Game Preview Notes: 21 Things You Don't Know

Do-it-all Desmond Bishop is having a Pro Bowl-caliber season, and he figures to be a marquee part of Dom Capers' game plan for Sunday. That and 20 more things you need to know in the best game preview anywhere. Not a subscriber? Take our one-week free trial.

During the preseason, Green Bay Packers inside linebacker Desmond Bishop said his individual goal was to be selected to the Pro Bowl — or at least considered that kind of player by his peers.

Through nine games for the undefeated Packers, Bishop is just that. According to data compiled by ProFootballFocus.com, Bishop is tied for the NFL lead among 3-4 inside linebackers/4-3 middle linebackers with 83 total tackles and trails only San Francisco's NaVorro Bowman in unassisted tackles. He also leads the position with five sacks.

Whether Bishop will be voted to the Pro Bowl remains to be seen — and is largely irrelevant, anyway. What is certain is that Bishop is a do-it-all player and a key piece in defensive coordinator Dom Capers' bag of tricks. Need a tackling machine in the middle of the defense? That's Bishop. Need a linebacker to challenge a stud tight end like Antonio Gates? That's Bishop. Need a complementary pass rusher who is tied with Clay Matthews with a team-leading five sacks? That's Bishop.

"I can do them all," Bishop said on Friday. "A little bit of my coverage, I've been having blanket coverage and people just making career catches. It's only a matter of time before the tide changes. Statistically, making those plays is in my favor. I'm not worried about it. I just love to compete."

Bishop figures to be a marquee player for Capers on Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs have a powerful running back in LaGarrette Blount and one of the NFL's top tight ends in Kellen Winslow. And with Capers trying to find a pass rush, expect Bishop to attack on passing downs to test Kregg Lumpkin, who has struggled as the third-down back in place of injured veteran Earnest Graham.

After averaging 8.1 blitzes per game in the first six games, Capers has sent Bishop 14.7 times per game the last three weeks.

"When you talk about a guy like Desmond Bishop, parts of our defense is trying to get guys like Bishop matched up on a running back where the running back's got to block Bishop," Capers told Packer Report on Friday. "That's a big part of our defense as outside linebackers, too. If we can find a way to get an outside linebacker on a running back, we think we ought to win that. How can we get one of our linebackers on a running back? Because we'll test them, what kind of pass protectors they are."

Crosby's challenge

Mason Crosby enters this weekend's games as the only kicker who has not missed a field goal this season, a perfect 16-for-16 to run his streak to 23 in a row.

Now comes the challenge, with a predicted high temperature of 36 on Sunday. After a dome game on Thanksgiving at Detroit, the remaining five games (at New York Giants, home vs. Oakland, at Kansas City, home vs. Chicago and Detroit) potentially could be played in bad weather.

"It's a shift in mind-set," Crosby said. "Get out there, make sure the footing's right. If I can trust that my plant foot is going to be solid, the rest of the process is going to be the same. I make sure the cleats on my plant foot are right, then go and figure out the wind."

The wind is predicted to be a manageable 9 mph — an improvement from the 18 mph predicted on Wednesday. The wind at Lambeau is notoriously fickle, with Crosby calling it a "learning process." Against Minnesota on Monday, for instance, the flags atop the uprights suggested the wind was blowing to the south, but in reality, the ball carried further to the north.

"You've got one more thing to weigh in with the weather and whenever the wind picks up," Crosby said. "And the footing gets a little more inconsistent. I try to hit the ball the same. You've got to play the wind but you want to hit it like it wasn't cold out. I'm not going to kick the ball lower or do anything different like that. You have to fight the cold and deal with it."

Fewer flags on the field

Coach Mike McCarthy was able to build a winner with the youngest teams in the league, and a byproduct of that youth was occasionally sloppy and undisciplined play. The 2007 team that reached the NFC Championship Game ranks fourth in single-season penalty yardage in franchise history (1,006). The 2008 team ranks fifth (984). The 2009 team ranks second in yardage (1,057) while found guilty of a league-high 118 accepted penalties.

McCarthy made it a mission to eliminate that sore spot, and he succeeded. Last year, the Packers were guilty of 78 accepted penalties — the fewest in a 16-game season in franchise history — and finished third in the league in penalties and yards (617).

This year, they're doing even better, especially after being flagged just once against Minnesota. The Packers are tied for second in the league with 44 accepted penalties, and their 320 penalty yards are 58 less than second-place Miami. That puts Green Bay on pace for 78 penalties for 569 yards.

Defensively, the Packers have given away a league-low 108 penalty yards.

"We talk about penalties all the time," McCarthy said. "It's really part of our fundamental emphasis. We have an officials report every Thursday and we do a breakdown of the officials, which I think a lot of teams do. We're very conscientious about playing within the rules of the game. Any time the league sends out a video with some type of situation that's being emphasized with the league office, we make sure that our players are aware of it."

Interestingly, there's no correlation between limiting penalties and winning games. The five teams following Green Bay in penalty yardage are Miami, Jacksonville, Indianapolis and Buffalo.

Streaking


Rodgers leads the NFL with a 130.7
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
— The Packers' 11-game regular-season winning streak is tied for the longest in team history with equal runs accomplished in 1928-29 and 1961-62. Including playoffs, the Packers have won 15 in a row. When playoffs are included, the Patriots own the record with 21 straight during the 2003 and 2004 seasons, highlighted by victory in Super Bowl XXXVIII. Plus, as we've noted for a few weeks, the Packers are the only team in NFL history to win 15 in a row without trailing in the fourth quarter.

