Game Preview Notes: 21 Things You Don't Know

The Packers' lackluster pass rush starts with their outside linebackers. Maybe that changes against a San Diego offense that has a hard time protecting the quarterback. Plus, Philip Rivers, taxing schedules, calender turns to Norv-ember and more in the best game preview anywhere.

Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers swears he's not alarmed by his lackluster pass rush and that the sack total will surge at some point this season.

The Packers enter Sunday's game at the San Diego Chargers with 17 sacks, which is tied for 16th in the NFL. In terms of sacks per passing attempt, the Packers are a woeful 27th.

The big issue is the lack of production at outside linebacker.

Among teams running 3-4 defenses, the Packers have the fewest combined sacks from their outside linebackers with four.

Clay Matthews has three sacks but is tied for the NFL lead with Miami's Cameron Wake among 3-4 outside linebackers with 31 combined hits and pressures, according to ProFootballFocus.com.

Matthews' sidekick, Erik Walden, has just one sack. Last season, the Packers got a combined eight sacks from Walden (three), Frank Zombo (four) and Brady Poppinga (one). At least Walden is getting to the quarterback. His combined 18 hits and pressures rank 11th among players at his position. He's had four quarterback hits by the Packers' count in two of the last three games.

"You guys have heard me say with the sacks that you've just got to keep playing," Capers said. "It's like with Clay, I think Clay's been playing outstanding football. He doesn't have the sack numbers of last year but he's doing some things better than last year. I think those things come. We've got Zombo back, so being able to mix with Erik and Zombo over there I think helps us because it keeps those guys a little fresher. We've just got to keep working and chipping away. I think all that stuff will come around. Hopefully by the end of the season, we'll be one of the upper-echelon teams when it comes to sacking the quarterback."

Maybe this is the week where the Packers find their pass rush. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers does as many five- and seven-step drops as any passer in the league. He's been sacked 16 times. Right tackle Jeromey Clary has yielded three sacks and a whopping 24 pressures — second-most in the league. Left tackle Marcus McNeill has allowed three sacks, 13 pressures and been flagged nine times.

Rivers' struggles

It's impossible to explain what's going on with Rivers.

Rivers and Aaron Rodgers were the only quarterbacks in the NFL to finish with passer ratings of at least 100 in both 2009 and 2010. Rivers entered this season ranked second in career passer rating behind Rodgers. In five seasons as the starter, Rivers has averaged 27.0 touchdowns and 11.4 interceptions.

This season? The 29-year-old Rivers' completion percentage of 64.5 is ahead of his career mark, but he's thrown seven touchdown passes against 11 interceptions. His passer rating of 80.7 ranks 19th in the league.

"I am. I am," Rivers said when asked during his conference call whether he was healthy. "I wish I had something to blame but I don't. Some throws got away from me and I've made some poor decisions. No, I'm healthy."

Capers is taking nothing for granted, not with a pass defense that ranks 31st in yards allowed (288.9 yards per game) and 29th in 20-plus yard completions (31).

"It's hard to say," Capers said when asked about Rivers. "He's had some bad breaks at times. A guy like him, all you have to do is look at his career passer rating, what he's been coming into this year. He hit a little bit of a stretch where he's had some tough turnovers. They go to New York and they've got the Jets down, and then a couple of plays turns the game around. We all watched the game Monday night. I know they're sick about that game because they're sitting right there ready to win the game and the fumbled snap turns that thing around."

Gee, thanks

Chargers coach Norv Turner obviously ticked off someone in the NFL office.

After losing at Kansas City on Monday night, the Chargers got a short week to prep for Green Bay, which is coming off its bye. Then, the Chargers host Oakland in a critical AFC West game on Thursday.

"We knew when the schedule came out, the combination of the Monday night game and then the next two games, playing on a Sunday and a Thursday night, we knew it was going to be challenging and demanding," Turner said. "Our guys I think understand that they have to do everything they can to get rested and take care of themselves to get ready to play."

