Packers-Chargers: Key players

Williams, Jennings and Hawk will play big roles for Packers in beating Chargers

Sunday's game will be a reality check for both teams at Lambeau Field.

Are the Packers a legitimate Super Bowl contender? Defeating the best regular season team last season verifies the Packers as an NFC power.

Is Norv Turner squandering arguably the best job a head coach ever walked into? A 1-2 start would cue grumblings from the pro-Schottenheimer camp.

Will teams ever fear playing at Lambeau again? Opening at 1265 with wins against two teams that were a combined 24-8 last season sends a message. The bronze statue of Curly wouldn't just be pointing for the fun of it; he'd be pointing visitors to the highway.

Last season, New England harshly reminded Green Bay that the line between contenders and pretenders isn't a flexible one. A 35-0 spanking erased any optimism the team generated one week prior in a 23-17 win at Minnesota.

September games don't get much bigger than this. San Diego is best team the Packers have faced since the Patriots 10 months ago.

It's difficult to judge whether the Packers are catching San Diego at the best or worst possible time. Offensively (29th rush offense in NFL, 29th overall), the Chargers are in a rut to Ryan Leaf-Jermaine Fazande proportions.

But they're ticked. San Diego is a team that plays on emotion and energy. If Green Bay starts sluggish, the game could go south fast.

Here are three players who will prevent this from happening and keep Green Bay undefeated:

Tramon Williams
With one return Tramon Williams justified his roster spot, redeemed himself of a 37-yarder to Kevin Curtis against Philadelphia, and had thousands New York Giants fans wondering who the heck No. 38 was.

A raw version of Dante Hall, Williams joysticked through the Giants kick coverage for 42 yards, giving Brett Favre something he's rarely seen the past five years – field position.

The Packers' offense scored a touchdown on their next three possessions.

"He's been productive the last two weeks," head coach Mike McCarthy said. "The big return got us started in the second half for that first series. He's a talented young man. Like a lot of our players, he just doesn't have a ton of experience. It's nice to see the young players get better with their opportunities. I think he's definitely more comfortable."

Winning the field position battle will be critical against San Diego. If LaDainian Tomlinson finally erupts, the Packers must savor every possession. Big returns from Williams would allow the Packers to match the Chargers' blow for blow if the game turned into a shootout.

In two games, Tramon Williams has returned six kicks for 168 yards for an impressive 28.0 average. Multiple 30-yard returns will keep the Chargers on their heels and Green Bay's offense in the red zone.

Greg Jennings
In the matter of one day, disaster was averted and a game plan was strengthened.

James Jones left practice early on Thursday with a hamstring injury- the same ailment that has sidelined Greg Jennings for 2 ½ weeks. Ruvell Martin and Chris Francies were on the verge of suiting up as the team's No. 2 and No. 3 WRs less than 48 hours ago.

Yet on Friday's injury report, Jones and Jennings were listed as probable, all but ensuring that the Packers will boast their top four wide receivers for the first time this season.

That's bad news for a Charger secondary that was shredded by New England's top three receivers for 21 receptions, 245 yards, and three touchdowns. Jennings will drastically enhance the Packers' horizontal passing attack. Fully healed from a nagging ankle injury suffered last season, Jennings brings a veteran presence to a receiving corps already clicking with Brett Favre.

In 3-WR sets Donald Driver, Jennings, and Jones pose immediate matchup problems. All three can make the tough catch between the hash marks. All three do not quit on plays and all three have Favre's trust. Throw Bubba Franks and Donald Lee into the equation, and San Diego has a lot of weapons to defend.

Jennings could take a methodical passing game to an elite level. Like Driver, he catches the ball in-stride and does damage in the open field, a luxury Favre is grateful to have.

"I always felt that if you complete enough 3-yard passes, 4-yard passes, 5-yard passes, eventually somebody is going to run for 10 more, 15 more, and eventually you get the defense to play a little more aggressive. [Against the Giants] we were persistent and yet patient and worked our way down."

Favre completed 14 straight passes to begin the second half against the Giants. The Chargers 26th ranked pass defense with defensive backs Quentin Jammer, Drayton Florence, Clinton Hart and Marlon McCree isn't that much better than the Giants' sorry secondary. With Jennings back, the offense is bound to pick up where it left off last week and then some.

Favre is 56 attempts and four touchdowns shy of breaking two more Dan Marino records.

Those aren't out of reach this weekend, especially considering Green Bay's rushing game is averaging 2.8 yards per carry. Don't mess with success.

A.J. Hawk
How is the reigning NFL MVP averaging 1.9 yards per carry?

Constant Penetration. Constant swarming.

New England's linebackers paid rent in San Diego's backfield, consistently forcing Tomlinson to the sidelines. They made LT a east-west runner behind the line of scrimmage and closed the backside to prevent the game-breaking cutback runs Tomlinson always looks for in his peripheral vision.

A.J. Hawk must anchor the Packers' rush defense. Nick Barnett will most likely be busy shadowing tight end Antonio Gates. As the ‘Will' backer, Hawk will be responsible for limiting Tomlinson's runs against the grain.

Adalius Thomas is a good point of reference. The new Patriot iced the game in the second quarter with a 65-yard interception return for a touchdown. But he also used his athleticism in run support. On one play he shot between the center and right guard to wrap up Tomlinson for a 4-yard loss. Right tackle Jeromey Clary was assigned to pick up Thomas, but was severely late in picking up the blitzing Thomas.

Hawk can be this type of difference-maker Sunday. He doesn't have a tackle-for-loss through two games, but defensive coordinator Bob Sanders will probably blitz Hawk much more freely this game after seeing how Chicago and New England attacked San Diego. To stop a talent like LT, you have to be the aggressor. Sit back and he'll make you pay.

Taking charge starts with A.J. Hawk.

Tyler Dunne is a student at Syracuse University and frequent contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at tydunne07@yahoo.com.


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