NFL Wire News

Packers eye bye, but must respect Chargers

on

The Sports Xchange

GREEN BAY, Wis. — What comes next week for the Green Bay Packers is the time of the season to which all players look forward, but the guys who have been around the proverbial NFL block don’t want teammates getting too antsy.

“We need to be a little more focused this week because it’s a distraction,” linebacker Julius Peppers said Wednesday.

The team’s elder statesman, at age 35, is referring to the bye week falling on Green Bay’s schedule after it hosts the San Diego Chargers at Lambeau Field on Sunday.

“We have an off-week coming up next week, so it could be a little bit of a distraction,” Peppers added. “But, at the same time, I think we have the right kind of guys in this locker room that know how to handle this.”

Head coach Mike McCarthy sure hopes so. As well as the first third of the season has gone for the Packers, who are in firm control of the NFC North with a 5-0 record, McCarthy expressed some trepidation about the upcoming matchup with an AFC foe.

“From my standpoint, it’s definitely a different week,” McCarthy said. “We’re playing a different opponent, an uncommon opponent. There’s obviously a lot of people in (the Green Bay) locker room that have never played against the San Diego Chargers. So, that’s really the focus.

“We’re all aware of the bye week. That was touched on briefly (in the team meeting earlier this week), but, frankly, I don’t want to hear about the bye week. I don’t want to hear about airplane reservations and all that nonsense. We’re focused on the Chargers. This is going to be a tough game.”

McCarthy and his staff are determined to make sure their players don’t overlook the struggling Chargers and on to the week of R&R that’s ahead.

San Diego’s early-season woes persisted Monday night when it lost 24-20 to the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers, who scored a goal-line touchdown on the final play of the game.

“They’re somewhat like we are,” said McCarthy, disregarding the disparity in the teams’ win-loss records. “They’re going through some injuries and things like that. Not knowing exactly who’s going to be playing and how they’re going to be lining up is really our focus.”

The Packers certainly have their own injury concerns.

Already without the starting duo of receiver Davante Adams (ankle) and safety Morgan Burnett (calf), the Packers lost the key trio of right guard T.J. Lang (knee), nose tackle B.J. Raji (groin) and pass-rushing linebacker Nick Perry (shoulder) during their 24-10 win over the St. Louis Rams last Sunday.

So, the Packers could be limping into their week off, but getting there still unbeaten would ease the sting from a rash of early-season injuries.

“We need to win this one,” McCarthy asserted.

Linebacker Clay Matthews concurred.

“I think the older guys around here, and I like to think this team especially, understand what’s at stake,” Matthews said. “I like to think we’re focused on this week and getting this win and hopefully going 6-0 before that bye week because that would obviously be a great taste in our mouth as opposed to coming up short and not having a week to bounce back. That’s the plan.”

SERIES HISTORY: 11th regular-season meeting. Packers lead series, 9-1. Green Bay has dominated the brief series with its interconference opponent, winning the last six games going back to 1993 by an average margin of victory of 16 points. The Packers prevailed 45-38 in the last meeting, at San Diego in 2011. They also gained a seven-point win (31-24) in the most recent matchup at Lambeau Field in 2007. The Chargers’ only win in the series – and in four visits to Wisconsin – came in 1984 with a 34-28 outcome at Lambeau.

GAME PLAN

–The Packers not only are getting a Chargers team having to make the long trek from Southern California to Wisconsin on a short week after playing Monday night but also reeling from a stunning loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers decided on a daring goal-line touchdown run to end the game. A decided advantage should go to Green Bay, which is unbeaten on the season (5-0) and playing at Lambeau Field since the start of the 2014 season (12-0).

Plus, the Packers are motivated to go into their bye week on a high note. As they try to fulfill that objective, Green Bay wants to get its short-handed offense back on track. The Packers have uncharacteristically sputtered with Aaron Rodgers at the helm the last couple games. They are coming off a three-turnover performance by Rodgers, who threw two interceptions, and rank just 20th in passing offense with an average of 236.8 yards per game.

Green Bay’s eighth-rated rushing attack had a letdown against the St. Louis Rams last weekend, but the combination of Eddie Lacy and James Starks could be unleashed against a Chargers defense that ranks near the bottom of the league, yielding an average of more than 132 yards on the ground. Green Bay’s suddenly dominant defense will be focused on getting after veteran quarterback Philip Rivers, who has a league-high 1,613 passing yards.

Defensive coordinator Dom Capers has been liberal with his pass rush early in the season and figures to do more of the same Sunday against the combination of an injury-ravaged Chargers offensive line and the limited mobility of Rivers. However, going against San Diego’s No. 2 pass offense (318 yards per game), Green Bay’s fourth-ranked pass defense (186.2 yards) will have to be wary of big-play receiver Keenan Allen and perennially productive tight end Antonio Gates, who has been a thorn in the Packers’ side in three previous meetings. The Packers also can’t sleep on Melvin Gordon, the highly regarded rookie running back who starred at Wisconsin and is making a homecoming to his native state.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

–Chargers TEs Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green vs. Packers linebackers and defensive backs.

Though the season is five weeks old, the Green Bay defense will be catching the seemingly ageless Gates with fresh legs and already producing at a familiar high rate. Gates made his belated season debut in San Diego’s last-second loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday night after serving a four-game league suspension. Gates responded in a big way with nine catches for 92 yards and two touchdowns in 11 pass targets. Those prolific numbers are on par with the manner in which the 35-year-old Gates has tormented the Packers in the teams’ infrequent meetings during his 13-year pro career.

“He looked like he didn’t lose a step, that’s for sure,” Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said. “He looks as good as the last time we played them, and that’s been quite some time. He’s still a premier player.”

Gates had five receptions for 117 yards in his first game against the Packers in 2003, 11 catches (two shy of his personal best) for 113 yards in the Chargers’ most recent visit to Green Bay in 2007 and eight receptions for 96 yards and a touchdown in 2011. The 6-foot-6 Green gives San Diego a bigger and younger dimension to complement Gates at tight end. The fourth-year pro has 19 catches for 224 yards (average of 11.8 yards per reception) and two touchdowns this season.

–Packers RT Bryan Bulaga and LT David Bakhtiari vs. Chargers OLBs Melvin Ingram and Jerry Attaochu.

The return of Bulaga from a three-game absence because of a knee injury stabilized the Green Bay offensive line in the 14-point win over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday. Still, quarterback Aaron Rodgers faced a significant amount of pressure from the Rams’ formidable front, which forced two interceptions and also came up with a takeaway on a strip-sack by Robert Quinn from the outside. Bulaga and Bakhtiari won’t be able to let up back at Lambeau Field this weekend.

The Chargers’ 3-4 scheme is anchored by the terrific young tandem of Ingram and Attaochu primarily coming off the edges. The hard-nosed Ingram, a top-20 draft pick in 2012, and the speedy Attaochu, a 2014 second-round draft choice, have combined for 3 1/2 sacks in the early going.


About The Sports Xchange

Since 1987, the Sports Xchange has been the best source of information and analysis for the top professionals in the sports publishing & information business