First one to ten points wins?
That’s not what we’re used to when Aaron Rodgers and company take the field at Lambeau, but the combination of injuries on offense along with the Rams’ ferocious defense, makes this look like a throwback kind of game.
As I write this, I don’t know how banged up Randall Cobb and James Jones are. Both have been limited in practice this week. We saw Cobb seem to aggravate this shoulder injury last weekend but he came back in and finished the game. Jones’ hamstring injury is worrisome and the Pack may choose to be cautious, especially with the bye just a couple of weeks away.
Those two injuries may mean more snaps for Ty Montgomery and Jeff Janis (and possibly Jared Abbrederis). This is not the ideal defense to play if you’re counting on young, inexperienced receivers. The Rams present the most dominant defensive line in the league, with four #1 picks (and another, Nick Fairley subbing in) and will force the offensive line to be at their best.
Second year DT Aaron Donald is getting praised as the next great star in the making, but the strength of the Pack’s offensive line is the interior so I’d like to think they’ll have some success keeping him at bay. The concern comes on the outside: Chris Long will match up against Don Barclay, who gave up seven hurries and three sacks last week. Bryan Bulaga returned to practice this week, but I can’t believe we’ll see him on the field until after the bye. Let’s hope Barclay is given some help.
On the other side, I set the over-under on holding calls against David Bakhtiari at 3 and a half. He’ll have his hands full all day with Robert Quinn. Expect Rodgers to get rid of the ball quickly all afternoon. For one thing, the team lacks a real vertical threat anyway, so look for quick hits in the middle of the field to the slot guys and Richard Rodgers.
The Rams’ defense took a big hit with the loss of leading tackler Alec Ogletree, whose broken ankle will cost him his season. Akeem Ayers slides over and that is a definite step down. Wayzata native James Laurinaitis is still productive at linebacker and remains a tackling machine.
Where their defense is vulnerable is on the back end and is why the unit ranks 22nd in points allowed. Janoris Jenkins will likely shadow Jones–he’s their best corner. Their others are average and Rodgers, with time, should find open guys.
Of course it will be paramount to run the ball. Eddie Lacy is not 100% last week, but was able to average five yards a carry against a decent 49er front seven. Moving the ball on the ground and keeping that pass rush at bay is critical. It will be interesting to see how effective Rodgers’ hard counts and hurry up will be back at Lambeau. Rams coach Jeff Fisher brought out a bullhorn in practice to simulate hard counts. And the Rams defense doesn’t need to sub too much, so don’t expect to catch them with 12 men on the field.
On the other side, the Pack’s defense continues to improve. They will be without Morgan Burnett once again and for the fifth straight week, they will need to stop a strong run game. Rookie Todd Gurley exploded in the fourth quarter last week, just ten months removed from a gruesome ACL injury at Georgia.
The run defense has been outstanding since week one, and in the last three weeks they also had to scheme for mobile QBs (Wilson, Smith and Kaepernick). Such is not the case this week. Nick Foles is pretty immobile and does most of his ‘damage’ from the pocket. The run defense this week will have to prepare for Tavon Austin, a former #1 pick and Percy Harvin type who is being used very effectively out of the backfield on sweeps and end arounds. The Packers are more athletic at linebacker this year and that will come in handy against this team.
The Rams don’t beat you through the air. If the Pack can get them into third down situations, advantage Packers. As dangerous as they were on the ground in Arizona last week, the team still ranks 32nd in total yards. Conversely, Green Bay will need to be better on third down and if Cobb and Jones are indeed limited, it might be easier said than done.
I like the timing of this matchup. Yes, St. Louis comes to Lambeau full of confidence after stunning the Cardinals in Arizona. But they had lost their last two at home to Pittsburgh (an ugly 12-6 affair) and at Washington. They have loads of potential and are trending the right direction, but they’re the classic up and down team right now. Open with a win over Seattle, then fall flat in Washington. They have yet to prove they can back up big wins. Flip side: the Packers know they’ve handled Seattle and won at Arizona–that will get their attention.
Defense rules the day on both sides of the ball, but Rodgers does enough for the Pack to improve to 5-0.
Packers 20 Rams 13