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World’s Best Packers Preview: Offense Gains Through Pain

Injuries lifted the Packers out of their lengthy offensive funk. Plus, the Packers must contend with the Colts' track team, the running men at quarterback, deep looks inside the Colts and much more in the most comprehensive preview in the history of mankind.

There are two ways to handle adversity.

One is to shrink from it. The other is to rise above it.

And the Green Bay Packers appear to be a team on the rise heading into Sunday’s home game against the Indianapolis Colts. Never mind the fact the Packers have lost two of their past three games. An offense that had been stuck in neutral for more than a calendar year has hopped in the fast lane, even with so much firepower having fallen by the wayside.

It’s as if the Packers have embraced the challenge of finding ways to work around the losses of Eddie Lacy, James Starks, Randall Cobb, Ty Montgomery and Jared Cook.

“Embrace? I’d rather do without, frankly,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said the day after the 33-32 loss to Atlanta.

Over the last two weeks, the Packers rank fifth in scoring. Rumors of quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ demise appear to have been greatly exaggerated. He ranks first in touchdown passes, second in completions and third in passer rating during that span.

Yes, two games is a small sample size. And, yes, the Bears and Falcons aren’t very good on defense. But the Packers have done well in cobbling together a productive offense with no threat of a running game and a bunch of relative nobodies catching passes.

Give credit to McCarthy, who had been criticized by outsiders for unimaginative game plans and stale schemes, and Rodgers, for adapting his style to the personnel realities.

“I think you’ve got to embrace it, regardless of who’s playing. It’s about the guys you’ve got out there,” Rodgers said on Wednesday. “You can’t be playing the what-if game. It’s too frustrating to think about those other guys. You’ve got to embrace the guys you’ve got and feel confident with them and let it loose. That’s what I did last week was trust those guys to make the plays. We talked about not making excuses and holding guys accountable for their job description, which is being a professional and coming prepared and making plays on game day. I was proud of those guys because they stepped up and had opportunities and made those plays. As a quarterback, that gives you confidence in those guys. You talk a lot about to them and I’ve talked here about trust. You build trust through practice and then you confirm that trust with performances in the game like those guys have.”

The play of Rodgers has been a revelation. Week after week, Rodgers seemed hell-bent on extending plays and looking for big gains while passing up easier throws. Now, stripped of his running game and making due with end-of-the-depth-chart guys, he’s turned into an efficient, rhythm passer seemingly content to throw the ball 5 yards in 2 seconds instead of holding the ball for 5 seconds and throwing it 20 yards.

“I think it’s just sticking with the plan and preparation,” Rodgers said. “There was a lot of talk outside the building about some of the issues – perceived issues. A lot of white noise. I just stuck with the preparation that got me here. We’ve done a good job. Some of the injuries, it’s made us be even a little bit more creative because we’ve had to come up with way to put guys in position to be successful. We’ve been a lot more efficient in the passing game the last couple weeks than we had before that.”

Oddly, losing any semblance of a running game could be a blessing. More than ever, it’s up to Rodgers to move the ball. Without Lacy, there is no running game. Without a running game, there is no play-action game. The success or failure of the offense rests on McCarthy finding ways to make a predictable offense seem unpredictable and on Rodgers for making it work with efficiency rather than explosion.

“Aaron is always a guy who loves a challenge,” quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt said. “He hasn’t outwardly said that in any of our meetings and I haven’t felt any change of his attitude or his work ethic during the week or anything like that. I think it’s just probably a little bit more of a challenge to him personally, with the situation we’re in offensively with some of the personnels. He looks forward to those kinds of challenges.”

TRACK MEET

Speed kills.

And the Colts have plenty of speed on the perimeter to test the Packers’ secondary.

T.Y. Hilton, who leads the team and ranks among the league leaders with 46 receptions for 709 yards, ran his 40-yard dash in 4.34 seconds at the Scouting Combine in 2012. Phillip Dorsett, the Colts’ first-round pick last year, ran his 40 in 4.33 at the Combine in 2015. The Clydesdale of the group is Donte Moncrief, who ran his 40 in 4.40 at the Combine in 2014. Of course, Moncrief is 6-foot-2 3/8 and 221 pounds while Dorsett is 5-9 3/4 and Hilton 5-9 1/2, so he is an imposing size-speed target.

