Erik Walden has started all 15 games. After a strong run of games at midseason, Walden's play has backtracked to such an extent that he was on the bench when the Packers needed a stop two weeks ago at Kansas City and he played less than half the snaps last week against Chicago.
"Erik Walden did not play the whole game last week, (and) he probably will not play the whole game this week," coach Mike McCarthy said on Thursday.
The Packers' defense is in desperate need for another playmaker. Last year, Zombo and Walden combined for nine sacks in 14 starts (including playoffs). The hope was that young duo — Walden is 26, Zombo is 24 — would take a step forward and give the Packers an effective counterpuncher to Pro Bowler Clay Matthews.
Instead, the Packers have barely landed a punch at that position.
Could the answer be the undrafted So'oto, who had 2.5 sacks in the preseason against the Colts' and Chiefs' starters but saw his regular season derailed twice with a sore back?
"I don't know that it's wide open," So'oto said. "When I get in there, I'm going to try to take the quarterback's head off."
If he can back up that bold talk, he'd be the answer to a dire situation. After the Packers registered back-to-back games of 12 quarterback hits against the Lions and Giants, they've got a combined 10 against the Raiders (four), Chiefs (three) and Bears (three), according to a tally by the Packers' coaches. One of those came last week by So'oto, who played 26 snaps on defense after getting 13 plays in his other three games.
"It was fun to be back out there," So'oto said. "Got to the quarterback a couple times, forced an interception, made a couple tackles. Still a lot of things to work on but it was just fun to be back out there."
Finding a pass rush is such a huge priority that the Packers would be wise to keep Matthews (questionable, ankle) in street clothes just so there are more reps for Zombo, So'oto, Brad Jones and Jamari Lattimore. The Packers rank 27th with 27 sacks. Last year, they finished second with 47 — one off Pittsburgh's league-leading total.
Last year, Walden had three sacks in the season-finale against Chicago alone and one more in the wild-card win at Philadelphia a week later. This year, he's got a total of three sacks. After recording four quarterback hits against Atlanta in Game 5, four quarterback hits against Minnesota in Game 7 and one sack and six quarterback hits against San Diego in Week 8, Walden has practically disappeared. He has no sacks in the last five games and no quarterback hits in the last three.
Zombo, meanwhile, has played on defense in only four games. He's battled injuries all season, but he was inactive last week even while not appearing on the injury report. His one and only sack this season — the team's last, by the way — came against Oakland three weeks ago.
"I'm always looking for that opoortunity to get that spot I played last year, doing what I was doing last year," said Zombo, who had four sacks in the regular season and added another in the Super Bowl after missing the previous three playoff games. "Hopefully, I can knock off some of the rust, get back to the way I was playing and help this team win."
For the Packers, 16-0 would have been a monumental accomplishment.
However, 15-1 wouldn't be a bad consolation prize.
Since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978, only five teams in NFL history have won 15 games: the 2007 Patriots went 16-0, and the 2004 Steelers, 1998 Vikings, 1985 Bears and 1984 49ers finished 15-1.
Overwhelming regular-season success, however, doesn't mean a darned thing in the playoffs. While the 49ers won Super Bowl XIX and the Bears won Super Bowl XX, the Vikings (to the 14-2 Falcons) and Steelers (to the 14-2 Patriots) lost in conference championship games and the Patriots lost in Super Bowl XLII.
Four from 12
We literally could fill out this week's 21 Things column by ticking off Aaron Rodgers' list of accomplishments. Here are our favorite four:
— With his five touchdown passes last week, Rodgers has 10 games of three-plus touchdown tosses, tying Dan Marino (1984) and Tom Brady (2007) for the NFL record.
— With 45 touchdown passes, Rodgers ranks fourth in NFL history. Brady threw 50 in 2007, Peyton Manning had 49 in 2004 and Marino had 48 in 1984. That Rodgers is fourth before putting on his shoes for the final game shows just how special this season has been.
— With six interceptions in 502 attempts, Rodgers' interception percentage is 1.195. That's tied with Bart Starr for the best mark in Packers history. In 1966, Starr threw three interceptions in 251 attempts — exactly half of Rodgers' figures.
— If Rodgers finishes Sunday with seven or fewer interceptions for the season, he'd be the first quarterback in NFL history to have two seasons with 500-plus attempts but no more than seven interceptions. In 2009, Rodgers threw seven picks in 541 attempts.
Dec. 19, 2010, was a big day for the Lions as well as the Packers.
Dave Rayner's 34-yard field goal gave Detroit an overtime victory at Tampa Bay. The kick not only was the reason why Green Bay made the playoffs — otherwise, the Buccaneers would have earned the NFC's No. 6 position — but it snapped the Lions' NFL-record 26-game losing streak.