The Packers will get a taste of that schedule beginning next week. On Monday, Green Bay hosts Minnesota — which will be coming off its bye. Then, the Packers host Tampa Bay on Sunday before going to Detroit for a pivotal NFC North clash against the Lions.

Norv-ember

The Chargers are notorious slow starters. Since Rivers' first season in 2004, the Chargers are 32-28 in the first eight weeks of the season but a league-best 48-11 the rest of the way. Their horrific loss at Kansas City last week notwithstanding, 4-3 isn't bad by their standards. Under Turner, the Chargers are 28-7 after Nov. 1, including eight consecutive wins.

Still, the Chargers are a beat-up bunch, mentally and physically. San Diego was outscored 17-0 in the second half in a fall-from-ahead 27-21 loss at the Jets in Week 7. Last week, they had the Chiefs beaten before Rivers fumbled the center exchange, and they wound up losing 23-20 in overtime.

Lost in the shuffle of the fumble, the Chargers had nine possessions reach at least the Chiefs' 34-yard line, including eight to at least the 26-yard line. Of those nine drives, they scored one touchdown, kicked four field goals, missed a field goal and had three turnovers.

While San Diego's offense ranks 26th with touchdowns on 42.9 percent of their trips in the red zone, the Packers rank seventh by allowing touchdowns 435 percent of the time.

"It's a tough combination this week because obviously we've struggled," Turner said when asked about the red zone offense during his Wednesday conference call. "The biggest thing that's hurt us, obviously, is you want to get touchdowns, but we've turned the ball over inside the red zone, certainly inside the 20 and inside the 30. Then you look at Green Bay, they're great design, great athleticism, they can mix and give you all the coverages, so they're outstanding."

Capers said red zone defense and takeaways have been the saving graces for an otherwise-porous unit.

"We just buckle down," safety Charlie Peprah said. "The type of defense we are, we're aggressive and attacking, so maybe in the field they might get some plays on us. When they shorten the field down, there's only so many places they can go with the ball, and that's when we're at our best. You've got guys like Tramon and Wood locking guys down, you can't throw it over them. When you shorten the field down, that's to our advantage."

Air Aaron


Rodgers picks apart the Vikings.
Tom Dahlin/Getty Images
— With a league-leading 125.7 passer rating, Rodgers ranks third in the NFL since the 1970 merger through the first seven games of the season. Tom Brady, during his record-setting 50-touchdown campaign in 2007, was at a ridiculous 137.9 in 2007, with Kurt Warner at 125.9 in 1999.

— With 9.92 yards per passing attempt, Rodgers not only leads the NFL by a whopping 1.09 yards over second-place Eli Manning, but he's on pace to set a modern NFL record. Sid Luckman (10.86 in 1943), Otto Graham (10.55 in 1953) and Norm Van Brocklin (10.14 in 1954) hold the top three spots, with Rodgers fourth.

— If Rodgers can top a 110 passer rating again, he'd snap a tie with Steve Young for the most consecutive 110 games in NFL history. Already, Rodgers' season-opening streak of seven in a row is a league record. Brett Favre holds the team record for most 110-rating games in a season with eight.

— What stats do the Packers emphasize? "You look at the touchdown-to-interception ratio as the huge statistic," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "Obviously, that plays a part in quarterback rating, but that's probably the No. 1 thing to look at. Then the completion percentage and then you'd probably look at the average yards per pass attempt. For us, the No. 1 thing that we want to be known for is being a team that takes great care of the ball, so the first thing that we look at is that ratio of touchdowns to interceptions. That's where it starts for us."

So, Philbin is happy with 20 touchdowns against three interceptions?

"Not too bad. I'll leave it at that," he said.

On the offensive

— The Packers rank fourth in the NFL in offense with 423.3 yards per game. However, they lead the league in scoring with 32.9 points per game, due in part to their league-best 6.76 yards per play. New England is second with 6.64 yards per play.

