Packers vs. Rams: Keys to the game

The Green Bay Packers, three-point underdogs, host the St. Louis Rams at Lambeau Field on Sunday. Koren Robinson, who might be thrust into a starting role, is one of the key figures in the matchup.

When he was hired as the Green Bay Packers' head coach, Mike McCarthy said restoring the Lambeau Field advantage was a key objective.

Well, the Packers (1-3) are 0-2 at home heading into Sunday's matchup with the St. Louis Rams (3-1). Will Green Bay win its first home game of the season on Sunday? Here are five keys that will determine the Packers' fate.

It's Robinson, ready or not

With Robert Ferguson likely to miss Sunday's game with a foot injured on Monday, Koren Robinson seemed destined to have a bigger role in the offense. Now, with Donald Driver missing Friday's practice and listed as questionable with a sore hip and ribs, Robinson might be thrust into the starting lineup.

Robinson has made a couple of impressive catches during limited duty at wide receiver. Now, the former first-round pick gets his chance to shine with a hugely expanded role in the offense.

But is he ready?

Robinson was signed after the Week 1 loss to the Bears, though he says he's comfortable with the playbook. After getting knocked around in Monday night's game in Phildelphia, Robinson jetted to suburban Kirkland, Wash., a day later, where he was sentenced to 90 days in jail (to be served after the season) for a probation violation for his drunken driving arrest in suburban Minneapolis during training camp. Then it was a red-eye back to Green Bay so he wouldn't miss Wednesday's meetings or practice. Still hanging over his head is the legal fallout from the Minnesota arrest.

Is Robinson healthy? Is he rested? Does he know the offense? Is he distracted?

"I hope Driver's ready to go. I think he'll be ready to go. But if not, then I feel I'm prepared to step in."

McCarthy vs. Haslett

During the first quarter Monday, McCarthy called nine consecutive passing plays after starting the game with a run. It's the second time this season McCarthy has forgotten about the running game, having ignored it despite leading the Saints in the first half of Week 2.

The Packers will be in trouble should they repeat their pass-happy history against the Rams, who are tied for first place in the NFC West in large part because of the work of new defensive coordinator Jim Haslett. St. Louis is tied for the NFL lead with eight interceptions.

"Jim Haslett has them blitzing when they get off the bus, and that has generated a lot of big plays, and a lot of points have come from the big plays the defense has made," McCarthy said.

Linehan vs. Sanders

While Packers fans rejoice the release of cornerback Ahmad Carroll, that prominent roster move does nothing to improve Green Bay's woeful pass defense.

Patrick Dendy, a second-year player who has played in only four games in his career and spent the first four weeks of this season on the practice squad, or undrafted rookie Jarrett Bush, who has only taken a few snaps on defense, will be the corner in the nickel package.

Expect first-year Rams head coach Scott Linehan, the former offensive coordinator at Minnesota and Miami, to do everything he can to get Pro Bowl receivers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce matched up one-on-one against Dendy. Of course, Packers defensive coordinator Bob Sanders will do everything he can to keep Dendy or Bush as far away from that dynamic duo as possible.

Of course, the nickel corner is only part of the Packers' problems against the pass. It won't matter if Gilbert Brown is re-signed to cover Bruce if the rest of the secondary doesn't get its act together.

"We're just not taking care of the big play," McCarthy said, "and it's a recurring problem that needs to get corrected."

Third and short

With the Rams playing so well defensively and the Packers having little margin of error to beat a quality club, it will be critical for the Packers to mount a decent running game to create second-and-moderate and third-and-short situations.

There are a few sources of good news for the Packers.

First, St. Louis' defense ranks 22nd against the run and 24th in yards allowed per rush.

Second, Ahman Green figures to start, giving the Packers a one-two punch of Green and Vernand Morency. McCarthy said he'd limit Green to 20 inches, down five from his average in the first three games.

Third, new fullback Brandon Miree impressed against the Eagles. Miree was the lead blocker on nine rushing attempts before the game got out of hand (24-9) against the Eagles. On those nine carries, all by Morency, the Packers rushed for 41 yards. All of Miree's blocks ranged for above average to good enough, and Morency wasn't dropped for a loss on any of them.

A good running game gives the Packers an opportunity to control the clock and cut down on the kind of mistakes that a quarterback like Marc Bulger can pounce on and turn around a close game.

Turnovers

Everyone knows that turnovers more often or not decide football games. That, more than anything, explains the Rams' early success.

The Rams average 3.7 yards per rush compared to 4.5 for their opponents. The Rams have allowed 11 sacks while sacking their foes seven times. They convert barely one-third of their third downs while allowing their opponents to convert 42 percent of the time. They are gaining 5.2 yards per play compared to 5.7 by their opponents.

So how are the Rams winning? Turnovers, of course. Along with eight interceptions, the Rams have recovered five fumbles. Offensively, the Rams have turned the ball over three times. Bulger hasn't been picked off all season, a far cry from the "Greatest Show on Turf," pass-happy days of the past.

"We're definitely not the same identity," Bulger said. "We used to have just kept winging it and throwing it - maybe turn it over, but keep winging it. We've switched it to more ball-control.

It's given the Rams a league-best plus-10 turnover margin. The Packers, meantime, are minus-3.

In the NFL, teams lose games more often than they win them. The Rams and Packers are proof of that.

Lawrence is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. Send comments to steve_lawrence_packers@yahoo.com.


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