— The Packers have scored at least 24 points in all nine games, the longest streak in franchise history. Because of that hot start, Aaron Rodgers has become the highest-scoring quarterback in NFL history with 27.9 points in his 56 starts. That's ahead of Philip Rivers (27.6) and Otto Graham (27.1).

— Rodgers is the second quarterback in NFL history with three consecutive games with passer ratings topping 140. Kurt Warner did the same in 1999. During those three games, Rodgers has 11 touchdowns, no interceptions and completed 79.1 percent of his passes.

History lessons

— While the Packers lead the series 30-21-1, Tampa Bay has won seven of the last 10 and three in a row. That reverses an 11-1 Packers run from 1992 through 1998 with Brett Favre at the helm.

— Green Bay boasts a 17-7 record in home games, bolstered by an 11-game streak at Lambeau Field from 1991 through 2001 that included a 21-7 playoff victory on Jan. 4, 1998. The final win in that stretch was delivered when Allen Rossum returned a punt 55 yards for a touchdown in the final minutes to give Green Bay a 21-20 victory. Ahman Green also had a 63-yard touchdown run.

— The NFC Central Division rivals used to play twice a year, but realignment in 2002 sent the Packers to the North and the Bucs to the South. Since then, the Bucs are 4-1. That includes a victory in their last trip to Green Bay, 17-16 in 2005.

— The most famous game of the series, of course, is the infamous Snow Bowl, played Dec. 1, 1985, in front of merely 19,856 fans at Lambeau. The Packers won 21-0 as more than a foot of snow fell before the game, with another 4 inches during the game. Behind 299 passing yards from Lynn Dickey and 100-yard rushing games from Eddie Lee Ivery and Gerry Ellis, the Packers amassed 512 yards. The defense, led by Alphonso Carreker's four sacks of Steve Young, held the Bucs to just 65 yards and five first downs. "If the Packers could, they should give a game ball to every one of the almost 20,000 fans who showed up at Lambeau Field," Packer Report publisher Ray Nitschke wrote.

— An extra point on Randall Cobb's punt return for a touchdown last week. He was the first Packers rookie to do so since Terrell Buckley vs. Cincinnati on Sept. 20, 1992. That's a mere footnote in history, of course, because some guy named Favre came off the bench and threw the winning touchdown pass to Kitrick Taylor.

Buccaneers blitz

— The Buccaneers are 15-3 when quarterback Josh Freeman finished with a passer rating of at least 80 but 2-14 when he falls below that threshold. In his first NFL start, back in 2009, he beat the Packers 38-28. He completed just 45.2 percent of his passes but his three touchdowns and one interception gave him a rating of 86.1. Also of note, he's 9-4 in his last 13 road games.

— In that game, the Bucs rallied from a 28-17 deficit. That's noteworthy because, since the start of the 2008 season, Tampa Bay leads the league with nine comeback wins from double-digits deficits. Two of those have come this season: 24-17 over the Colts (down 10-0) and 24-20 over the Vikings (down 17-0).

Ronde Barber will be marking his 193rd consecutive start, the most by a cornerback in NFL history. The last time these teams met, he scooped up a blocked punt and raced 31 yards for a touchdown. He's the only player in NFL history with at least 25 sacks (27) and 40 interceptions (42).

— The Bucs are 7-1 when running back Blount gets at least 18 carries. In those eight games, he's averaged 104.3 yards and scored five touchdowns. Blount is a force, with a league-high 29 broken tackles last season, according to STATS.

— The Packers' pass rush showed some life last week but they'll be challenged to wrestle Freeman to the turf. Tampa Bay ranks fifth in the league with just 15 sacks allowed, and more importantly, fourth by allowing a sack on 4.1 percent of passing plays. For sake of comparison, Rodgers has been sacked 7.2 percent of the time, which ranks 22nd.

— Two weeks ago, San Diego's Gates had a big day against the Packers' defense. They'll be challenged this week by Winslow, whose 85-game streak with at least one catch is the seventh-longest active streak in the league. Interestingly, it took Winslow 61 games to reach 300 receptions, the second-fewest in NFL history for a tight end. No. 1 on the list? His dad, Kellen Winslow Sr., with 57 games.

Four-point stance

— Since the start of the 2009 season, Michael Vick leads all quarterbacks in rushing with 1,306 yards. No. 2 on the list is Rodgers, with 820, and No. 3 is Freeman, with 667. Vick also leads with 71 first downs, with Rodgers and Freeman tied for second with 57 apiece.

— Only five cornerbacks in NFL history have 10 sacks. One is the aforementioned Barber, with his cornerbacks-record 27 sacks. Fourth on the list (and second among active players) is Charles Woodson's 14.5.

— Woodson, however, tops Barber in career defensive touchdowns. With 12, Woodson is one behind the NFL-record 13 held by Darren Sharper and Rod Woodson. Barber has 11.

— The last word goes to McCarthy, from his conference call with Buccaneers beat reporters: "I used to feel that you had to go out in a game and establish the run, at one point in my career. But frankly, the only thing on offense we talk about is scoring points. If we feel running the ball 40 times is going to help us score points, that's our approach, or throwing it. We take into account how the defense is going to play us and it factors into how we run a lot of our plays. We're well aware of our pass totals. We have a very gifted quarterback and receiver group, but more importantly, we have an offensive line that can handle the pass protection challenges and we expect to be challenged with the pressure this week against Tampa."


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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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