This Green Bay Packers head to Indianapolis this weekend to face the Colts, who had their bye last week. Each team is in need of a win to set the tone heading into the season’s 2nd quarter. Before we dive into the key matchups, a little bit on each team and this matchup’s history.
Last week, it was announced that Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with a treatable form of leukemia. He will take leave from the team to treat the illness and according to Colts Owner Jim Irsay, it’s very possible that Pagano may not return to the sideline this year. This is something that is sure to rally the Colts in this game as they will be playing with a bit of extra emotion for their coach.
The Packers are coming off their come-from-behind win vs. the New Orleans Saints. A week removed from the very controversial loss in Seattle, the Packers were nearly victimized again by the officiating despite the return of the union refs. They hung on and evened their record to 2-2.
While these 2 teams rarely see each other, these contests have not typically been short on points. Back in 1997, the defending champion Packers came into Indianapolis heavy favorites but were outdone for 1 of only 3 losses that season. In 2004, again in Indianapolis, quarterbacks Brett Favre and Peyton Manning duked it out in a shootout that ended with Indianapolis again getting the win at home. The last matchup was in 2008 at Lambeau Field where the Packers defense starred in the win, taking 2 INT’s back for scores against Manning’s Colts.
While the Packers appear to be clear favorites tomorrow, let’s look at a few keys that will likely emerge as the game progresses.
Aaron Rodgers vs. the Colts secondary
The Packers are and will likely be a pass-first team as long as Rodgers is their QB. Even with the emergence of Cedric Benson as a more legitimate threat on the ground, the Pack’s success rests on the arm of #12.
Tomorrow will present a good opportunity for Rodgers and the offense to continue some of that success they had last week when he threw for 4 TD’s against the Saints. The Colts are dinged up in a secondary that was already not top-flight. CB Vontae Davis, who was acquired from Miami during the offseason, will not play due to an ankle injury.
The Colts are a very young secondary and have quickness but their lack of experience and facing one of the top passing attacks in the NFL make this an uphill battle for Indy. The Colts are giving up just over 150 yards/game on the ground so if the Packers can cause the Colts to have to play the run, the Green Bay WR’s will have a field day in the middle and deep passing game.
Rodgers reads defenses as well as most top QB’s in the league and if there is a mismatch or weakness that emerges, he will find and exploit it. I have the Packers putting up 35 points and winning this game, but if the long ball is working early on, they may reach that point total before the 4th quarter.
Colts DB Josh Gordy appeared in 2 games for the Packers in 2010 and was in training camp prior to the 2011 season before being let go at the final cutdown. He is likely the Colts’ starting nickel back and they will be in nickel quite a bit tomorrow. This is an illustration of how young and green these Colts’ DB’s are.
One of Rodgers’ top targets, WR Greg Jennings, will not play this week and he will be replaced by Randall Cobb and with James Jones moving into the #3 WR spot. Jones had one of his best games as a pro last week with 2 TD catches and a spectacular game-clinching grab late in the 4th quarter. Cobb’s play-making ability has been hyped since preseason and this should be a week where he will have a chance to showcase some of that flash.
It goes without saying but this one is advantage Rodgers. Only an effective pass rush is likely to help slow down the Packer passing game.
Colts OLB Dwight Freeney vs. Packers LT Marshall Newhouse
It seems that I’m featuring whoever is lined up across from Marshall Newhouse every week and this week is no exception. Freeney is coming back after a 3 week absence due to an ankle injury. He was forced out of the opening day game against the Bears.
Freeney had been having some success getting against Bears LT Ja’Marcus Webb before leaving. Newhouse is certainly vulnerable and the Packers will need to slide protection his way to help out. Freeney is the Colts best player and any chance they have to win tomorrow will likely fall on his success in getting to Rodgers and disrupting. The Colts will be doing whatever they can to get Freeney matched up 1 on 1 vs. Newhouse.
One bit of good news is that after giving up 8 sacks in the 1st half against Seattle, the Packers haven’t allowed a sack in the past 6 quarters. They seemed to figure out how to evade Seattle’s solid rush and kept Pro Bowl DE Will Smith at bay last week. One thing the Colts have that New Orleans didn’t is a pass rushing threat on the other side. Colts OLB Robert Mathis is the Colts next top defender and has to be accounted for. This could help Freeney move around and stunt to beat the zone blocking scheme the Packers typically employ.
