Taking a Peek at Pack's Second "Quarter" SchedulePosted:Oct 3rd, 2012 3:46 pm
With one quarter of the season in the books, the next "quarter" will comprise the next five games heading into the bye. Two things make the next quarter unusual: there are no divisional games among them and four of the five games feature noon starts--remember those? The Pack will play its first 12:00 game this Sunday in Indianapolis.
The next five will feature games against some really young QBs and some impressive defenses, not to mention a prime time road test against the AFC's best team, and maybe the most complete team in the NFL.
A 4-1 record would put the Pack at 6-3 heading into the bye and in strong position. Anything less and they will have to scratch and claw to work their way back up to the top of the North. The Bears, at 3-1, will be favored in their next four games. Even the scrappy Vikings are poised to add some Ws in the coming weeks against some mediocre teams.
But winning four of the next five will be no cakewalk. Let's start with Sunday, arguably the second easiest game in the second quarter. The Colts are young, they've turned over 60% of their roster from last year. They're also banged up, despite coming off their bye week. As it stands today, they may be without CBs Vontae Davis and Justin King, linebackers Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis and Pat Angerer. The defense has made the switch to the 3-4, so it's a work in progress even when they're healthy.
The Colts are getting over the shock of learning that head coach Chuck Pagano is being treated for a curable form of leukemia. They will be focused and ready for the Pack. But it's hard to envision a scenario where they keep Green Bay under 30 points (Aaron Rodgers loves playing in pristine Dome conditions). The Colts have their QB of the future in Andrew Luck, who is the complete package. But outside of veteran WR Reggie Wayne, there aren't a lot of weapons to help him and the offensive line is terrible. The Pack won't be losing to a rookie QB for the second time in three weeks.
The next game is the toughest one on the schedule. The unbeaten Texans are everyone's pick as the #1 team in the league right now, and for good reason. Despite letting pass rusher Mario Williams walk and trading linebacker Demeco Ryans for a Culver's butter burger, the defense is better than ever. Led by former Badger JJ Watt, they are very imposing and have dominated. But...here are the QBs they've faced this season: Ryan Tannehill, Blaine Gabbert, Peyton Manning, Jake Locker and this week, Mark Sanchez. Enough said. They're stepping up in class in week 6 against Rodgers.
The Pack's D will have its hands full as well. With Arian Foster and Ben Tate, they have the best 1-2 running punch around and Matt Schaub has been great--if he had stayed healthy last year I think he would have led them to the Super Bowl. The Tramon Williams-Andre Johnson matchup will be a great one and a huge test for #38. The Pack could spring the upset here, but I'll go with the Texans to drop them to 3-3.
Next up is the dangerous Rams, whose defense is much improved under new coach Jeff Fisher. They knocked off the Seahawks Sunday and will probably do the same to the unbeaten Cardinals on Thursday night. They're good at home and won't be an easy out. We'll keep an eye on running back Stephen Jackson, who is battling injuries, but always seems to play well against the Packers. This could be a tight one, but the Pack should survive the final game of the three game road trip to improve to 4-3.
They close out the second quarter with home games against the Jaguars and Cardinals. These looked like the easiest games on the schedule when it came out, but the Cards have been the surprise of the first quarter, going 4-0. The Jaguars game will be no problem, but Arizona's defense is for real. Sure, they struggled against the weak Dolphins at home last week, but they were without their leader, Darnell Dockett who was out with a hamstring injury. They're completely different when he's out there. That said, I expect the Pack to win these home games, which would put them at 6-3 at the bye.
Here's what we need to see over the next five weeks: Cedric Benson continuing to get more comfortable in the offense, Greg Jennings to get healthy, the offensive tackles to improve (maybe the emergence of Derek Sherrod?), continued fine play by special teams (without having to resort to fake punts and field goals), development of key rookies Perry, Worthy and McMillian, consistency from Sam Shields, a healthy Ryan Pickett and a cool head from BJ Raji. Oh, one more thing: consistent officiating would be nice, too.
If most of these things happen, the Pack should be poised for the second half of the season, where five of the seven games are division games. Gonna be a fun stretch run. Now's the time to get in a position to reclaim the North. One (road) game at a time.