— That hints to the explosive ability of the Packers' offense, which is further demonstrated by this: In Week 5, Rodgers threw a 70-yard touchdown pass to James Jones. In Week 6, Rodgers tossed a 93-yard scoring strike to Jordy Nelson. In Week 7, Rodgers found a wide-open Greg Jennings for a 79-yard score. That makes Rodgers the third quarterback since the 1970 merger to complete 70-yard touchdown passes in three consecutive games and the first since Drew Brees in 2004.

— The Packers are 32-2 under coach Mike McCarthy when they score at least 30 points, including 4-0 this season. In every other department, however, McCarthy is below .500 – 15-16 with 20 to 29 points, 6-9 with 10-19 points and 2-5 with less than 10 points.

— Third down points the Packers' direction in a big way. Green Bay is fifth in the NFL by turning third down into first down 48.8 percent of the time. Rodgers' boasts a third-down passer rating of 111.3, with 67.7 percent accuracy, four touchdowns and one interception. San Diego's defense, meanwhile, ranks 28th by allowing opponents to convert 45.0 percent of the time.

History lessons

— The Packers lead the series 8-1 and have won the last five matchups, including 31-24 in 2007 on Brett Favre's 57-yard touchdown pass to Greg Jennings in the final minutes. Green Bay's .889 winning percentage is its best against any opponent. That includes a 5-0 record at San Diego (discounting the loss to Denver in Super Bowl XXXII). Among teams that have played three games in San Diego, only the Packers and Falcons (both 5-0) are undefeated.

— One of those road wins came in 1978. With the temperature at kickoff a sizzling 102, the Packers won 24-3. Green Bay forced 11 turnovers – six interceptions off Dan Fouts, James Harris and Cliff Olander, plus five fumble recoveries. Willie Buchanon tied an NFL record with four interceptions, including a pick-six. Buchanon is one of 19 players in league history to pick off four passes in one game. Washington's Sammy Baugh was the first, in 1943, and Green Bay's Bobby Dillon did it at Detroit in 1953. Washington's DeAngelo Hall was the latest, last year against Chicago.

— The Packers have won a team-record 13 consecutive games. Their nine-game regular-season winning streak is the third-longest in team history behind 11-game runs in 1928-1929 and 1961-1962.

— The Packers are looking to improve to 4-0 on the road for only the fourth time in the last 70 years. They also did so in 2007 under McCarthy, as well as 1962 under Vince Lombardi and 1972 under Dan Devine. The 1962 team won the championship, the 2007 team reached the NFC title game and the 1972 team won the NFC Central but was ousted in the divisional playoffs by Washington.

Chargers blitz

— The Packers' road success runs headlong into San Diego's home success. The Chargers are 17-4 in their last 21 regular-season home games, with the .810 winning percentage ranking third in the league. This season, San Diego is allowing 14.3 points per game in three home games.

Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates put points on the board for San Diego. Of Jackson's 239 career catches, 31 have gone for touchdowns. With a touchdown on every 7.71 receptions, Jackson ranks second in the NFL among active players, with Detroit's Calvin Johnson (one touchdown for every 7.20 receptions) leading the way. Gates, with 70 touchdowns on 546 career receptions (one for every 7.80) ranks third among active players.

— The Chargers' passing game goes downfield. San Diego's starting receivers are Jackson and Malcom Floyd. Of Jackson's 27 receptions, 25 have resulted in first downs. Of Floyd's 19 receptions, all of them have moved the chains. Floyd's 100 percent ranks first in the league while Jackson's 92.6 percent ranks second.

— Rivers isn't afraid to check the ball down, though. Running backs Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert have combined for 58 receptions, second-most by any running back tandem in the NFL.

Extra point

The last word goes to Peprah, on a defense that ranks 28th in yards but ninth in points: "We just care about winning games and keeping people out of the end zone. At the end of the day, if they don't score, they don't win. If they move the ball between the 20s, more power to them. Egotistically, we don't want to be at the bottom of the list in that stat, but at the end of the day, as long as we're winning games and keeping people out of the end zone, that's what we're worried about."


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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.


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