You've got questions? We'll get answers

If the Packers are for real, we'll find out against a superb San Diego Chargers club that boasts the NFL's best running back, tight end and pass rusher, PackerReport.com's Steve Lawrence says.

The Green Bay Packers are 2-0 for the first time since 2001. That's better than expected, and puts the Packers in good shape for a run to the playoffs — since 2002, 60 percent of teams who start 2-0 wind up in the postseason, according to Pro Football Weekly — especially compared to the season-killing starts that have been commonplace the last few years.

So, be grateful for the record, even though they've been a bit short on style points.

But, what exactly do we know about this team?

Well, we don't know much, because, to tinker with Dennis Green's famous words, the Packers' first two opponents weren't who we thought they were. We'll get some more-concrete answers, however, on Sunday against what figures to be a mad-as-hell San Diego Chargers team that has Super Bowl aspirations after going 14-2 last season.

Defense

The Packers rank 14th in the NFL in yards allowed but are seventh in the all-important category of points allowed.

That's heady stuff. The Eagles' offense doesn't look like it's very good — a conclusion tenuously reached after two games — but it looks like Eli Manning is a vastly improved quarterback, giving the Giants a potent unit. The Packers' defense had its hands full against Manning and Co. but did a fine job of limiting them to one touchdown.

The Packers think they have a top-five defensive unit, and we'll learn if that's the case on Sunday. You know the Chargers' headliners: LaDainian Tomlinson is the best running back in the game — and could wind up being the best ever — and Antonio Gates is the league's best tight end.

Linebacker Nick Barnett wasn't buying the notion this game provides a litmus test for his defense.

But it is.

The key, though, will be containing Gates. The Packers have the cornerbacks to lock up the Chargers' pedestrian receivers without turning to double teams. They have the front seven to make life difficult again for Tomlinson. If the linebackers and safeties can keep Gates under wraps — don't think the Chargers haven't noticed how the Packers struggled against the Giants' Jeremy Shockey last week — the Packers have a great chance of keeping this a low-scoring, defensive slugfest.

If the Packers' defense holds up its end of the bargain on Sunday, this team becomes a bona fide playoff contender, no matter the offense's deficiencies.

Offense

The Packers probably couldn't run the ball against the football team at St. Norbert College, where the Packers call home for training camp. But, can Brett Favre and Co. replicate their success against the Giants often enough this season to manufacture the 20 points per game that will win a bunch of games?

Favre basically was playing catch with his underneath receivers last week by taking advantage of a weak secondary and a linebacking corps that played pass coverage as if the Packers had chicken pox. That won't be the case against the Chargers, who have a speedy group of linebackers who will make life difficult for the Packers' dink-and-dunk passing attack.

The New England Patriots, however, were able to exploit a decent Chargers secondary last week. The question is, do the Packers have enough talent to get open before the Chargers' fearsome pass-rushing duo of Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips collapse around Favre and force a couple game-turning interceptions?

If the Packers can solve the Chargers' aggressive and talented defense on Sunday — and maybe run the ball with at least a little success — and improve to 3-0, then Green Bay has to vault into serious talk as one of the NFC's Super Bowl contenders.

Steve Lawrence is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. E-mail him at steve_lawrence_packers@yahoo.com


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