The Past: Much has been made about the fact that Aaron Rodgers has never really faced Tom Brady, but the real story is that two great teams will meet at Lambeau Field on Sunday and neither has much experience playing the other. In their last meeting, the Packers travelled to Gillett Stadium without the services of Aaron Rodgers, who missed his first game after suffering a concussion the pervious week against the Lions. With many people already writing the Packers off, the Packers went with the full game plan on the shoulders of Matt Flynn, who threw for 251 yards on 37 attempts with 3 touchdowns and 1 interception, which was unfortunately returned for a touchdown. The Packers also did their part in the running game, with Brandon Jackson rushing for 99 yards on 22 attempts and fullback John Kuhn chipping in for another 22. Lest you think it was all an offensive performance, the defense did their part too, limiting Tom Brady to 163 yards and 2 touchdowns, one of the lowest passing outputs that season. However, the Patriots were still the better team and with a record breaking 71 yard kickoff return to offensive lineman Dan Connolly, the Packers just weren’t able to keep up with the Patriots and ultimately fell 27-31.
The Present: I don’t think anyone has to be reminded that the Patriots are one of the best teams in the NFL (despite their slow start) and will be a tough matchup for the Packers. On offense, the Patriots rank 4th, 2nd in passing but 20th in running the ball according to Football Outsiders. The Patriots are a pass first team as well and luckily that plays right into the the Packers defense’s hands, who are great at defending the pass but suspect in stopping the run. While the Packers aren’t likely going to rattle Tom Brady with lots of pressure, Brady isn’t the most mobile of quarterbacks and should be a little easier to get to than what the Patriots will have to do to get to Rodgers.
Both teams are pretty similar in ranking on defense as well, with the Patriots ranking in at #10 with the Packers close by at #12. Neither team is particularly good at one thing but is rather average enough at everything; the Patriots pass defense is ranked at #12 while the Packers is right behind them at #13 while in run defense the Patriots rank #17 while the Packers come in at #22. When the Packers are on defense, their key advantage might actually be Eddie Lacy, who dominated the ground game against the Vikings last week and could very well be called again to control the clock and keep the defense guessing.
Perhaps the biggest trouble for the Packers is really predicting how the Patriots are going to play them. While most successful teams like the Packers have a core identity, the Patriots are a little bit like chameleons with the ability to drastically change their play style to produce favorable matchups. In will really be a case of how quickly the Packers can adjust and adapt to the Patriots scheme.
The Future: While on the football field, the Packers and Patriots are very similar in terms production and philosophy, off the field they are completely different beasts. While the Packers front office focuses on drafting and developing players, the Patriots are definitely a more wheel and deal organization. The Patriots made perhaps the biggest splash of the offseason by signing Darrelle Revis to a 2-year “prove it” contract worth $7 million in the first year but a whopping $25 million in the 2nd; much like what they did with Randy Moss, the Patriots will give Revis one year to prove he’s worth the money but unfortunately they might have gotten more than they have bargained for as Revis has returned as one of the top cornerbacks in the league but almost certainly isn’t worth $25 million, especially when you consider Revis’ long history of holding out for more money.
The Patriots also have a bevy of free agents they must work with in the next couple of years; in 2015 the Patriots will likely try to re-sign safety Devin McCourty and possibly Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley, however the Patriots running game has been a mess in terms of personnel for so long who knows what they will ultimately do. After 2016, Revis, left tackle Nate Soldier, defensive end Chandler Jones and linebacker Donta Hightower all become free agents and are significant parts of the team. While the Patriots aren’t the type to let good players leave early, they also have been very cold when it comes to player loyalty; they’ve traded their old stars such as Richard Seymour and Logan Mankins without much sympathy and I’d suspect that no player maybe outside Tom Brady doesn’t have to look over their shoulder.
Onto the Patriots draft, and historically Bill Belichick has been a mixed bag when it comes to the draft. Obviously he has big hits such as Rob Gronkowski and Donta Hightower, but he’s also missed quite a bit with Chad Jackson (actually there’s a long running joke that Belichick can’t draft wide receivers). So far in this season, no Patriots rookie has received an overall positive grade from ProFootballFocus. 1st round pick Domnique Easley has graded out quite poorly but hasn’t played all that much (about 250 snaps). 2nd round pick Jimmy Garappolo is basically an incomplete grade with Brady infront of him and 3rd round pick Brian Stork has played the most on the offensive line but sadly isn’t all that great either. Outside of the top 3, the other 6 players in the 2014 draft class haven’t amounted to much, with most playing negligible snaps (it should be noted the vast majority of these picks came in the 6th and 7th round, so the Patriots aren’t likely expecting much anyways). Again it shows how there are so many ways teams and front offices can be successful in the NFL; the Packers and Patriots might have polar opposite front offices but both are the best at winning games.——————
Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.