Game Preview Notes: 21 Things You Don't Know

Donald Driver, presumably with an expanded role because of Greg Jennings' injury, is on the verge of some major history this week. We bet you didn't know that, and you probably weren't aware of most of the other 20 items in the best game preview you'll find anywhere.

Very quietly, Donald Driver is set to make some history this week.

With 9,972 receiving yards, Driver is on the verge of earning entry into the 10,000-yard club. He'll be just the 36th player in NFL history to reach that milestone. Incredibly for an era in which passing has supplanted rushing as the way to move the ball, Driver would be only the seventh active player with 10,000 yards. Tony Gonzalez, Derrick Mason, Hines Ward, Reggie Wayne, Chad Ochocinco and Steve Smith are the others.

"That's a small group of guys that have 10,000 yards, so to be mentioned in the same breath with all of those guys, it's truly an honor. It'd be special," Driver told Packer Report this week.

Driver tied James Lofton's franchise record for receiving yards (9,656) in the season-opener against New Orleans, then broke it in Week 2 against Carolina. He caught only that one pass in that game, and had zero or one catches in four of six games, leading to whispers that the 36-year-old was being phased out of the offense.

Instead, Driver has caught at least three passes in four of the last five games, including back-to-back games with four catches. After not having a reception of longer than 12 yards for six consecutive games, Driver had a 22-yard catch against Minnesota, a 35-yarder against Tampa Bay, a 15-yard touchdown against the Giants and a 28-yarder against Oakland.

With Greg Jennings out for at least the rest of the regular season and with Driver showing there's plenty of life in his legs, he figures to take on an expanded role down the stretch and into the playoffs.

"The approach has been, any given week it could be a different guy ending up having that type of week," receivers coach Edgar Bennett said. "He's certainly been productive in other areas, too, like blocking and leadership and executing his job. That's a big part of it – helping in other areas, as far as running his route at the proper depth and proper landmark to open up someone else based on the coverage."

With 31 catches for 357 yards, Driver is on course to have his quietest season since catching only 13 balls in 2001. Still, the ability to produce is there. His two-touchdown game against the Giants was his first since 2005. In the last four games, Driver has caught 13 of the 15 passes thrown his way. Among receivers who have been targeted at least 40 times, he ranks sixth in the NFL with a catch percentage of 72.1.

And now, some more history for the player who ranks sixth among active players and 32nd all-time with 729 receptions.

"It talks about his longevity, durability, a guy that has went out and earned it," Bennett said. "You have great respect for people like that. He's a great leader, and it shows."

Special teams making strides

Lost amid the Packers' record-breaking offense and their up-and-down defense, the special teams have gone from perennial weakness to strength.

In the hallway leading from the Packers' locker room to the weight room, there's a large board monitoring the team's weekly special-teams goals. Atop the list is "hidden yardage," which basically compares net punting and starting field position after kickoffs on a weekly basis. The Packers have won the hidden yardage battle in 11 of 13 games. In other words, when the teams' special teams are exchanging field position, the Packers are coming out on top on a weekly basis.

"You see it at the top of our goal board," special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said. "It's something that's very important because we're in charge of the change of possession of the football. When we can have our offense start at a great position than our opponent and our defense in better position than our opponent, then we're doing our job."

After a slow start, Tim Masthay is averaging 37.0 yards per net punt compared to the opponent net of 35.8, and has won the net-punting battle in five of the last seven games. Mason Crosby is tied for third in the league with 42 touchbacks, and Randall Cobb ranks third in the NFL in kickoff returns and sixth in punt returns.

Even with three fumbles, Cobb has given the Packers a new dynamic. The Packers hadn't had a score on a kick return since Will Blackmon brought back two punts in 2008. They hadn't scored on a kickoff return since 2000.

"When the guys in front of him blocking see that every time he touches the ball that he has a chance to make an explosive play if not a touchdown," Slocum said, "it just adds energy to the group and a focus that the guys really take pride and want to get that job done and create the production."

King Charles

In 2009, Charles Woodson was named the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year after a brilliant season of nine interceptions — three of which he returned for touchdowns — and four forced fumbles.

After picking off just two passes last season, Woodson is back to his old tricks. He's got seven interceptions on the season, which is tied with New England's Kyle Arrington and San Diego's Eric Weddle for the league lead.

