So ingrained is the message that defensive coordinator Dom Capers, when asked about Rams quarterback Sam Bradford, wound up talking about the dangers of facing the Rams this week.
"I would anticipate getting his best effort because they've had two weeks to prepare for us," Capers said. "I've always felt like, when you go into the bye week, you get a chance to step back and really study what's been good and what's not been so good, make adjustments and move forward. I know a number of the teams that I've been around, we've looked like different teams coming out of the bye week – especially after your bye's after the first four or five games."
There's a good reason for the Packers to be fearful – even of a Rams team that ranks last in the NFL in scoring at 11.5 points per game and in point differential at minus-16.8 points per game.
In Week 6 of last season, the Miami Dolphins came to Lambeau Field and beat the Packers 23-20. Heading into their bye, the Dolphins had lost two straight games by a combined 72-37. Miami wound up finishing the season 7-9. Two weeks later, the Packers faced the Jets, who were a lofty 5-1 entering their bye. Green Bay eked out a 9-0 win, with Aaron Rodgers completing 15-of-34 passes for a career-worst 44.1 percent. The Jets finished 11-5 and reached the AFC Championship Game.
In Week 9 of 2009, the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers stunned the Packers 38-28 in Tampa, Fla. Heading into their bye, the Buccaneers hadn't scored more than 21 points in a game, were held to single digits twice and were averaging 13.7 points per game. Regrouped after a week off, a woeful defense flustered Rodgers into 17-of-35 passing with three interceptions, with Rodgers' 48.6 percent accuracy being the second-worst of his career. Meanwhile, the Bucs' first-round pick, Josh Freeman, threw three touchdown passes in his first NFL start. They wouldn't score more than 24 points in a game the rest of the season en route to a 3-13 finish.
The Packers didn't face a team coming off its bye in 2008. In Week 9 of 2007, they needed a 60-yard touchdown pass to Greg Jennings and a 46-yard interception return for a touchdown by Charles Woodson to rally from a 22-16 fourth-quarter deficit and beat the host Chiefs 33-22. Those Packers wound up 13-3 and hosted the NFC Championship Game. The Chiefs finished a miserable 4-12.
In McCarthy's first season with the Packers, 2006, they lost at Buffalo 24-10 in Week 9. The Bills entered their bye week at 2-5 and had lost three straight by being outscored 80-30. Buffalo wound up 7-9.
In all, the Packers are 2-3 against opponents coming off of their bye week during McCarrthy's tenure.
"I think they have a clear advantage," McCarthy said of the Rams. "I talked about it this morning in the team meeting: We were in the same scenario in '09, playing a team coming out of the bye that their record wasn't very good. It's very important for us to really dot our I's and cross our T's. We're not concerned about what their record is. We're more concerned about the fact that they're coming off a bye week. Anybody in this league that has two weeks to prepare for you definitely creates a bigger challenge. That's the message, and that's our focus."
Bradford or Badford?
In the Rams' 154-page pregame press packet, Page 7 is dedicated to Bradford, with headlines including, "A Year to Remember" and "Just Win, Baby."
Bradford, the No. 1 pick of the 2010 draft, indeed had a rookie year to remember. Among rookie quarterbacks in NFL history, Bradford set a record with 354 completions and ranks second (to Peyton Manning) with 3,512 passing yards. He completed exactly 60 percent of his passes.
Rather than take a step forward, Bradford appears to have taken a step back. Bradford has completed a feeble 49.7 percent of his passes for an offense that ranks 32nd in points, 30th in yards and 27th in passing yards. His passer rating of 70.8 is ahead of only the Colts' ancient Kerry Collins.
Going beyond the numbers, though, Bradford has been hamstrung by a banged-up supporting cast — ace receiver Danny Amendola is out for the season and stud running back Steven Jackson injured his hamstring on the first carry of the season. The bigger problem, however, has been a change in offensive systems. Last year's offensive coordinator, Pat Shurmur, is now Cleveland's head coach. The lockout prevented the new coordinator, Josh McDaniels, from implementing his system.
"I think he's a talented guy," Capers said of Bradford. "Obviously, they've had a little bit of problems protecting him but he can make all the throws. You can see why he was the first pick in the draft. You're talking about changing systems without an offseason, and that's not easy — especially at that position because the system affects that guy more than anybody."
Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo hopes the bye is just what Bradford needed to get back on track.
"I think that it's been a rough road for him thus far," Spagnuolo said during a conference calls with Packers beat reporters on Wednesday. "The offensive line hasn't come together like we had hoped, but I think there's been enough quality plays in there with the offensive line, receivers and the quarterback. Having a new system, did that have an effect? I think we're finding out that it does, but we're hopeful with four games underneath us, a lot of growing pains that we've gone through, that somewhere hopefully soon in this thing, we'll reap the benefits."
Blitz at your own risk
Spagnuolo learned defense at the hand of the late Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jim Johnson. That means a lot of blitzing – and maybe another monster game by Rodgers.
Rodgers leads the NFL in passer rating against the blitz since the start of the 2009 season at 111.4 – almost 9 points ahead of Tom Brady. In Week 1 against New Orleans, Rodgers beat the blitz for 14-of-18 for 207 yards and two touchdowns. Last week at Atlanta, Rodgers was 8-of-9 for 168 yards and a touchdown.
The question is, will Spagnuolo blitz considering his beat-up secondary? As a rule, because of Rodgers' brilliance against the blitz, the Packers see less blitzing than the defense's track record suggests.
"You only can go on what you see on tape," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "There's some conjecture when you're sitting around the meeting room and you're talking about how they're going to play us. Is there pressure going to be a lot? A little? They didn't blitz us a whole lot in '09 when we went out there. It's a good question. You're always kind of prepared for pressure, and if it turns into a coverage game, it's easier to adjust that way. From our standpoint, we're focused on an excellent blitz package, a challenging blitz package, an overload package. If we don't get any of that, OK, then we may have to adjust, but it's a lot easier to do that than, ‘Oh, my God, they're starting to blitz us. How are we going to handle this?'"
Pointing out …
— The Packers lead the NFL with 34.6 points per game, with the Patriots second at 33.0. That's just a continuation of what's been accomplished under McCarthy. From 2007 through 2010, the Packers ranked in the top 10 in scoring each year, set a franchise record with 461 points in 2009 and set a club record with 1,703 points over that four-year span. Through five games, the Packers are on pace to score 554 points.
— For the first time in team history, the Packers scored at least 25 points in each of their first five games. The last time they scored at least 25 points in any five-game stretch was in Week 9 through Week 15 of 2007.
— The Packers' 173 points ties the 1945 squad for the most to open the season, with the 1996 team next with 167 and the 1961 team fourth with 161. The 1996 and 1961 teams won championships. The 1945 opened the season 4-1 but finished 6?4. Interestingly, the 1945 team played its first five games at home but its last five on the road. Green Bay scored 85 points in those road games.
— Clearly, Rodgers is the major reason why the Packers have been so prolific. He leads the NFL with a 122.9 passer rating, 71.7 percent accuracy and a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 14 to 2. He's the first quarterback since the 1970 merger to post ratings of at least 110 in his first five games of the season. And if you want to lower the bar to 100-rating games, Rodgers is tied for the third-longest season-opening stretch. Tom Brady opened the 2007 season with eight games of 100-plus ratings, with Carson Palmer (2005) next with six straight. Rodgers is tied with Roger Staubach (1976) and John Hadl (1973).
— To further the perspective on Rodgers, he threw his 100th career touchdown pass last week. He accomplished that feat in his 52nd start, beating Brett Favre's old team record of 60. Among active quarterbacks, Rodgers tied Dallas' Tony Romo for the fewest starts needed to reach 100. Peyton Manning is next with 56 starts.
Streaking, home and away
— McCarthy has re-established the Lambeau Field advantage. The Packers have won seven straight at home – their longest run since an 11-game streak in 2001 and 2002 — and are 13-1 in their last 14 home games dating to Week 10 of the 2009 season. That .929 winning percentage over that span trails only New England's perfect 13-0. Moreover, the Packers are a third-ranked 28-8 (.771) in their last 36 at Lambeau.
— The Packers are 3-0 in road games, just the second time in the last 39 years that's been accomplished. The other? The Packers under McCarthy in 2007.
— The Packers and Lions are the NFL's only undefeated teams, the second time since the eight-division format started in 2002 that the only 5-0 teams hailed from the same division. The other was in 2004, when the AFC East's Jets and Patriots started 5-0.
