I swear that the NFC West is a cookie cutter division….every team looks exactly the same. Very good defense, awful quarterback, decent running game…but little to no offensive threat to speak of. You saw what I’m talking about if you wanted the 49ers play the Seahawks this past week and we’ll see it again when it comes time to play the Cardinals. The Rams change this formula up slightly by having a pretty decent quarterback and awful basically everything else on offense. The end result is the same though, the team has a very good defense, some decent swagger, and little to no scoring.
The result of this is that the Packer game plan looks very similar to what needed to happen against the 49ers, what did happen in the second half of the game against the Seahawks, and what they did to pound the Texans into submission. It’s a game plan that you have read about half the season and will probably read a couple more times as we still have to match up against other teams from this cookie mold such as the Arizona Cardinals and Minnesota Vikings.
With that in mind let’s breakdown the keys to victory!
1. Commit to the running game. Packer fans are an odd bunch. If you hang around here, or many other parts of Packer fandom, you’ll see glowing reviews of Alex Green’s performance against the Texans. People were happy to see that the Packers ran 20+ times with him and were generally pleased with some of his runs. If you read the reaction from just about any other perspective of the NFL, our opposition’s take on the Packers’ run game, the NFL.com preview, national writers, etc.; you’ll hear about how the Packers have virtually no running offense and how that should be shut down by just any defense in the NFL…but that doesn't matter because Aaron Rodgers blah, blah, blah. Why the two different storylines? Are we that out of touch with what an actual running game looks like or is something else happening? Well, that’s probably a question for a full post, but the short story is that we know that the offense just needs some sort of balance and consistent presence out of the RB position. Just enough to stop the defense from constantly attacking Rodgers and make them think twice about just pinning their ears back and blitzing every down. Green showed on Sunday he can do that as long as McCarthy sticks with him.
2. Stop the Rams running attack. Steven Jackson is getting a bit older and he’s not quite the dynamic back that he once was. This isn't the end of the world for the Rams because they have found a suitable replacement in rookie Daryl Richardson. He’s a very natural one cut runner with a great burst of acceleration. The problem for the Rams is that’s about all he is, not much shake and not much break in his running style. The key to stopping him then is not much different from stopping Arian Foster, gap control. Good news for the Packers is that the defense is more than capable of doing it, and frankly has done this against a tougher opponent. The bad news is that such disciplined play is not always easy to replicate. Not impossible. Not even unreasonable to expect….just not easy. If the Packers can do this, and get great performances out of the D-line controlling those gaps, then A.J. Hawk should be able to run downhill and fill the holes and make tackles. Say what you will about Hawk in coverage, but he’s done his run support duties better than ever this year.
3. Find a tempo on offense. Last week marked the triumphant return of the no huddle offense for the Packers. The Packers were able to sustain drives, keep the ball moving forward, and throw the defense off its rhythm with this approach. This needs to happen again. It keeps Rodgers loose and keeps the Packers in an attack mode that is very much needed in our offensive mindset. The real key of keeping the tempo going though is going to be taking what the defense gives. The Rams do have some good corners, but you know what? The Packers have better receivers. They just do. The Rams can’t cover all of the receivers all of the time. It may start with quick short passes, but that’s okay. Get that going, let Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, and James Jones make some plays with their legs….they can do that. Then when they creep up, when they try and bump and run…burn them deep.
4. Win the turnover battle. This is always true, but takes on a larger meaning when facing a team with a weak offense. If the defense can give the offense more opportunities to score and put the Rams in a hole , then it’s going to be extremely difficult for the Rams to climb back out. This is not the Colts. They don’t have the skill players to overcome deficits and come back into ball games. If the Packers can stay on the right side of the turnover differential then they will probably win the ball game. That will be difficult since the Rams have a very good cornerback unit. The good news is that the Packers have an even better secondary, and the Packers secondary is substantially better than the Rams receivers. Throw in some extra pressure with Clay Matthews lining up against an injured backup tackle who has never played LT before this year (or a third stringer) and there should be some chances to pick the ball.
5. Harass Sam Bradford. Believe it or not, but the Rams offensive line is not much better than our own. They are also experiencing some serious injury problems there with first week starter Roger Saffold injured as well as his replacement Wayne Hunter. Right now Hunter is listed as questionable with a bad back (which may be the worst kind of injury for an offensive lineman considering how often they need to torque their back to gain leverage in the one on one battles). The guy that Hunter will be lined up against most of the time? Clay Matthews. The Rams simply cannot expect Hunter to win one on one match ups with Matthews, so chips and shifts in the blocking will need to be made…..translation: other Packers will get one on one looks. Matthews will get his chances, but there is no better time for Mike Neal, Jerel Worthy, and Mike Daniels to get in on the action. It would also be help if Dezman Moses and Erik Walden could bring some pressure as well. The Rams have only allowed five more sacks than the Packers so far this year so getting to Bradford isn't impossible, and a young QB like Bradford under pressure and short of weapons is prone to make mistakes….especially when playing from behind.
Now these five things all sound nice, but can the Packers do it? Well the answer is yes. They can. How do I know? Well, it's been absolutely critical for the Packers to do this in three games so far this year: against the 49ers, against the Seahwaks, and against the Texans. They were able to do all of these things for exactly a game and a half of these three contests. The good new? It's been the last six quarters they have been doing it (second half of the Seahawks game and the Texans game).