach, leading the expansion team from 1995 through 1998 and guiding it to the NFC title game at Lambeau in his second season.

"It's always different when you go back to a place where you spent four years of your life and slept in your office for three days a week and started from scratch when there was no players," Capers said on Friday, recalling that his first visit back to Carolina came in 1999 while an assistant with Jacksonville. "I've got a lot of fond memories from there. I know this, we did something there that I don't know if it's been done before. We opened up a brand new stadium, we never lost a game and beat the defending Super Bowl champs in the playoffs, so we were 9-0 and the fans never left there feeling bad with a brand new stadium and a second-year team."

Defensive line coach Mike Trgovac was an assistant in Carolina from 2002 through 2008, including the final six seasons as defensive coordinator before being lured to Green Bay by Capers. Trgovac says he has a home an hour away from the stadium. While he said it would be "just another trip," he added: "It'll be weird being on the other sideline. I don't think I've ever been in a game there on the other sideline."

Outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene played the position for the Panthers in 1996, 1998 and 1999. Jarrett Bush spent his rookie training camp with the Panthers as an undrafted free agent in 2006; the Packers signed him off waivers. Ryan Taylor, D.J. Smith and C.J. Wilson are North Carolina natives.

"Going back home to Carolina, it's going to be a very emotional game for me. I'm ready to go. I'm ready to play," said Wilson, who bought 30 tickets to the game for friends and family.

Packers notes and quotes

Aaron Rodgers threw for 312 yards and three touchdowns in the 42-34 victory over the Saints last week. In 48 career starts, Rodgers has posted a passer rating of at least 100 a whopping 26 times, including his 132.1 vs. New Orleans. He didn't throw an interception in the game for the 27th time and now has nine games of at least three touchdowns and no interceptions.

— If you haven't seen enough facts and figures from Randall Cobb's record-setting debut, here are two more: He became the first Packer since Wuert Engelmann to have a kickoff return touchdown and touchdown reception in the same game. No doubt you remember Englemann's performance against Providence on Oct. 25, 1931. Also, Cobb (21 years, 17 days) was the youngest player to return a kickoff for a touchdown since Chicago's Andy Livingston (20 years, 53 days) in 1964.

— The Packers converted 8-of-12 third-down opportunities against the Saints, good for 66.7 percent. That matches their 10-of-15 against Dallas last season and is their best since 10-of-14 (71.4 percent) against Cleveland in 2005. Since the start of the 2007 season, the Packers rank fourth in the NFL at 44.2 percent and they're one of only four teams to rank in the top 10 in third-down conversions each year.

— Why are the Packers so good on third down? Rodgers' third-down passer rating since 2009 is a league-leading 117.5. He's also tops with 9.21 yards per attempt and second with 29 touchdown passes.

— The Packers were the only team last week to score touchdowns on each of their trips into the red zone (minimum two possessions), going 4-for-4. That builds upon the Packers' sixth-ranked 60.4 percent in 2010, which was their best mark since a second-ranked 65.3 percent in 2003. Since Rodgers became the quarterback in 2008, the Packers rank third in the league with 59.3 percent touchdowns.

Clay Matthews will face undrafted rookie right tackle Byron Bell. Expect the Panthers to provide a lot of help. Matthews ranks fifth in the league with 23.5 sacks since the start of the 2009 season.

— Coming off a sensational debut against Arizona, Cam Newton faces an enormous challenge against the Packers' pass defense. Green Bay ranked No. 1 in the league in opponent passer rating last season, with the 67.2 mark its best since 59.0 in 1997. Last season, the Packers ranked fifth in pass defense (194.2 yards per game), second in interceptions (24) and fourth in completion percentage (56.2).

— More trouble for Newton: Since the start of the 2008 season, Charles Woodson ranks third in the league with 18 interceptions, with Nick Collins tied for fourth with 17. Tramon Williams is tied for seventh with 15, though he might not play against Carolina. Because of that ballhawking trio, the Packers have NFL highs of 76 interceptions and 12 pick-sixes during that span.

 — Capers, who turned 61 during training camp, is comfortable with his job and doesn't sound like a guy who wants a third crack at being a head coach. "I don't know how you could be happier when you win the Super Bowl and we finish in the top five in defense for the first time (for the franchise) in over 40 years, back to back. I enjoy the coaches and I enjoy working for Mike (McCarthy) and I certainly enjoy the players."

— Philbin didn't watch any football on Sunday, so couldn't comment on the league-wide score fest, but he knows why the Packers were able to score five touchdowns against the Saints. "The thing that was pleasing from an offensive standpoint was we didn't have any turnovers and we didn't have any drops. The ball wasn't on the ground. That enabled us to have a chance to score some points. We played relatively clean. We had 10 yards of offensive penalties and no giveaways and guys made some plays."

— In some respects, a fast start isn't vital. Since realignment in 2002, 62 of the 108 playoff teams (57.4 percent) started the season either 1-1 or 0-2. With that said, the last two Super Bowl winners started 2-0, the Super Bowl losers also started 2-0 and seven of the eight teams that played in conference championship games started 2-0 (with the other being 1-1).

Panthers nuggets

— Carolina lost standout middle linebacker Jon Beason to a torn Achilles against Arizona. Beason had 540 tackles and eight interceptions during his first four seasons.

"I think losing Jon as a leader on that team is going to be something that Dan Connor is going to have to pick up, but I know he's a talented player as well," Rodgers said. "Your heart goes out for Jon, knowing what kind of player he is, knowing he had surgery and was trying, the early part of the season, before he really started to feel 100 percent. You feel bad for him. I played against him before in 2008, I have a lot of respect for the way he plays. I feel like he's an underappreciated player at his position when you talk about the Urlachers, the Patrick Willises, at middle linebacker, he and Jonathan Vilma both kind of get overlooked."

— First-year coach Ron Rivera was a second-round pick by the Bears in 1984 and played linebacker for them for nine seasons. He was their defensive coordinator from 2004 through 2006, guiding them to top-five finishes in total defense twice during those three seasons. He had been San Diego's coordinator from 2008 through 2010, with the Chargers ranking first in total defense and pass defense last season.

— The Panthers and Packers play in perhaps the toughest divisions in football. However, all four NFC South teams lost last week, including Green Bay beating New Orleans, Chicago beating Atlanta and Detroit beating Tampa Bay.

— Panthers tight end Jeremy Shockey has caught a pass in 130 consecutive games and electric receiver Steve Smith has a streak of 60 consecutive games. Smith needs 194 receiving yards to break Muhsin Muhammad's team-record 9,255.

History lessons

— The Packers lead the series 7-4 — including the 1996 NFC Championship Game at Lambeau Field — and are 4-2 at Carolina. The last time in Charlotte, however, resulted in a 32-29 loss. The Packers trailed 26-7 in the third quarter but their rally fell short.

— The Packers are 5-0 in road openers under McCarthy, making them the only team in the league with a five-game winning streak in their road opener. In fact, the last coach to win five consecutive road openers was Minnesota's Dennis Green from 1996 through 2000. The Colts, under Tony Dungy and Jim Caldwell, won their first road game of the season from 2005 through 2009. For the record, Vince Lombardi's Packers won their road opener in eight consecutive seasons, 1960 through 1967.

— McCarthy, however, is the only coach in franchise history to win five consecutive season-opening games, a feat accomplished last week against New Orleans.


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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 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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