— The Packers and Rams used to be bitter Western Division rivals, with the Rams holding a 45-42-2 edge in the regular season. The teams split two playoff games, with the Packers winning 28-7 in the 1967 Western Division title game behind two touchdowns by Travis Williams. The Rams blasted the Packers 45-17 in the 2001 divisional playoffs as Brett Favre threw six interceptions.
— The Packers will be using the same throwback uniforms that they wore last season in a 34-16 romp over the 49ers. Those uniforms honor the franchise's first NFL champions, the 1929 team. Green Bay is 4-3 when wearing throwback uniforms, including 2-0 at home. The other win came in 1994 with uniforms representing the 1937 club.
Rams hot reads
— The Rams are 0-4 but will challenge the Packers' offensive line. Starting left end Chris Long, the second overall pick of the 2008 draft and the son of Hall of Famer Howie Long, leads the team with three sacks and has at least one sack in 10 of his last 15 games. Starting right end James Hall, a 12th-year pro, led the team with 10.5 sacks last season and finished second in the league with six forced fumbles. He has one sack this season. Rookie reserve end Robert Quinn, the explosive No. 14 pick in the draft who missed his entire senior season at North Carolina because of a scandal over illegal benefits, has one sack and had four quarterback hits against Baltimore's Joe Flacco in Week 3. Defensive tackle Fred Robbins added six sacks last season, third among tackles behind Ndamukong Suh and Cullen Jenkins.
— Bruising Steven Jackson, a first-round pick in 2004, is healthy again after being limited to 23 carries because of a hamstring injured in Week 1. He's the Rams' career rushing leader, with his 8,072 yards ahead of Hall of Famers Eric Dickerson (7,245) and Marshall Faulk (6,959). Among his 27 career 100-yard games, Jackson has two in four games against the Packers, with 143 yards in 1002 and 117 in 2009. By contrast, since Capers took over as the Packers' defensive coordinator, they've allows six 100-yard rushing games. "He's big, he can run downhill, he can plant his foot, he can jump cut," Capers said. "The very first play, he goes for 47 and a touchdown and then he pulls that thing. You can tell that he wasn't the same guy after that."
— Jackson isn't just a runner. His 269 receptions since the start of the 2006 season trail only Reggie Bush (307) among running backs. With that versatility, he leads the NFL with 115.3 yards from scrimmage per game during that span.
— Rodgers has the lowest interception percentage in NFL history at 1.9 but the Rams' Sam Bradford is the best this season. Even while completing less than 50 percent of his passes, his one interception in 151 attempts gives him a rate of 0.6 percent. A first-round pick and last year's Rookie of the Year, he's thrown 15 interceptions in 741 attempts, or 2.1 percent.
— On Friday, we told you that the Packers have not trailed in the fourth quarter at any point during their 11-game winning streak. Here's an explanation that demonstrates what Rodgers was talking about when he mentioned in-game adjustments: The Packers rank second in third-quarter scoring with 49 points and second in third-quarter scoring differential at plus-39. The Lions are No. 1 in both categories, with 52 points and plus-42. That's nothing new. The Packers were second in third-quarter scoring (110 and third-quarter scoring differential (plus-74) last season, too.
— Another reason for the Rams' beat-up secondary to be worried: The Packers rank second in the league in yards after the catch with 847, putting them on pace for 2,710 — 578 yards more than last season. Jordy Nelson ranks fifth among NFC wide receivers with 157 yards after the catch and Greg Jennings is seventh with 134.
— The Packers lead the NFL in scoring but there are plenty of talking points for Philbin. "The big thing is, there's paper statistics and then there's the reality of the tape. We're somewhere in between there. On paper, you can say we're doing some really nice things — and there's some areas where we are doing some really nice things. There's a lot of things that we need to do better. Last week, I thought our red-zone production, our run-game production — 3.0 yards per carry, four sacks, that's not a recipe for a real productive, sound offense. So, we have a lot of work to do. I think if you picked up the five-game totals, you'd be happy. But we've got a lot of work to do."
— Interestingly, opponents have blitzed with John Kuhn in the game far more frequently than when James Starks is in the game, Starks said. The stats bear that out. According to ProFootballFocus.com, Starks has protected on 39 of 137 passing snaps, or 28.7 percent. Kuhn has protected on 21 of 53 pass plays, or 39.6 percent.
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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 email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.