"I think since he's been here, the guy has made a ton of plays, not necessarily because of me, but because he's a good football player," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "I can't imagine he could make more than he did in '09 when he was player of the year. But he's having a very good year and very productive year. The guy has a good feel for what's coming and he's going to go jump things. He's a playmaker."

With his 54th career interception last week, Woodson broke into the top 20 in NFL history.

Grant off and running

The most impressive thing about Ryan Grant's breakout game against Oakland last week was that he manufactured yards on his own.


Ryan Grant
Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire
According to stats kept by ProFootballFocus.com, Grant hadn't averaged more than 2.5 yards after contact in a game all season, and he entered the game averaging just 1.9 yards after contact. Against the Raiders, 53 of his 85 yards came after contact, giving him 5.3 yards after contact per carry.

"He made a couple guys miss at the second level, No. 1, but we gave him some better opportunities to set up those one-on-one chances where he could make a DB miss or a linebacker miss at the second level," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "It's never one thing. It wasn't all Ryan; it wasn't all the offensive line. We gave him some opportunities, and when he got to the second level, he made a couple guys miss. That's how you get a 47-yard run. They've got pursuit angles, they've got force responsibilities on defense that are going to eliminate those type of runs, so you've got to have somebody take it into his own hands and make somebody miss, and Ryan did that a couple times."

Still, his 2.3 yards after contact for the season is tied for 42nd among all running backs. For reference, James Starks is tied for 18th with 2.7 yards after contact, and Buffalo's Fred Jackson leads the league at 3.7.

With 102 carries on the season, Grant figures to have fresh legs as the Packers wrap up the regular season and dive into the playoffs with a chance to become the ninth repeat Super Bowl champion.

"Honestly, I feel like all of us have fresh legs on offense," Grant said. "The way the offense is built, the number of weapons on this team, I mean, what's the most catches anyone's had on this team in one game? The way our offense is built, the only person who doesn't have fresh legs is No. 12. Our offense is built that some guys it's their day, other guys get a break. I think you will see that we'll be able to be strong on this run."

Plenty of points

— The Packers are averaging a league-high 35.8 points per game, 3.9 points more than New Orleans' second-ranked 31.9. That puts Green Bay on pace to score 574. That would rank second in history behind the 2007 Patriots' 589 but more than the 1998 Vikings' 556.

— The Packers' team-record point total of 466 is the second-most in NFL history through 13 games, behind only the aforementioned Patriots' 503. Even if the Packers were to get shutout this week, their 466 points through 14 games would be the seventh-most in league history. New England scored 523 points in 14 games in 2007 and the Houston Oilers scored 513 in 1961.

— Last week's 46-point output against Oakland gave the Packers five games of 42-plus points. That ties the 1971 Cowboys for the most since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger. Green Bay's 46 points is more than the Chiefs have scored in the last six combined (45).

— The Packers waste no time seizing control of games. They've scored 248 points in the first half, or 49 more than second-ranked New Orleans' 199. They've also scored 115 points in the first quarter, or 22 more than second-ranked Houston's 93. Their 52 points on the first possession of the game leads the league by seven over Pittsburgh. And forget about a comeback: The Packers' third-quarter point differential is a league-best plus-81.

— The Packers have scored on 50 percent of their possessions — 50 touchdowns and 23 field goals. That's tops in the league. Last week, Green Bay scored on eight of its first 10 possessions, with the only interruptions being Aaron Rodgers' end zone interception and a run-out-the-clock handoff to Grant at the end of the half.

History lessons

— These teams have played in Canton, Ohio, Milwaukee and Japan, but the biggest of them all was in Los Angeles for what would be retro-named "Super Bowl I." While Bart Starr was named MVP, it would be Max McGee's ticket to immortality. McGee, a past-his-prime, 34-year-old backup, had caught only four passes all season and famously spent the night with a couple of stewardesses he met on the flight. Pressed into action when Boyd Dowler was injured, McGee shook off the cobwebs to catch a 37-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter and added a 13-yard touchdown in the third.

"I waddled in about 7:30 in the morning and I could barely stand up for the kickoff," McGee would say. "On the bench Paul (Hornung) kept needling me, ‘What would you do if you had to play?' And I said, ‘No way, there's no way I could make it.'"