The Colts attempt to take advantage of that speed. Dorsett is averaging 15.9 yards per catch and Hilton is averaging 15.4, making them one of only three wide receiver duos with both players ranked in the top 25 in yards per catch. Luck looks to press the ball down the field. The average length at catch for Dorsett is 12.2 yards while Hilton’s is 11.8.

Luck is a terrific deep-ball passer. Check out these numbers provided by Pro Football Focus: On passes thrown at least 25 yards, Luck is 21-of-42 for 622 yards, with five touchdowns, one interception and a passer rating of  125.5. Most of Rodgers’ production, on the other hand, has come with the underneath attack. On passes thrown at least 25 yards, he is 7-of-30 for 227 yards with one touchdown, no interceptions and a rating of 69.7.

The Packers’ cornerback corps, especially after losing Sam Shields to a concussion, is short on speed. Keeping Hilton, Dorsett and Moncrief from making big plays down the field will be critical.

“They’ve got a couple of guys that are probably top 10 (in speed),” Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “T.Y. Hilton is a threat. He’s been very productive for them. Dorsett has great speed. Those two guys can hit the home run on you, and Luck can obviously throw the deep ball well. We have a challenge there again this week trying to take the big play away because when you look at them statistically they can strike with the big play. They might be No. 1 in the league of four-or-less plays in drives for touchdowns. That’s always a concern.”

Hilton is Luck’s favorite target. He is tied for eighth in the league with seven receptions of 25-plus yards. For perspective, the Packers have only nine as a team.

“He’s an intelligent football player,” Luck said. “He puts the time in the meeting room, on the practice field. He’s obviously very athletic and has all the physical skill. It’s been fun. We were both rookies together in 2012, so it’s been fun to grow up in the NFL together.”

Beware of Moncrief, who has just 11 catches for 114 yards after missing five games with an injured shoulder. Last year, his second NFL season, he caught 64 passes for 733 yards and six scores. “Big, strong, fast guy,” said Packers cornerback LaDarius Gunter. “He uses his body well and he’s got good hands.”

THEY’RE ALL ARMS AND LEGS

Six times against Atlanta, Rodgers took matters into his own hands.

Or, more accurately, on his own feet.

Rodgers ran six times for a career-high 60 yards, making the backs-turned Falcons pay for playing man coverage. Of players on the roster, Rodgers not only leads the team with 156 rushing yards, but he has almost as many yards as the next three players combined. (Ty Montgomery, 66; Aaron Ripkowski, 59; and James Starks, 42; for a combined 167.) Rodgers ranks sixth among quarterbacks in rushing.

“I’m deceptively fast,” Rodgers said.

There’s no deception for Luck. He’s big and fast. At the 2012 Scouting Combine, Luck measured in at 6-foot-4 and 234 pounds — then ran a 4.67 in the 40 with a 36-inch vertical jump. His 209 rushing yards rank second on the team and third among quarterbacks, behind noted scramblers Tyrod Taylor of Buffalo and next week’s opponent, Marcus Mariota of Tennessee.

“Andrew’s a great quarterback,” Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix said. “Huge quarterback. The Hall of Fame Game was my first time seeing him. He still surprised me. I expected him to be big but I didn’t expect him to be that big.”

There is an obvious risk for scrambling quarterbacks. Physically, most of them are not built like running backs. Because of the throwing motion, they’re not padded like running backs. For Rodgers and Luck, most times their keen sense of their surroundings keeps them out of harm’s way. Sometimes, though, they’re at the defenders’ mercy.

That was the case for Rodgers against the Falcons.

