Veterans Mark Tauscher and Chad Clifton have showed a chink or two in their armor this season, but as bookends go, they're still as good of a combo as there is in the NFL. But they'll be tested today by the Colts' speed-rushing duo of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. The 240-pound Mathis will line up at left end across from Tauscher, while Clifton will take on three-time Pro Bowler Freeney.
"That's a group that has been very impressive on film," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "We spend most of our time going over the latest schemes just to see where they're at as far as their rhythm and timing that they're playing with right now. They were very impressive against Baltimore."
While Freeney is the headliner, Mathis leads the Colts with five sacks in five games, including a whopping three in last week's 31-3 thumping of Baltimore. He has 47 sacks in five-plus seasons, including 10.5 in 2004 and 11.5 in 2005.
Freeney piled up a stunning 51 sacks in his first four NFL seasons. In part because of the extra attention he garners in opposing game plans and in part because of injuries that limited him to nine games last season, Freeney has 12 sacks in his last two-plus seasons, including three this year.
While Rodgers will worry about unloading the ball quickly to steer clear of Freeney (eight quarterback pressures) and Mathis (six pressures), Colts coach Tony Dungy is worried about Rodgers' athleticism.
"We've got to keep Aaron Rodgers in the pocket, and not let him scramble around and make big plays outside the pocket," Dungy said.
Update from Lambeau The roster is out for the game, and Justin Harrell is not on it, meaning last year's first-round pick remains on the physically unable to perform list.
There are no surprises among the Packers' game-day inactives, meaning defensive tackle Ryan Pickett (tricep) and center Scott Wells (chest/shoulder) will be in the lineup today.
For the Colts, as we reported on Saturday night, running back Joseph Addai is inactive, as is starting offensive tackle Dan Federkeil.
Where would the Packers' injury-ravaged and penalty-prone defense be without the sticky-fingered secondary?
"Taking the football away has been a major emphasis around here for two years," McCarthy said. "We have a period every day that's called ball security, and the emphasis is obviously on taking care of the football, but the other side of it is taking the football away. I really apply the success we've had so far is that's the way we practice. If you practice something every day from a fundamental standpoint, it definitely needs to show up on Sundays, and it has so far."
Terrell Owens makes news whether he's yelling or crying. Chad Johnson makes news for changing his name to his self-coined nickname, "Ocho-Cinco." Eagles rookie DeSean Jackson is such a me-first goofball that he begins preening by dropping the ball short of the goal line. Practically every receiver has his own touchdown dance.
You won't see any of those guys on Sunday. The Packers' and Colts' receivers let their actions do their talking.
The Colts' Harrison is statistically one of the finest receivers in NFL history, but he's also one of the league's more unappreciated players because he's not into self-promotion. His understated approached has rubbed off on his teammates.
"We've had Reggie Wayne and Anthony Gonzalez now, and we've got a whole receiving corps that's very businesslike, they do their jobs and they play with high energy, but you don't have a lot of the drama that tends to go along with it," Dungy said. "So, it makes a coach's life a lot easier."
Harrison has 20 catches for 247 yards and three touchdowns after catching exactly that many passes for that many yards and only one touchdown last season, when many insiders were whispering that a knee injury had ruined Harrison's career.
"I hear all the talk and his numbers haven't been where we're used to, but we've just been a little bit off, for whatever reason," Dungy said of Harrison, who scored twice last week, including a 67-yarder. "He's doing fine, and I would expect him to put up those same type of numbers for the rest of the year."
Vulnerable against the run
The Packers' defense isn't the only one struggling against the run.
Green Bay is yielding 153.3 rushing yards per game, which ranks 27th in the NFL. Indianapolis is allowing 161.0 rushing yards per game, which ranks 29th.
Dungy says if an opponent runs 35 times against the Colts, his defense will play "winning football" on 28 of them. "Then we'll have seven runs where I can't figure out quite exactly what we're doing, and they'll end up being big, big runs. So, instead of a 90-yard running day, we have a 150-yard day against us."
It doesn't help that safety Bob Sanders, last year's NFL defensive player of the year, is out after arthroscopic knee surgery late last month. But Dungy said there's "way too much emphasis" on Sanders' absence, and pointed to last week's performance against Baltimore, in which the Colts allowed 51 yards on 19 rushes.
Last week, the Packers used a run-heavy game plan at Seattle, and the same is probably in the works today to slow the Colts' pass rush and to keep Manning off the field. The Packers' small and athletic offensive line must contend with the Colts' small and athletic defensive front seven.
"We have to compete and out-effort and out-hustle them because we know that's what they are going to do," center Scott Wells said. "Guys were getting cut and knocked down and they were getting up and still making plays down the field.
"You have to finish and then finish again, because this defense is built around speed. The way I see it, it's more or less four defensive ends in there. They move around, they try to create confusion by slanting their line and finding creases."
Jump-starting the season
The Colts were dead and staring at a 1-3 record when they trailed by 17 points deep into the fourth quarter at Houston two weeks ago.
But Manning threw a touchdown pass, Houston quarterback Sage Rosenfels' infamous fumble was returned for a touchdown and Mathis stripped Rosenfels to set up a Manning-to-Wayne touchdown. Three touchdowns in a span of 2:10 perhaps saved the Colts' season.
"We did feel fortunate to get that victory," Dungy said. "Our defense made a couple of key turnovers, and offensively, we made a couple of good drives. But it wasn't the kind of football that we wanted to play. Sunday was a better example of how we expect to play. Our defense forced a lot of turnovers, and offensively we protected the ball and made some plays."
Good call The Packers and Verizon Wireless are teaming up to help curb domestic violence in Wisconsin. Fans attending the game are asked to donate no-longer-used wireless handsets and accessories from any wireless provider to benefit victims of domestic violence through the Verizon Wireless HopeLine program.
Volunteers will be collecting donated phones and equipment at each of the five Lambeau Field gates from 1 p.m. to 3:15 p.m.
He said it
Manning, on playing at Lambeau Field: "Being somewhat of a fan of the history of the game, I certainly know the significance of playing there, and don't know how many times I'll get to play there again, depending on how much eligibility I have left. So, I'm looking forward to coming up there. I know it's a special place to play because of all the great players and coaches who have played there before."
Stats of the week
— The Packers have been flagged a league-high 59 times. With 49 of those accepted, the Packers have had 464 penalty yards walked off against them, 54 more than runner-up New Orleans. Green Bay has allowed 14 first downs on defensive penalties.
— Rodgers has completed a touchdown pass of at least 40 yards in three consecutive games, the first Packer to do that since Lynn Dickey in 1976.