Keys to the game: Mind over matter

The weather outside is frightful. The team that plays with the most fire will find the Lambeau deep freeze downright delightful. Well, maybe not delightful. More like tolerable.

When the Green Bay Packers host the Jacksonville Jaguars this afternoon, this key regular-season matchup will have an Ice Bowl feel. The temperature won't be minus-15, but the temperature at kickoff may be 10 degrees. The winds, so strong last week against Detroit, will be whipping again.

The best place to be will be on the bench next to the heater. It's that mentality, however, that will spell doom. The conditions will be the ultimate test of a team's manhood.

For the Jaguars (7-6), this is a must-win game if they want to make the playoffs in the loaded AFC. For the Packers (8-5), this is a must-win game if they want to win the NFC North and host a first-round playoff game. So the motivation will be there. The trump card, of course, is Brett Favre, who is 38-1 all-time in games played in 35 degrees or less. He's been unbeatable when the weather is truly horrible. The Jaguars say they aren't fazed by the Packers' legendary cold-weather prowess.

"We've had a little cooperation from the weatherman," Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio. "Last week, it was in the 80s. It's nice to get into the 40s for this week."

Del Rio and the Jaguars will learn quickly that the difference between 40 degrees and 10 degrees is as challenging as the difference between 70 and 100.

Will the Jaguars be counting the minutes to get into the warm and cozy locker room if they fall behind early? Will the Packers be counting the minutes until they are huddled in front of their fireplace at home if they fall behind, especially given the fact they could lose the rest of their games and almost certainly qualify for the playoffs, anyway?

This test of wills is the first of this week's five keys to victory. The weather plays a large role in the rest of the keys.

2. Taylor-made offense

The passing games may literally be put on ice today. Even Favre struggled in the first half last week, though he heated up in time to spark the comeback. With the weather this cold and the wind this strong, catching the ball will be an incredible challenge. Thus, the Florida-loving Jaguars will lean on the skills of star running back Fred Taylor.

The Packers struggled last week to stop Detroit's Kevin Jones. Jones rushed for 118 yards on 23 rushes in the first half alone as the Lions roared to a 13-0 halftime lead. The Packers picked up their game in the second half, however, limiting Jones to 38 yards on 10 attempts. With Detroit's biggest weapon under wraps, the Packers were able to win the field-position battle and slowly take control of the game.

If the Packers can control Taylor, who is sixth in the league in yards from scrimmage, the Packers should be able to dictate the tempo of the game in the same manner as last week.

Taylor, though, is on a roll. He has averaged 145 yards in his last five games against NFC teams.

"As a quarterback, any time you can look behind you and see No. 28 back there, it's a comfort," said Jaguars quarterback Byron Leftwich. "He's just a big play waiting to happen. You know he's a guy who can take it to the house any time.

3. Double trouble at DT

For the second consecutive week, the play of the Packers' interior blockers will determine the success or failure of the offensive attack. Green Bay guards Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle may be the best in the business. That duo and rookie center Scott Wells, starting for Grey Ruegamer, will be put to the ultimate test today by the Jaguars' defensive tackle combo of Marcus Stroud and John Henderson.

The Packers did fairly well last week against Detroit's Shaun Rogers and Dan Wilkinson, who form what could be the NFC's best inside duo. Stroud and Henderson, however, may be the NFL's best. Stroud and Henderson aren't just big; they're big and athletic.

"The big difference in the two tackles we saw and the two tackles we're going to see is the guys in Jacksonville are very athletic," Rivera said. "They're both big individuals, very strong, very talented individuals. It'll be a big-time game, a big-time test for myself and Mike Wahle."

If Wahle, Rivera and Wells pass the test, the Packers will be able to control the game with Ahman Green. While Favre is the king of the cold, the Packers' chances are much better if Green has a productive game.

4. The QBs

The running games will be key, and since both defenses know that, there will be big plays available in the passing game. The Packers' secondary has been downright horrible. Though they allowed only five completions last week against Detroit's Joey Harrington, Jacksonville's Leftwich has the gun to fire the ball through the wind.

"Byron is just light years ahead of where he was last year at this time," Del Rio said. "He's getting better and better all the time."

On the plus side for the Packers, though, the only credible receiving threat for Jacksonville is ageless wide receiver Jimmy Smith. Smith has beaten the double teams all year, however, as he leads the AFC in yards per catch.

Favre, meanwhile, completed 16 of 21 passes in the second half against Detroit. If the Packers can protect Favre, Jacksonville's secondary is vulnerable. Javon Walker is having a breakout season and Driver had a big game in the cold against Detroit. He needs 76 yards to join Walker in the 1,000-yard club. Look for the Packers to attack veteran cornerback Dewayne Washington.

5. Turnovers

Few things are slicker than a frozen football. With the wind, balls could hang in the air for interceptions. The Packers won the field-position battle in the second half to beat the Lions, and that will be the recipe for success today. Nothing changes the field position faster than a turnover.

The Packers are dead last in the league with just 12 forced turnovers. The Jaguars aren't much better with 16. On the other side of the ball, Jacksonville has only 15 turnovers while Green Bay has 23 giveaways. The stats point to Jacksonville winning the turnover battle, but the Packers are more attuned to the elements.

"In these weather conditions, it's tougher to drive the ball farther because you can't have mistakes," Packers offensive coordinator Tom Rossley said. "In the cold, it's going to be tough."


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