“I’m always concerned when I’m running about when I’ve got to get down,” Rodgers said. “When you become a runner, you lose a lot of the help you get being a passer in the pocket. You’ve got to be smart about when you fall forward and when you’re sliding. Even on the slide, making sure you’re giving the defenders enough time to pull up. I had a conversation with (Atlanta’s Desmond) Trufant on the field, and he told me he was thinking about drilling me on one of them on a slide where I kind of jump-slid, and I thanked him for not doing that. That’s a situation where you’ve got to be smart outside the pocket, because you lose those provisions you have as a quarterback and a defenseless player in some of those positions.”

But running is a risk they’ll take because they’re competitors.

“I remember coach Jim Harbaugh at Stanford when I was there talking about, if a quarterback can pick up a first down or two with his legs, that's a huge asset, a huge boost for an offense during a game,” Luck said during a conference call. “So, I've always taken that to heart. I know Aaron is incredibly athletic. I've always admired watching him play and how he runs and throws it and does everything. But it's part of the game.”

It’s a part of the game that can rip the heart out of a defense, which has done everything correctly in coverage but can’t get the quarterback down to get off the field. Rodgers called running a “secondary thing” but it became a prime weapon against a Falcons defense that had seven or eight players in coverage to smother Green Bay’s receivers.

For the season, Rodgers and Luck are tied for third among quarterbacks with 13 rushing first downs. Out of the 25 quarterbacks who have run more than 10 times, Rodgers ranks second with a first-down rate of 46.4 percent.

“It kills you,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said in a conference call. “It gets frustrating because hopefully you can get them in some third-and-long situations. You have to play well on early downs to do that, and then you want to get after them and get some pressure on the quarterback. Then, you have to be very, very smart on how you rush them. You have to be very disciplined with your pass rush games and your lanes and things like that. You can have everybody covered and he takes off and beats you with his legs. He can take off and can beat you with his legs — a great, great athlete — or beat you on extended plays with his arm.”

The problem is even bigger for Capers, who needs his short-handed cornerback corps to stick with the Colts’ racehorse-fast receiver group when Luck is out of the pocket.

“That’s one of the things that makes him such a threat,” Capers said. “He’s a big guy, hard to get off his feet. Many times you’ll see people have him wrapped up and he’ll roll out of there. He does a really good job of buying time, a little bit like Aaron that way, where he can extend plays. He’s very aware of where his receivers are and it gives his receivers a chance to uncover and extends plays. Those are always the most dangerous people because those extended plays, you have to cover them longer and so the DBs and coverage people really have to be disciplined in terms of plastering their coverage.”

INSIDE THE COLTS

— There’s supposed to be some sort of magical force that turns 30-year-old running backs into balls of mush. The Colts’ Frank Gore has run through that barrier.

At age 33, Gore is the NFL’s oldest running back — former Packers fullback John Kuhn is 34. And yet he enters Sunday’s game with 532 rushing yards and a solid 4.2-average. There are 21 backs (running backs and fullbacks) who are 30 years old or older. Gore trails only LeGarrette Blount (age 30; 609 yards) and Matt Forte (age 31; 542 yards) in rushing, and they are the only three with more than 275 rushing yards.

“I’ve had great respect for Frank Gore,” McCarthy said. “I remember coaching him as a rookie (with San Francisco in 2005), you could see right away he was going to be a great player in this league. His instincts and his ability to run between the tackles – and, especially back then, really bounce the football — I thought, was unique. He’s probably the best I’ve ever had at making yards out of very little. His ability to get skinny in the hole and slice a front, he was special. His instincts are unique.”

Gore is marching up the record books. He needs 168 rushing yards to pass Tony Dorsett (12,739) for eighth in NFL history. Gore has 72 rushing touchdowns. Terry Allen’s 73 rank 27th in NFL history, with Earl Campbell, Leroy Kelly and Marshawn Lynch tied for 24th with 74.

Gore has started 84 consecutive games, the longest streak among active running backs. This stat will blow you away: Gore’s streak is longer than the next three backs combined. Houston’s Lamar Miller has started 50 straight, the Jets’ Matt Forte has started 14 in a row and Atlanta’s Devonta Freeman and Arizona’s David Johnson have started 13 straight.