The Pack simply need to communicate and know where Freeney is at all times much like how opposing offenses do with Packers OLB Clay Mattews.
Packers RB Cedric Benson vs. Colts Front Seven
With the Colts giving up an average of 150 yards/game on the ground, expect Benson to get his first 100 yard game this year. It would be the first time a Packer running back has eclipsed the 100 yard mark since Ryan Grant did so against the Bears in December of 2009.
I say this more as a function of my expectation that the Pack build an early lead and tend to the ground to control the clock and keep Colts QB Andrew Luck off the field. This means more touches which naturally means a better opportunity for more yardage.
Benson has proven to be durable and shifty over the first 4 games. He has yet to break a long run and I foresee there being one or two of those in this contest. Benson runs hard and often gets to the 2nd and 3rd level. That will mean it’s up to the young Colts LB’s and secondary to help in run support. If Benson can make guys miss in this space, he will be padding his per-yard average.
Colts QB Andrew Luck vs. Packers Secondary
Luck was this year’s 1st overall selection and came in already drawing comparisons to former Colts and current Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning who similarly burst on the scene in Indianapolis in 1998. Luck has proven that he is well ahead of the NFL curve for a rookie QB. While he has struggled and made some bad throws, he has also done enough to keep the Colts in games.
Were it not for a defensive breakdown late in week 3 vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Colts could very easily be 2-1. After dropping their opener to the Chicago Bears, Luck led the Colts to a win over the Minnesota Vikings, which has been Minnesota’s only loss this season. Luck has an extremely high football IQ and in time will become a QB that very few defenses look forward to seeing.
While Luck is performing well, he has and will make some bad throws. He has 4 INT’s to 5 TD passes on the year so far. The Packers secondary unit is one that has made a living in making opposing QB’s pay for their mistakes. While Luck has avoided the big turnover for the most part, he will be facing pressure and needing to rely on the quick pass. Packer DB’s would be wise to press the Colts WR’s at the line and force Luck to take more time in the pocket. With WR Reggie Wayne as Luck’s primary target in the passing game, it becomes a bit of a one-dimensional plan for Green Bay to make life tough for Luck.
As with any opposing QB, getting pressure on the passer will go a long way in stopping them. After seeing the kind of success Chicago’s secondary had vs. Luck in week 1, the Packer DB’s should come into this one with their soft hands and ready to take a few away. If down early, the Colts and Luck will be airing it out so there will be ample opportunities.
Packers CB Tramon Williams vs. Colts WR Reggie Wayne
Wayne is still Indy’s top WR threat (23 catches, 1 TD this season) and has been a good safety valve for Luck this year. With diminished speed, I expect to see Williams press at the line to disrupt the route and timing. As mentioned, Luck will need to make some quick throws and he will surely be looking Wayne’s way a bunch.
Williams has played more press coverage this season now that his shoulder is much more healed from the nerve damage he suffered last year. During the first 3 weeks of the season, the Packers did a fairly good job of keeping the opposing passing game to modest yardage. Last week they were exploited by the Saints and Pro Bowl QB Drew Brees. But the Colts are not the Saints and Wayne is no Marques Colston or Lance Moore.
Williams’ more aggressive approach so far this season has opened up opportunities for him to get after the ball. He had 2 INT’s in week 2 vs. Chicago and should have had one last week before he collided with teammate Morgan Burnett, who was also after the INT. We all remember how Williams played in 2010 and finished that season.
Against Wayne, the Pack will likely try to duplicate the success they had vs. the Bears in taking WR Brandon Marshall out of the game. If forced to look elsewhere to throw, Luck doesn’t have much else in the cupboard after Wayne. It’s almost a “pick your poison” scenario for the Colts. Wayne has proven an ability to bring in the ball in traffic but that was more when Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison and Pierre Garcon were in town as well. He will certainly have some catches but I expect Williams to get the better of this matchup.
The one thing the Pack cannot do is come into this game thinking it’s in the bag. It’s a game they should win, yes. They can likely even get away with not playing their absolute best but they to come in with a goal to close this one out early, get above .500 and keep the momentum moving.
With 2 more road games to follow this week’s game vs. Indianapolis (including next week’s very tough game at Houston against the undefeated Texans), the Packers have to remain focused on improving and stay confident.
Enjoy the game!——————
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: