Where's Admiral Ackbar When You Need Him?

Because you know he's got the warning for this week.

Hmm, maybe that didn't get the point across like I wanted it to.

Not quite.  It's urgent enough, but just not enough repetition...

Ah, here.  This is exactly how I want to say it.

Packers.  Rams.  Week 3.  Other short statements.  After the jump.

Green Bay put up an uneven performance in week 1 against Chicago.  Then they followed that with a positively dismal performance (Charles Woodson excluded, of course) against Cincinnati.  Now, they sit at 1-1, and I'm sure many eyes are looking forward to the October 5th showdown between Green Bay and division-leading Minnesota.

But the NFL season, much like the flow of time, is completely chronological and cannot be disturbed.  Unless of course your home city suffers a major catastrophe and you're awarded a "home" game in New York.  But lets hope that doesn't happen.

The point of this mini-diatribe is that Green Bay has to play the St. Louis Rams before even thinking about the Vikings.  And yes, I know, St. Louis has been dreadful for years, but so was Cincinnati (excluding 2006).  They started out the year by getting shut out 28-0 to Seattle, and last week lost in an epic entertaining watchable tolerable mediocre awful 9-7 game against Washington.  This team has problems.  But do you want a repeat of last week?  Me neither.  So without further delay, let's get to it.

STL rushing vs. GB defense: Steven Jackson, Steven Jackson, Steven Jackson.  The first-round pick in fantasy drafts everywhere has struggled over the last few years, usually because of injuries to St. Louis' sorry excuse for an offensive line and virtual lack of any semblance of a passing game.  It's hard to run the ball when you're going up against 10 in the box. 

That said, Jackson is still one of the top RBs in the game in terms of athleticism, versatility, and talent.  Over two games, Jackson has amassed 171 yards on 33 carries, resulting in an excellent 5.2 ypc.  He's been kept out of the end zone and hasn't had his usual impact on the passing game, but the potential is always there.  Jackson had several injuries hampering his production in 2008, and he seems to have bounced back and looks healthy. 

Up front is where St. Louis has suffered so much in recent years.  On the left side, Alex Barron is a man who, as some critics put it, looks like Tarzan and plays like Jane.  He is a monster at 6'7", 300+ lbs, and has the strength, agility, and quickness to dominate in both run and pass blocking.  Unfortunately, Barron's biggest deficiency is work ethic, which undermines his consistency and keeps him a marginal starter (at best).  The rest of the line (from LG to RT) is manned by Jacob Bell (6'5", 300), Jason Brown (6'3", 328), the ever mysterious Richie Incognito (6'3", 324), and Adam Goldberg (6'7, 309).  Goldberg is starting in place of the injured rookie Jason Smith.

Green Bay did an excellent job in keeping Matt Forte under wraps in week 1, but then imploded when faced with the powerful blocking of Cincinnati's special run-blocking sub package of offensive linemen.  The clever coaching maneuver torched the Packers to the tune of 141 yards on 29 carries.  Naturally, this was helped by Green Bay's inability to wrap up on tackles, taking good angles towards ball carriers, and converging on the running back whenever a hole opened up.

Advantage: Push.  Does Green Bay have a dominant run defense that had a bad day against Cincy?  Or do they have a poor run defense that had a good day against Chicago?  That debate, along with the juxtaposition of Steven Jackson's talent against his offensive line's limitations makes this matchup a complete draw.

STL passing vs. GB defense: For Steven Jackson, the offensive line made life in the NFL a nightmare.  However, nobody suffered more than Marc Bulger.  You think Aaron Rodgers has happy feet after two games?  Imagine getting pounded into mush week in and week out for at least 3 seasons.  Marc Bulger was the conductor of the second phase of the Greatest Show on Turf, and was fairly effective until his protection vanished.  He is still an above-average quarterback with decent accuracy, decent arm strength, average mobility, and the ability to read coverages and make the necessary throws (if he has time, of course). 

Bulger has always found success whenever surrounded with skilled teammates.  Unfortunately for him, that is no longer the case.  Steven Jackson is an outstanding receiver, but the rest of the receiving corps includes the like of Donnie Avery, Laurent Robinson, TE Randy McMichael, and the recently-departed Ruvell Martin.  Avery has a little bit of speed on vertical routes, and Martin and McMichael have excellent size, but that's all that is notable about this group.  As far as pass blocking goes, the Rams' success depends on three things: good line calls from center Jason Brown (their best lineman, but currently dealing with a knee injury), a motivated Alex Barron, and a healthy Jason Smith.  They've already lost one of those, so protection will really be at a premium if Green Bay decides to bring heavy pressure.

Of course, that's if Green Bay can afford to bring pressure.  The situation at safety is certainly a red flag for the Packers' pass defense.  With Atari Bigby out and Nick Collins' availability (currently "day-to-day") unknown, and Aaron Rouse cut in favor of Matt Giordano, Dom Capers' playcalling figures to be much more vanilla than some of us would like.  Cullen Jenkins and Clay Matthews both showed off their pass rushing skills last week by recording sacks, and Charles Woodson (2 INT, 1 TD) continues his quest to single-handedly carry the team when the offense isn't working. 