“All those guys that they’re 12, 13 years in the league – 33, 34 years old – there’s a reason they’re great pros,” Pagano said. “Because I see Frank, I know his work ethic, and I know how passionate he is about the game and how much he loves the game and how he takes care of himself and how he prepares. He’s a great, great pro in that regard. So seeing him play at the level he’s playing at right now at his age does not shock me.”

— Like the old Timex watch commercial, Luck takes a licking and keeps on ticking.

He’s taken 31 sacks, six more than any quarterback in the league. Luck was sacked 22 times in five games in October alone — the most sacks absorbed by any quarterback since Detroit’s Jon Kitna was sacked 22 times in December 2006, according to STATS.

And yet he keeps coming back for more.

Much of the blame gets pinned on an offensive line that is the equivalent of Green Bay’s cornerback corps because of the number of injuries and the constant changes. The No. 1 line made it through two games. Of that original five, guard Jack Mewhort and right tackle Joe Reitz will not play on Sunday. That means the Colts will line up with their sixth starting group of the season.

Of the hundreds of stats we look at, this one jumps off the pages in its importance for Sunday: Indianapolis has allowed a sack on 9.97 percent of its dropbacks, the worst rate in the NFL. Luck was sacked six times in a 30-14 home loss to the Chiefs last week and was pressured on 25 of 48 dropbacks, according to Pro Football Focus. Green Bay’s defense, on the other hand, ranks fifth with a sack rate of 8.12 percent.

Packers linebacker Julius Peppers, who has 3.5 sacks on the season and two in the last three games, says he doesn’t pay attention to the numbers. Though he knew how many sacks the Colts gave up last week.

“Whatever you did last week or whatever you did up to this point really doesn't matter,” he said. “What matters is what happens on Sunday. What was that, they gave up six sacks last week? We don’t even know these stats. It’s about what happens on Sunday, not about what’s happened thus far. We’re focused on the preparation. That’s what matters. None of the other stuff matters.”

After missing last week’s game, you know Matthews would love to play and potentially add to his five-game total of three sacks.

“You always want sacks, there's no doubt about that,” he said. “You see an opportunity there so you want to take advantage of it. But, at the end of the day, I'm sure there's been games where we've had plenty of opportunities and come short. And games where we weren't supposed to get pressure and have. So, they'll have another opportunity to prove themselves and so will we, especially coming off last week. We'll try to do everything we can to get after the quarterback.”

— While Luck will attack an injury-plagued Packers secondary, the same will be true for Rodgers. Injuries have slammed the Colts. Vontae Davis, who receiver Davante Adams called a “premier” cornerback, is questionable with a concussion. He will meet with a neurologist on Saturday to see if he’ll get the green light to play. The other cornerback, Patrick Robinson, has missed three games. Slot Darius Butler also has missed three games.

Combined with a putrid pass rush, it’s little wonder why these are the Colts’ pass-defense numbers: 31st in yards per game, 25th in yards per attempt, 32nd in interception percentage and 30th in opponent passer rating. The Colts have allowed more than 325 passing yards in four of eight games, including 340 by Detroit’s Matthew Stafford and 397 by Chicago’s Brian Hoyer.

“We make no excuses,” Pagano said. “We’ve had some issues with personnel being in an out, some injuries, things like that. But we make no excuses. It’s always next man up. We’ll have our hands full come Sunday with this Packers offense and the quarterback we’re facing and the skill positions that we’re going to face. Nobody does it better in the National Football League. We’ll have a huge challenge on our hands again.”

A pass rush would help. The Colts rank 26th with a sack rate of 4.61 percent, though they have three sacks in back-to-back games. Continuing that improvement won’t be an easy chore against Green Bay’s line, though the change at center with Corey Linsley replacing injured J.C. Tretter, right guard T.J. Lang’s battle with a bad hip and the pass-happy direction of the offense are things worth keeping in mind.

“I think they’ve done a reasonably good job with the pass protection,” offensive line coach James Campen said. “We had a couple lapses in Atlanta that should not have happened. But certainly, whether you’re running the ball 50 times or having to throw it 50, whatever the assignment is that week or how the game turns that week, you do your job. Every lineman likes to run the football, too, but there’s also tremendous satisfaction in keeping guys away from the quarterback and doing those types of things. It’s their job to block. So that’s what we do. We have fun doing it, we have fun coaching it. That’s a good deal.”

