Interior line play highlights this week's five Packers to watch. Can the Packers be strong up the middle and start fast?
Both the Packers and Lions feature high powered offenses and talent on the outside of the field, but this week things may come down to the middle of the field for who emerges as the victor. This is especially true with the Packers hurting at OLB, the Lions struggling at DE, as well as both teams struggling to find balance and consistency in their offense.
With that in mind here are five Packers to watch this weekend:
DE Jerel Worthy – Worthy has looked like a solid investment so far for the Packers, but he still has a long way to go in development. Worthy has been surprisingly strong against the run, but has struggled to find consistency in his pass rush. This week that needs to change with the Packers sporting their B squad at OLB. If Worthy and Mike Neal can get a good inside push, the Packers should be in good shape disrupting an inconsistent Lions offense.
C Jeff Saturday – It’s almost as important to control the inside of the line of scrimmage on offense as it is on defense. Right now the Lions have a highly touted defensive line, but the secret is that the real power of the line lies in the middle. The defensive ends are each having a down year, but Ndomakong Suh and Nick Fairley have each been strong and could be a challenge for the reshuffled interior line of the Packers. It’s going to take an improved performance from Saturday to help Evan Dietrich-Smith and Josh Sitton handle these two top end players and give Aaron Rodgers time to shred the questionable Lions secondary.
CB Casey Hayward – Most, if not all, of the Lions offense runs through Calvin Johnson…so it’s not difficult to understand why teams become concerned with him. That healthy concern shouldn’t force the defense to forget about Titus Young and Ryan Brolyes. Young has not had a consistent season so far, but he has been able to make defenses pay when they just forget to cover him. It’s going to be up to Hayward to lock down his man and allow the defense to shift as much coverage as they can toward Megatron. So far Hayward has been playing at a high level, showing that he is up for the task.
RB James Starks – The best way to neutralize a pass rush is to have a capable running game to hand the ball to on occasion. This keeps the defense honest, opens up the play action, gives the offensive line a chance to bring punishment instead of react to the defense on every down. Starks has shown a bit more ability to run the ball than Alex Green and he appears to be the best hope for the Packers to keep a competent running game together until Cedric Benson returns from injury. If Starks can flash some of that talent from late 2010 then the Packers could be in for a big day offensively.
LB Brad Jones – The Lions need to get consistency on offense. They need to be able to start strong and play sound. The easiest way for them to do this is to run the ball and attack the middle of the field with their passing game. The good news for Packer fans is that Brad Jones has done a better job of locking up the middle than any of the other Packer ILB’s in some time. He’s strong in pass coverage and should be able to handle Brandon Pettigrew. He has also shown an ability to stuff the run and force fumbles. Another strong game from Jones should be able to help the Packers survive the countless losses in the linebacking corp and on the defensive side of the ball.