Sunday’s game against the visiting Denver Broncos is sandwiched between important NFC games against the Bears and Falcons, but don’t expect the Packers to fall into the trap of looking backward or forward.
“Good week of practice,” Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy said on Friday. “I felt yesterday we were close to being ready to go. They had a ton of energy; actually had to tone it down a little bit in the meetings today.”
It would seem McCarthy’s team is ready to go, against an opponent they’ll be facing for the first time since a 19-13, overtime win in Denver in 2007. Maybe this will be the week the Packers put it all together.
Maybe this will be the week star linebacker Clay Matthews has a breakout sacks game. He’s sitting on one through three games; he had six at this point last season.
“You’re going to get protection turned that way, and chipping,” Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers said in explaining opponents’ extra emphasis on blocking Matthews this season, after becoming the most feared pass-rusher in the game in 2010. “Clay’s playing as good a football as he’s played for us. When you become a marked man, you’re going to get a lot of attention.”
Maybe this will be the week John Kuhn will rise to prominence, as he did last season when he became somewhat of a cult figure in Green Bay. Kuhn is expected to share carries with James Stark on Sunday, since Ryan Grant has been ruled out of action due to a bruised kidney. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga (knee) also has been ruled out and will be replaced by Marshall Newhouse.
“Our primary rotation will be between James Starks and John Kuhn. Alex (Green) will get in there at some point,” McCarthy said of the prospects at running back for Sunday.
Starks is coming off a game that was the flip side of what he did the previous week. In Week 2, he rushed for 85 yards and averaged 9.4 yards per carry; last week, he gained five yards on 11 carries and became the first Packers running back to lose a fumble since 2009.
“It just so happened that on a couple of plays when he got to carry the ball, he made bad decisions. On the plays he got to carry the ball, we didn’t have our best overall performance,” Running Backs Coach Jerry Fontenot said of Starks’ play in Chicago. “He’s very hard on himself. He’s very critical of himself. He wants to do a good job.”
Maybe this will be the week the Packers’ defense denies yardage as the Packers’ run-defense has. The Packers are currently No. 1 in the league in run-defense, 31st in the league in pass-defense.
“We talked about stopping the run early and controlling the tempo of the game,” Capers said of the Packers run-defense’s dominant performance in Chicago, which resulted in allowing just 13 yards rushing; only two of those yards belonged to star running back Matt Forte.
“Those stats can fool you sometimes. The most important thing to me is the direction we’re headed. We took a major step forward last week,” Capers added of his pass-defense. “We played much better last week.”
Three games into the season, quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been the one constant on which the Packers can rely. Nothing about his stats will fool you. Rodgers, the NFC’s offensive player of the month for September, leads the league with a 120.9 passer rating.
“We’ve got maybe the most unique situation in the NFL,” Capers said, referring to the fact the Packers replaced one franchise quarterback with another, and did so seamlessly. “I’ve been in Miami. They’ve been looking for Marino since Marino left. Never underestimate what we have here. This guy’s the best I’ve been with in 26 years.”
The Broncos, of course, have been trying to replace John Elway since he retired from the game, and now Elway is back to guide the team’s football operations. His team’s quarterback is Kyle Orton, who Capers considers to be an “underrated guy.”
“He’s a smart player. He’s going to take the high-percentage throw and move the sticks,” Capers said.
Maybe he won’t. Maybe this is the week the Packers do more than just win. Additional coverage - Sept. 30