— Key to that pass rush will be a familiar face. Erik Walden, who was signed midway through the 2010 season and teamed with Frank Zombo to give the Packers a surprisingly productive duo opposite Matthews at outside linebacker in the run to the Super Bowl title that season, ranks among the league leaders with six sacks. He’s been a one-man pass rush, with Indy having only 14 sacks as a team.

“He's doing great this year,” Matthews said. “You can't turn on the sack tape or the weekly sacks without seeing him come up with one or two a week. It's great to see. But, hopefully, he doesn't have that success this week.”

Walden joined the Colts in 2013 with a four-year, $16 million contract. The Colts were widely ridiculed for the transaction. After all, he had only nine sacks in three seasons with the Packers. However, Walden’s game didn’t always translate to the box score. He’s pure power and an intimidator. “He is a tough dude,” Rodgers noted. This year, however, he’s been more than a guy willing to sacrifice for the good of the defense. He’s matched his career high in sacks.

“Mind-set, toughness, physicality in the run game, edge setter in the run game,” Pagano said in rattling off Walden’s assets. “He’s producing at a high level right now. He’s played as consistently and steady as anybody since he’s been here. He’s a great teammate, great locker-room guy. He plays with a ton of heart and passion and grit. Six sacks on the season. He’s not only producing in the run game but he’s producing in the pass game and giving us some pass rush there and being productive. Love E-Wal. He’s a warrior.”

HISTORY LESSONS

— The Colts lead the series 21-20-1, with the difference being their last matchup in 2012 in Indianapolis. With Pagano being treated for leukemia and Bruce Arians serving as interim coach, the Colts overcame a 21-3 halftime deficit to win 30-27. Luck hit Reggie Wayne for the go-ahead touchdown with 35 seconds left.

“I was heavily dosed up on meds so I don’t remember anything other than the final,” Pagano told reporters in Indianapolis this week. “Blame it on Dilaudid. It’s pretty good stuff. The team was feeling pain at (the) half, but I wasn’t.”

It was the fourth game of Luck’s career and the first of his 13 fourth-quarter comeback wins. Each of the Colts’ three wins this season have come on fourth-quarter comebacks, but none will have stuck with Luck quite like that one.

“I think the gravity of the situation hit guys maybe at different times,” Luck told reporters in Indy. “You have (interim coach Bruce Arians) stand up there and tell you that Chuck is sick and is in the hospital and then you have a doctor come into a team meeting, which is unprecedented in my career, and talk about what he’s going through. But it didn’t hit me. Then I remember it hitting me when I walked out to practice and Coach Pagano wasn’t there. ‘OK, this is real life.’”

— No matter the timeline, these are two of the NFL’s consistent winners. Since the start of the 2002 season, the Colts rank second with 155 wins and the Packers are fourth with 144. Only New England (12) has won more division titles than Indianapolis (nine) and Green Bay (eight). Over the past seven seasons, Green Bay has won 10-plus games six times — New England is the only team to go a perfect 7-of-7 — while Indianapolis has done it five times. Since the start of the 2012 season, which coincides with Luck’s tenure, Green Bay ranks fifth with 45 wins and Indianapolis ranks sixth with 44.

At 3-5, the Colts are struggling. But they’re not out of the hunt. Last year alone, three teams that were 3-5 at the season’s midpoint qualified for the playoffs.

“We’re more than capable,” Pagano said. “There’s plenty of video evidence there that shows that. Now, it’s just a matter of playing four quarters and being more consistent.”

— Speaking of consistent winners: The Packers are 4-3. That means they’ve been over .500 through seven games for the 10th consecutive season.

— Against the Falcons, Packers receivers Jeff Janis, Geronimo Allison and Trevor Davis all made their first regular-season touchdown catches. That’s the first time a team had three players catch career touchdown pass No. 1 since 2000.