— Kansas City is 6-2-1 against Green Bay, with that .722 winning percentage being the third-best against the Packers. Only Miami (10-3, .769) and the New York Jets (8-3, .728) have tasted more success. Incredibly, the Chiefs are a perfect 3-0 at Lambeau Field, with Christian Okoye spearheading wins in 1989 and 1990. The third win came in 2003, when the Chiefs rallied from a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit to win 40-34 in overtime on Trent Green's touchdown pass to Eddie Kennison.

— In the 1977 game, rookie Terdell Middleton had a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown as the Packers won 20-10. The teams didn't play for another decade, with the Packers winning 23-3. Here's a blast from the past from that game: Frankie Neal, a rookie third-round pick, scored only three career touchdowns; two of them came against Kansas City, on passes of 13 and 26 yards from Randy Wright. The Chiefs won five straight from 1989 through their big comeback in 2003. The Packers snapped that streak in 2007 when they scored 20 fourth-quarter points, highlighted by Brett Favre's 60-yard touchdown pass to Jennings and Woodson's pick-six.

Chiefs blitz

— The Chiefs' starting front seven includes four first-round draft picks — inside linebacker Derrick Johnson (their leading tackler), outside linebacker Tamba Hali (their leading sacker) and defensive ends Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson.

"They present a lot of different looks, a lot of different challenges," Packers guard T.J. Lang said. "When they're in their base defense, their three down linemen are very strong, stout guys, experienced guys. They take up one or two blockers just with their pad level and the way they play. When you get into the sub situations, they've got a lot of good pass rushers and they present a lot of different blitz looks. It's no slouch of a team, man. They've got a lot of talent and they've got a lot to play for with the new coach this week. We know they're going to be pumped up to play for him and finish out their season well. It's going to be a challenge."

— One thing Kansas City does well is rush the passer. In the Chiefs' last four games, they have 14 sacks — third-most in the NFL during that span — including seven in a 10-3 victory over Chicago. Hali has 23.5 sacks since the start of the 2010 season, fifth-most in the league, and rookie Justin Houston has four sacks in his last two games. That'll be the big matchup for the Packers, who have allowed 33 sacks.

— Dating to Oct. 2, the Chiefs are allowing a solid 19.6 points per game. Their third-down defense has been superb during that span, with a third-ranked 30.6 percent opponent success rate.

— Veteran Thomas Jones is one of only two active running backs with at least 10,000 yards. He's got 10,450 yards, and needs 158 to pass Jamal Lewis (10,607) for No. 21 on the all-time list. Plus, he has scored 71 total touchdowns (68 rushing, three receiving).

— The Chiefs upgraded their offense in the offseason with the addition of receiver Steve Breaston. Breaston torched the Packers in the 2009 wild-card game at Arizona with seven catches for 125 yards and a touchdown. He has 52 catches for 685 yards and two touchdowns this season, and has caught 66.7 percent of the passes thrown his way, according to ProFootballFocus.com.

Four-point stance

— The red zone has been the Chiefs' bugaboo on both sides of the ball. They rank 31st in the league by scoring touchdowns 37.0 percent of the time on offense, and they're tied for 26th by allowing touchdowns 59.1 percent of the time on defense. Green Bay's offense ranks fourth with touchdowns on 61.4 percent of its trips inside the 20. The Packers' defense ranks 20th, with touchdowns 57.5 percent of the time.

— With 29.5 sacks, Clay Matthews is tied for most by a Packers player in his first three seasons with Tony Bennett. He's also the first player in franchise history to score a defensive touchdown in each of his first three seasons.

— Last week's flag-a-thon against the Raiders put the Packers' discipline into perspective. Not only does Green Bay rank third in fewest penalties (65) and second in fewest penalty yards (476), the Packers' defense ranks No. 1 in penalty yards with just 132. The Raiders' defense gave up 69 penalty yards last week alone.

— The last word goes to Packers receiver James Jones, on the injury to Jennings: "Everybody thinks stuff changes around here because somebody gets hurt. They don't change. I'm going to still be James. If the ball comes my way a little more, it does. Shoot, we've still got four wideouts plus J-Mike. We've got to run it. So, Greg being out, you don't have to try to be Superman. Just keep doing what you've been doing — if the ball comes your way, make a play. And that's what I've been doing this year.


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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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