As one of just two National Football League teams (the other is the Texans) to work through a three-game road stretch this season, the Packers not only played three away from the friendly confines of Lambeau Field, but also played three straight in domed stadiums – winning two of the three.
As we know, the Packers blew an 18-point lead at Indianapolis and lost a heartbreaker at the end. With Packers Nation screaming and asking what was wrong with the team that held the top power ranking heading into the season, the Packers and Aaron Rodgers came out two weeks ago and showed the world that nothing was wrong. They proceeded to destroy the Texans in Houston and then won convincingly this past week at St. Louis.
So, when the Packers finally play at home the next two weeks before their bye, no doubt the players will be relieved – as will their fan base.
Not only do the Packers play at home the next two weeks, they have very winnable games with Jacksonville and Arizona coming to town. On paper, the Packers should go into the bye week at 6-3 and in good shape for the stretch run through November and December with seven of their eight division games on tap.
That’s how things look on paper.
We all know this is the NFL and much like our surprise when we were delivered the news Monday that Charles Woodson broke his collar bone, anything in this league is possible and probable. All it takes is a big hit to Rodgers and the Packers go from legitimate playoff contenders to wannabes.
That’s why it’s imperative that the Packers coaching staff use these next two weeks and, even more importantly, to use the bye week to get the offensive line playing more like they have the past two seasons.
Yes, Jeff Saturday is a perennial Pro Bowler who played with his own MVP in Peyton Manning, but this is an entirely new situation for him – one that has brought its own set of challenges. Add to that the fact that Marshall Newhouse and Bryan Bulaga have had their own problems handling the speed rushers on the outside and it has all added up to some hairy moments for Rodgers.
They need to get their protections figured out and start playing more as a unit that’s in sync – we realized at the beginning of the season that it was to take some time, but none of us figured it would take half of the season.
If the unit experiences some success in pass protection and run blocking over the next couple of weeks, the Packers will be in good shape heading into and out of the bye. If they continue to struggle, we may be having to consider different issues.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Packers have been streaky. There have been moments when you say, “now that’s more like it.” Then there have been other times when one wonders if this team is slipping back into 2011 mode.
It will be crucial to get B.J. Raji back into the mix and more importantly, it will be very important for the Packers coaching staff to figure out how they will replace Charles Woodson. If the Packers get Sam Shields back, the plan would probably utilize the athletic playmaker Casey Hayward and impressive rookie Jaron McMillian in the slot.
While many are lamenting the loss of Woodson’s experience and leadership for the defense, his loss will also give these other young studs the opportunity to hit the field and show why they were drafted. I, for one, look forward to seeing what these guys can bring the mix.
Just like all teams, the Packers have been hit by major injuries, but it’s nothing new. Coach Mike McCarthy and his staff have found ways to keep the ship righted and moving forward. I don’t see any changes in that. The proverbial mantra of “next man up” will no doubt be overused once more. But it’s true. The Packers have plugged the right players in – players who seem to rise to the occasion.
So, let’s enjoy these two weeks at Lambeau Field, let’s get a couple of impressive wins and most of all, let’s stay healthy along the way.
That way, we can go into the bye with much to look forward to the rest of the way.