“The more experience those young guys get, the better it’ll be,” veteran receiver Jordy Nelson said. “We’ve said throughout the years that down the stretch, those guys are going to make plays for us. And we try to prepare them all the way back in training camp for that and obviously it showed up on Sunday, them making big plays for us and helping us be in the game and score some points. So, that’ll continue to grow and it gives them that confidence that they can play at that level.”

STATS THAT AREN’T FOR LOSERS

— The Packers continue to rank No. 1 in the NFL in third-down efficiency, moving the chains 51.6 percent of the time. The Packers have been excellent on third down throughout the season. Their worst performance of the year was their 6-of-13 vs. Minnesota. Just how good is that? That season-worst 46.2 percent is equivalent to ranking fifth in the NFL.

“Guys have made plays,” said associate head coach Tom Clements, the man in charge of building the third-down plan. “Whether that’s catching the ball or we’ve run the ball some to get first downs, Aaron’s scrambled to get third downs, so it’s a multitude of things. We’ve blocked well and we’ve just been consistently doing it.”

Making that number more impressive is Green Bay continues to be dreadful on first down. It ranks 31st with a 4.37-yard average on first down. But it’s at least better than its league-worst 3.44-yard average entering their Week 5 game against the Giants.

“Our first down, I think in some of those early games has got us not where we’d like to be statistically, but that’s what it is,” McCarthy said. “Third down, it starts with the quarterback. He’s made a lot of plays. I think if you look at the numbers of his rushes, it has been a huge impact on third down. I’m sure he’ll be a big focus of the Colts, trying to keep Aaron in the pocket. I think our protection has been fantastic, particularly in that situation. It’s the toughest down in football to throw the football. Our receivers are doing a good job of getting open and creating separation. It’s really been the best thing we’ve done situationally on offense.”

— Through four games, Rodgers had completed a league-worst 56.1 percent of his passes. Over the last three games, his 72.1 percent ranks third, according to STATS.

“The expectations are always so high, obviously, so when you play average football when you’re a great player for spurts at a time, then obviously the questions come out,” Van Pelt said. “The fact is he’s a great player, and you’re going to see a lot of greatness more than you’re going to see mediocrity and average.”

With an offense so reliant on short passes, the Packers will need their receivers to, first, catch the pass and, then, make something happen. They’ve done the first thing, as their six drops are tied for the fifth-fewest in the NFL, according to STATS. However, Green Bay is 19th in yards after the catch with 833, according to STATS. According to data from the league, Rodgers is getting 4.61 YAC per catch, which ranks 25th in the NFL.

“No matter where we catch the ball, that’s our mind-set. Our mind-set is, EB (offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett) has probably said it in here a hundred times, but run after the catch and break a tackle is a big part of who we are,” receivers coach Luke Getsy said. “It’s something we stress every single day. Whether we catch it at 3 or 13 or 33, we expect we’re going to make the first guy miss and go get some more yards.”

— According to STATS, Rodgers has thrown at least one touchdown pass in each of his last 20 regular-season home games. That streak dates to the start of the 2014 season, with his last no-touchdown home game being the matchup vs. Chicago in 2013, when he sustained a broken collarbone on the opening possession. During the 20-game streak, Green Bay is 16-4 at home and has outscored its foes by 220 points. That’s the third-best winning percentage and second-best point differential.

— There are many ways to measure success for quarterbacks. And one of those is their record in close games. By that measure, Luck is in a league of his own. In games decided by one score since he was drafted in 2012, the Colts own a 29-11 record. That’s a .725 winning percentage. Denver is a distant second, with its 22-11 equating to .667. The Colts and Patriots are tied for No. 1 in a games decided by three points or less, with their matching 11-4 records working out to a .733 winning percentage.

FOUR-POINT STANCE

— Among active defenders, Green Bay’s Julius Peppers leads the way with 139.5 career sacks. Atlanta’s Dwight Freeney, who the Packers faced last week, ranks third with 122.5. Indianapolis’ Robert Mathis, who the Packers will face this week, ranks fourth with 120.0. Mathis is tied for first among active defenders with 48 forced fumbles. Peppers is fifth with 46.