That's ancient history now. The Lions enter this game with a 5-2 road record. Only the Packers (7-1) have a better mark away from home.
"We put good players on the team plane when we leave," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said said in a conference call. "I think there's a lot that goes on with winning on the road. No. 1, you've got to have good players. When we put Calvin Johnson and Matt Stafford and Brandon Pettigrew – I could name them for a while – you put those guys on the plane and that's a good step in the right direction. I think a lot of it has to do, it's just personality. We're a team that has a lot of faith in the players around them. The team has faith in their teammates, they have faith in their coaches, they're resilient. They've been through a lot of tough times and you're going to have to survive some tough times on the road. "
— Just like last week, this will be another game in which turnovers will be huge. The Packers rank second in the league with 12 giveaways while the Lions rank fourth with 32 takeaways (20 interceptions, 12 fumble recoveries).
— Taking that turnovers-are-paramount point one step further, no team is better at turning turnovers into points than Detroit. The Lions have scored a league-high 129 points off of turnovers. The Packers, who lead the league in scoring and are second in takeaways, surprisingly rank "only" fourth with 111 points off of turnovers. On a per-takeaway basis, Detroit is averaging 4.0 points while Green Bay is averaging 3.3. The Lions have a league-high seven defensive touchdowns, matching a franchise record set in 1937.
— Third down will be another critical phase of the game. The Packers' offense ranks second in the league by converting 48.0 percent of the time, a figure that rises to 51.8 percent at home. Rodgers is second with a 113.3 passer rating on third down. The Lions' defense, however, ranks third by allowing opponents to convert only 31.6 percent of the time.
— Barring an offensive meltdown, this will be the highest-scoring Lions team in franchise history. They've scored 433 points this season. The record (436) was set in 1995. Moreover, their 28.9 points per game is just ahead of the 28.7 scored in 1952. Detroit's 52 touchdowns snapped the record of 50 from 1995.
— The Lions are the best team in NFL history in terms of comebacks, with four comeback wins when trailing by 13-plus points. Detroit leads the league with a plus-112 scoring differential in the second half. Green Bay, meanwhile, leads the NFL in first-quarter scoring with 122 points and first-half scoring with 262 points.
— Famously, the Packers haven't lost a home game to Detroit since 1991. "I think it had a lot to do with the guys they had playing quarterback since 1991 more than anything," Schwartz said, alluding to the fact the Packers have had Rodgers and Brett Favre during that streak.
— The 19-game regular-season winning streak (it's 20, including playoffs) is the longest in the NFL, one game longer than Washington's home streak against the Lions. Schwartz is one of eight coaches who have left Green Bay (or Milwaukee) with the bitter taste of defeat, with the others being Wayne Fontes, Bobby Ross, Gary Moeller, Marty Mornhinweg, Steve Mariucci, Dick Jauron and Rod Marinelli.
— The Packers and Lions have played every year since 1932, and their first matchup was in 1930. Incredibly, this marks the first time they'll play each other while both have reached double-digits wins. Then again, maybe it's not so incredible. This is Detroit's eighth 10-win season ever.
— The Packers haven't lost a regular-season finale played at home since 1967, when they fell to the Steelers 24-17. Green Bay has won 13 straight games to end the regular season in Wisconsin, all but one of those at Lambeau Field.
— The Packers are 2-0 on New Year's Day. Starr passed for four touchdowns to lead the Packers to a 34-27 win at Dallas on Jan. 1, 1967, to win the 1966 NFL Championship. Green Bay rolled to a 35-10 victory over the Chiefs in Super Bowl I two weeks later. In 2005, the Packers won Mike Sherman's final game, 23-17 over Seattle.
— The Packers enter this game with a league-high 515 points, so New England's single-season scoring record of 589 points appears safe. No. 2 on the all-time list is Minnesota's 556 points in 1998. To get past the Vikings, the Packers would need to score 42 points. They've done that five times, which ties the 1971 Cowboys for most in league history.
— The Packers own the league's longest Week 17 winning streak with eight. McCarthy and Houston's Gary Kubiak are the only current coaches to lead their teams to 5-0 marks in Week 17 since 2006.
— All week, McCarthy has referenced sweeping the division as a worthy goal to play for in an otherwise-meaningless game. Since the NFL went to a divisional format in 1967, Green Bay never has gone undefeated in division play.
— The last word goes to Rodgers: "I think you have to have a lot of pride as a player. This is what we get paid to do. We love to play the game. I think if you're keen on history as well you realize that they haven't won here since, I believe, 1991. So you'd like to keep that streak going. They've obviously improved in the last couple of years and are playing really well. It's no surprise they're in the playoffs. They're playing for that fifth seed right now and the chance to go to the winner of the NFC East instead of maybe playing New Orleans or San Francisco. I think we still have a lot of pride to play for."
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.