Redskins vs. Packers Preview: Five Things we’re watching


Green Bay Packers Coach Mike McCarthy Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports photograph

The Green Bay Packers and their head coach, Mike McCarthy, were 5-1 in season opening games before last season’s defeat at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers. Chalk up another season opening loss to the 49ers this year, and for the second year in a row the Packers find themselves behind the eight ball.

In what was arguably the most entertaining and close game on the NFL schedule in week 1, the Packers-49ers lived up to all the hype. However, for the Packers it was just another excruciating loss. A season ago the Packers rebounded nicely in week 2 when they welcomed the Chicago Bears into Lambeau Field for a Thursday night showdown.

The Packers dominated the Bears out-gaining them 361 yards to 168 yards and racking up seven sacks to go along with four turnovers in a convincing 23-10 victory.

This time around the story is exactly same for the Packers. The Packers must avoid the dreaded to 0-2 start because since 1990, only 22 NFL teams have made the playoffs after starting 0-2. That is roughly 11 percent of teams that started 0-2 in the last 23 years — not chances with which the Packers want to play.

This game is a bit different than the Bears matchup of 2012. The Bears came into Lambeau on a high after thumping the Indianapolis Colts 41-21 at Soldier Field the week prior. The Washington Redskins are coming into Lambeau Field on the same low as the Packers, 0-1, and needing a victory.

The last time these two teams faced off was back in 2010 at Fed Ex Field in Landover, Md. Donovan McNabb was the starting quarterback for the Redskins that afternoon and he led the Redskins to a 16-13 victory in overtime. The Packers would get the last laugh that season as they would go on to win Super Bowl XLV over the Pittsburgh Steelers, 31-25.

The Packers-Redskins showdown on Sunday is an early season test for both teams desperate for a victory.

Here are five things to watch for as the Packers welcome Robert Griffin III and the Redskins to town.

5.) Protecting Rodgers is key – again

In his first NFL start, left tackle David Bakhtiari did a solid job against All-Pro defensive end Aldon Smith. Unfortunately for Bakhtiari, the job doesn’t get much easier this week. The Redskins sport two great defensive ends in Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo.

Orakpo and Kerrigan both posses great pass rushing skills and Bakhtiari will be tested all day by both players.

Also impressive in the loss to the 49ers was the other tackle, Don Barclay. Barclay received the Packers’ second highest offensive grade, behind Jordy Nelson, last Sunday, according to Pro Football Focus. A battle to watch all game long will be Bakhtiari and Barclay vs. Orakpo and Kerrigan.

Randall Cobb will be looked to for contributions against the Redskins.

Raymond T. Rivard photograph

4.) Packers’ wide receivers vs. skeptical Redskins’ secondary

The Packers wide receiver core of Randall Cobb, James Jones and Jordy Nelson, mixed in with tight end Jermichael Finley, is one of the most dangerous set of offensive weapons in the league.

The Packers picked apart the 49ers’ secondary, which is one of the best in the league last Sunday. Imagine what they can do against the Redskins’ secondary this Sunday.

Last season the Redskins finished the season with the No. 30 pass defense in the league, and not much has changed for them this season. If he has time, Aaron Rodgers should have a field day against the poor secondary of the Redskins.

3.) Can the Packers get going on the ground?

It was tough sledding for the Packers’ ground game last week in San Francisco. Yes, the 49ers’ run defense is among the best in the league, but after watching the film there was a mixture of poor blocking and Eddie Lacy missing holes all game long.

Guards T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton got eaten alive by the 49ers’ interior defensive linemen and failed to open  any holes. Center Evan Dietrich-Smith was equally bad against the run. The worst thing for a running game is pressure right up the gut, which Dietrich-Smith allowed too often last week.

While Lacy  had more success in the running game in the second half, it wasn’t enough to maintain any offensive balance and the Packers once again suffered because of it.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and make a bold prediciton: For the first time since Brandon Jackson did it in a regular season game in 2010 (James Starks also did it in 2011 Wild Card playoff game), Eddie Lacy will run for 100 yards on Sunday.

2.) Packers’ secondary must improve from week 1

While the Packers did a great job in the running game against the 49ers, they forgot to stop the pass. Forty-niners’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick lit up the injured Packers’ secondary for a career-high 412 passing yards. Yes, Casey Hayward and Morgan Burnett weren’t in the lineup, but 412 yards is unacceptable no matter who is playing defense.

It appears Burnett has a chance to play Sunday after nursing a hamstring injury the last few weeks. That would be great news for the Packers’ defense. Not only is Burnett a Pro-Bowl caliber safety, he also is the signal caller for the Packers’ secondary and is a vital part of the defense as a whole.

Hopefully the Packers can have a nice bounce-back performance in the secondary against a less than stellar receiving corps of the Redskins.

1.) Will there be a change in the return game?

For a minor part of the game, field position played a huge role in the loss to the 49ers last Sunday. On at least three occasions kick returner Jeremy Ross took the kickoff out of the end zone after a slight hesitation. The result: poor field position. I may be off on the exact numbers, but the 49ers’ average starting field position in that game was their own 37, while the Packers’ average starting field position was inside their own 20 yard line. It’s tough to win games having to go 80 yards every drive.

Luckily for Ross there are no better options for the Packers on the current roster. Micah Hyde has become an important player on defense in Hayward’s absence and maybe too valuable to risk injury in the return game.

Rookie running back Johnathan Franklin hasn’t come on in the run game yet and hasn’t been too impressive fielding kicks in practice. The other option the Packers could go with, as we saw in the important punt returns against the 49ers, is Cobb. While I think it would be a mistake to put Cobb on kick returns again, I think it was smart for the Packers to put Cobb in on punt returns, in which he was fielding inside his own 20 yard line.

The Packers have a need at the returner position and will need to figure it out soon.

Prediction: Packers are tough when the backs are against the wall. Look at the end of the 2010-11 season and just recently ask the Houston Texans. The Packers will be too tough at home for the Redskins to handle, they win, 31-20.

There you have it, five things to watch for as the Packers and Redskins face-off in this week 2 showdown of playoff teams a season ago.

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