“I saw Dwight last week and spoke to him,” Peppers said. “I met Dwight when we were in college so I’ve been on him for over, what, 15 years. It’s good to see. It’s good to say hi and acknowledge what they’ve done.”

The 35-year-old Mathis had 19.5 sacks in 2013, when he was named a first-team All-Pro. That was the pinnacle of his career. He didn’t play in 2014 due to a suspension and torn Achilles. He had seven sacks last season and has only two this season.

The 36-year-old Peppers has 3.5 sacks this season, including one vs. Atlanta.

“What we’ve done so far and what I’ve done individually has been OK, but we’re always looking to do a little more and see what else you can do to help this team win,” Peppers said.

— After three consecutive seasons of at least 50 catches, tight end Coby Fleener jumped from Indianapolis to New Orleans in free agency. Fleener’s done well with the Saints, with 25 catches for 317 yards and two touchdowns. His replacement, however, has done better. Unheralded Jack Doyle is second on the Colts with 31 receptions for 318 yards. Among tight ends, Doyle ranks seventh in receptions and is tied for first with four touchdowns. 

“He’s stepped up,” Luck said. “He’s been such a steady Eddie for a long time for this team. It’s great to see him maybe get the recognition outside of the locker room that he deserves. Since Day 1, he’s been a favorite of just about everybody in this building.”

Green Bay’s fared pretty well against tight ends, with a seven-game total of 33 receptions for 431 yards and two touchdowns. The Packers are tied for 19th in receptions allowed to tight ends.

On the other hand, the Colts’ defense has been one of the worst against tight ends, with an eight-game total of 51 catches for 601 yards and four touchdowns. The Colts have given up the most catches to opponent tight ends and the second-most yards. But Green Bay has received next to nothing production-wise from it’s tight ends. Richard Rodgers has nine receptions for 84 yards and one touchdown, injured Jared Cook had six receptions for 53 yards and Justin Perillo has two catches for 17 yards. Twelve of their combined 17 receptions came in the first three games compared to five receptions in the last four games.

“I’m glad you brought that up, because usually when you guys bring something up like that, it means the tight ends are going to have a big game this week,” McCarthy said in response to a question by ESPN.com’s Rob Demovsky. “Hey, every game is different, and we’re going to do whatever we need to do to score points on offense. In fairness to both Richard and Justin, as far as the game planning, you’re really conscientious of never being just one player out of a personnel group, so there’s not a ton of two-tight-end groups. Frankly, who you’re playing against is a big part of it, too. We’ll see how the game shakes out.”

— This will be a battle between two coaches who know what it takes to win games. In his 11th season, McCarthy owns a 108-58-1 record. His .650 winning percentage ranks third among active coaches with a minimum of two years running their team. Since taking over the Colts in 2012, Pagano’s record is 44-29. That .611 winning percentage ranks fifth.

— Green Bay will face a challenge on special teams. The Colts ranked fifth in this week’s Packer Report Special Teams Rankings while the Packers were 18th. At age 43, kicker Adam Vinatieri has made an NFL-record 43 consecutive field-goal attempts. He’s 5-of-5 from 50-plus yards this season, so it’s not as if they’ve all been gimmes. Punter Pat McAfee ranks sixth in net with a 42.3-yard average.

 “I think the biggest challenge is they’ve got two pretty good kickers – a punter and kicker – and obviously the kicker’s probably as old as I am and has done a great job. He hasn’t missed a kick in forever,” special teams coordinator Ron Zook said. “I think the kickoff team, they do so many things that it’s hard to really get set in your returns. Each week, they have a flavor of the week. You’re subject to onside at any time. You have to be prepared for that; your guys have to be prepared. If they do kick it deep and there is a return, because they’re always moving around, you’ve got to make sure you get your guys on the right guys.”

QUOTEWORTHY

Colts coach Chuck Pagano on Packers QB Aaron Rodgers: “They’ve got one of the greatest quarterbacks, if not the greatest quarterback, to ever play this game in Aaron Rodgers. The guy’s unbelievable.”

Bill Huber is publisher of 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 www.twitter.com/PackerReport.


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