Advantage: Green Bay.  This defense can get to the quarterback, and no team is more vulnerable than this St. Louis squad missing its top draft pick.  If they get a chance to blitz, expect another dominating performance.

GB rushing vs. STL defense: Ryan Grant was a huge disappointment in 2008, but his new contract, attendance at training camp, and a healed hamstring make it look like he's ready to shine again.  He hasn't found much help up front, limiting him to 107 yards on 30 carries, but you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone that doesn't think he'd have better stats if he hadn't been limited to 3 carries in the second half of the Cincy game. 

With Clifton out for the forseeable future with a sprained ankle, the offensive line is shuffled once again.  The lineup, from left to right, will likely be Daryn Colledge, Jason Spitz, Scott Wells, Josh Sitton, and Allen Barbre.  According to Jason Wilde, there are several other options that the team is considering, including moving Barbre from RT to LT and promoting either Breno Giacomini or T.J. Lang to RT.  This would keep the interior line of Colledge-Spitz-Sitton intact.

With so much uncertainty, Green Bay's chances of mounting an effective ground attack are up in the air.  Fortunately, St. Louis is far from a stalwart run defense.   As a team, they're giving up 146 yards per game.  This is even more glaring when considering their first opponent (Seattle) is no longer a powerhouse rushing team.  Still, despite giving up large chunks of yardage, the Rams' run defense did not allow Clinton Portis to score in Week 2.  The addition of James Laurinaitis and return to health of Will Witherspoon more than makes up for the release of Pisa Tinoisamoa, and the tandem of Clifton Ryan and Jake Long are fairly strong against run blockers.  However, Adam Carriker's trip to the I.R. promoted the undersized Gary Gibson to start alongside the aging Leonard Little, leaving the right side of their defensive line vulnerable to the run.  Nobody in St. Louis' secondary can be described as a run-stopper.

Advantage: Green Bay, but only if they actually call run plays.  If Grant sees less than five carries in a half, you'll know something went wrong.  If there's a team vulnerable to a strong running game, it's the 2009 Rams.

GB passing vs. STL defense: Aaron Rodgers looked like a world-beater in the preseason...until teams started stepping up their pass rush and the offensive tackles forgot how to pass block.  Allen Barbre made remarkable improvement from the first week to the second, but he will have his hands full with Leonard Little.  The winner Barbre-Little matchup will likely determine the owner of the RT position for the rest of the season.  On the other side, Jake Long is a capable pass rusher in the mold of Aaron Kampman before he got famous (unathletic but high motor, poor mechanics but determined, blah blah blah...)  Whoever starts at LT (most likely Daryn Colledge) won't have as difficult of a matchup as the RT (Barbre), but still a matchup to pay attention to.

St. Louis' pass defense is ranked 25th in the league, giving up 258 yards per game.  This is largely because of the average defensive backfield they employ.  At CB, Ronald Bartell and Jonathan Wade are merely decent players with an average skill set.  They're not lightning fast or amazing athletes or strong bump-and-run style corners; they're just guys who go out and try to execute whatever coverage is given to them. 

Their situation at safety is better with James Butler and Oshiomogho Atogwe starting with our beloved Anthony Smith filling the backup role for both positions.  Both Butler and Atogwe are young players with good experience starting in the NFL, they're both rangy athletes who can cover space, and Atogwe in particular has a knack for finding the ball.  Neither one is particularly strong in run support, but they won't shy away from it either.

Aaron Rodgers' protection is priority #1 on offense, but catching passes is a close #2.  In both games, the dependable cast of Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones, and Jordy Nelson have all had at least one dropped ball.  Jermichael Finley and Ryan Grant also have drops, but Finley is still maturing and Grant has never been a good receiver.  The return of Brandon Jackson to practice on Wednesday might give Rodgers another weapon on passing downs, but that shouldn't matter.  The talent is there, and Rodgers has done an excellent job keeping control of the ball despite getting batted around like a ball of yarn in the first two weeks.  If the receivers can shake off whatever is keeping them from catching passes, Rodgers' punishment at least won't be in vain.

Advantage: Green Bay by a slight margin.  Again, the talent is there; they just need to execute.

Preliminary Verdict: Green Bay has an excellent chance of bouncing back from the Cincinnati debacle and playing a dominant game against the Rams.  But be warned, if the players are thinking more about Adrian Peterson, Jared Allen, and You Know Who than they are Steven Jackson, Jake Long, and Marc Bulger, expect another major disappointment (and even more Vikings fans coming to the site to let us know that the Packers failed.)

Let's put it this way: Neither team has very much momentum right now.  Green Bay has higher aspirations for this season, so they could definitely use the boost.  Hopefully, they don't overlook the Rams like some people feel they did the Bengals.

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