Green Bay Packers face tough road ahead : Packers Insider

Green Bay Packers face tough road ahead

November 21, 2010 by  
Filed under News

Nov 21, 2010 ~ by Rom Demovsky, Press-Gazette

~It was at about this same point in the 2007 season that the Green Bay Packers faced the type of schedule they’re looking at over the next month or so.

It was at about this same point in the 2007 season that the Green Bay Packers faced the type of schedule they’re looking at over the next month or so. 

Beginning with a Thanksgiving game at Detroit, the Packers began a stretch in which they played four out of five games on the road. They managed to go 3-2 to help close out a 13-3 regular season and win the NFC North title on the way to a berth in the NFC championship game.

The 6-3 Packers begin their first such stretch since then on Sunday at Minnesota and almost certainly will need at least as good a showing. Games follow at NFC South division leader Atlanta (7-2), home against San Francisco (3-6) on Dec. 5, at Detroit (2-7) on Dec. 12 and at AFC East co-leader New England (7-2) on Dec. 19.

The Packers opened their 2010 season in the city of Brotherly Love with an impressive win over the Eagles. Their season rests on how their Road Tour will fare over the next 5 weeks with tough trips to Minnesota, Atlanta, and New England.

At least the Packers go into that stretch riding a winning streak. Much like they did in 2007, when they had a five-game winning streak going into Thanksgiving, the Packers have played their best football, especially on defense and special teams, during their current three-game winning streak. And given the Packers’ inconsistency on offense, their defense and special teams might have to carry them through this part of the schedule.

The Packers had their bye last week to prepare for this arduous stretch that leads into consecutive home games against the NFC East co-leading New York Giants (6-3) and NFC North leader Chicago (7-3) to finish the season.

“The bye week came at a great time for us as far as the ability to reset, kind of reboot everything that we’ve done physically, mentally and in some matters emotionally,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Friday. “I feel like we’ve been able to do that.”

What might make the upcoming stretch more manageable than it was in 2007 is that all five games are on Sundays. The 2007 stretch included a pair of Thursday games — the Thanksgiving game at Detroit and a week later at Dallas, which beat the Packers 37-27.

“I think that’s important,” McCarthy said. “You get to work in those seven-day windows. We’ve come off the bye week, and I feel like we’re back on our routine.”

Over the bye, the Packers assumed the No. 1 ranking in scoring defense, allowing a league-low 15.9 points per game. A shutout of the Jets and a 45-7 victory over the Cowboys immediately before the bye helped. (The Bears took over the No. 1 spot after shutting out Miami Thursday night).

But there are other reasons to think the defense can carry the Packers through this stretch even though they’re facing some of the league’s top running backs (Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson, Atlanta’s Michael Turner and San Francisco’s Frank Gore) and most dangerous quarterbacks (Atlanta’s Matt Ryan and New England’s Tom Brady).

“We’ll have our work cut out for us,” Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “We’ve got some of the best in the league (coming up).”

The addition of defensive lineman Howard Green, claimed off waivers the week of the Jets game, should help the run defense, which has slipped to 20th in the league. The health of linebacker Clay Matthews, who has a league-high 10½ sacks despite missing one game because of a hamstring injury, appears to be much improved.

What’s more, the defense appears to have gained a degree of confidence in part because it has shown the ability to endure — and perhaps even improve — in the face of injuries to several starters. Capers believes that confidence stems from how his unit has performed in what he calls “adversity situations,” those in which the defense must take the field after a turnover by the offense. Last year in the regular season, the offense committed 16 turnovers, and the defense allowed 10 touchdowns on the ensuing possessions. This year, the defense hasn’t allowed a touchdown following the offense’s 13 turnovers.

“They’ve kicked six field goals, and that’s an example of the confidence in our defense when we get into those situations,” Capers said. “When you aren’t confident, everyone goes out and panics and feels like they’ve got to make a play and then they go outside the scheme. Now, I think we’re responding more with technique than emotion.”

On special teams, the Packers are rolling, too. Punter Tim Masthay has found his groove and now gets the chance to play three out of the next four games indoors. The coverage units and return units have had the luxury of having fewer substitutions in recent games because of the stabilizing injury situation.

“We’ve got to make something happen on special teams, some kind of impact play,” kicker Mason Crosby said. “Obviously our defense these last two games has been lights out. We’ll get our offense rolling.”

That’s been the biggest head-scratcher. Despite an explosive performance against the Cowboys, Aaron Rodgers and the passing game have been inconsistent. Rodgers ranks a pedestrian 15th in passer rating (90.6) this season and has two more interceptions (nine) than he had all of last year. Surely, Rodgers misses the big-play ability of tight end Jermichael Finley and the lack of a threat of a running game without Ryan Grant — both of whom are on season-ending injured reserve — but offensive coordinator Joe Philbin spent the bye week searching for a way to boost the offense.

“We’ve got to display some consistency,” Philbin said. “That’s one thing we haven’t quite mastered at this point in time so far in this journey, so that’s something we’re interested to see. We’ve got to be opportunistic. We haven’t been a super explosive offense. We’ve made some plays, but we’ve got to be opportunistic. We’ve got to hold onto the ball and see if we can get a roll going.

“Our kicking game has been better. Our defense has been better. I think we’ll be a tough team to beat if we can hold onto the football.”

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