Aaron Rodgers. Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports photograph
The last day of November 2014. The Green Bay Packers and the New England Patriots. This is the type of game where legends are made and heroes are born.
A game of numerous story lines, some are calling this the Super Bowl preview. Others focus on the Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady matchup. Mike McCarthy and the always cordial Bill Belichick creates an intriguing duel between two of the games current great coaches.
I, however, am fascinated by how the Packers will respond to hands down their biggest test of the season. New England has the ability to exploit the Packers’ weaknesses and disarm their weapons.
Tom Brady. Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports photograph
If you’re a nervous Packers fan, know you’re not alone. What makes those of us supporting the Green and Gold jumpy is the Patriots’ ability to capitalize on the Packers’ weaknesses. Of course Tom Brady is the first obstacle that comes to mind.
But Bill Belichick has an uncanny ability to insert just about anyone at running back and get production. Their current rough and tumble tandem of Jonas Gray and LeGarette Blount could equal kryptonite to the Packers often porous run defense.
On the defensive side of the ball the Patriots can go stride for stride with the Packers in the passing game. Cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner will give Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb all they can handle.
Their defensive line is anchored by Vince Wilfork. A giant of a man who seemingly eats everything in sight, including double teams, which creates opportunities for the Patriots linebackers to stuff the run and get after the passer.
Rob Grankowski – photo credit to sportworldreport.com
The Brady-to-Gronk connection is a matchup nightmare. Since week five the 6-foot-6, 265-pound Gronkowski has gathered 45 catches for 665 yards and six touchdowns.
Edelman, on the other hand, is slight in stature at 5-foot-10. However, the seventh round draft choice out of Kent State understands that if he can get himself open he has the luxury of a highly capable quarterback that will get him the ball. Thus far he has accumulated 695 yards on 70 receptions, but only two touchdowns.
So with all things being considered, are the Packers in over their heads with the New England Patriots?
I don’t believe so.
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy congratulates Aaron Rodgers after a Packers touchdown in the third quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field. Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports photograph
The Packers will – as Coach McCarthy often states – need to be detailed in their work. No costly penalties and sloppy play like at Minnesota. That kind of performance will be a deal-breaker against Brady and the Patriots. The Packers won’t get second and third opportunities like they did against Teddy Bridgewater and the Vikings.
For the Packers to emerge victorious only the opponent has changed, the recipe remains the same.
That is the Packers best defense is their offense. Keeping Aaron Rodgers on the field with a helmet on his head as opposed to the sidelines with a beanie, is crucial. Because Rodgers between the lines means Brady and Gronk are outside them.
Oct 19, 2014; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams (17) during the game against the Carolina Panthers at Lambeau Field. Green Bay won 38-17. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Long, efficient drives that maximize Eddie Lacy’s ability to be one part slinky and one part bowling ball can open up opportunities for Rodgers to stretch the defense. And if heroes are to be made Sunday I’d expect they emerge from unlikely cast members, namely Andrew Quarless, Richard Rodgers and Davante Adams.
Cobb and Nelson may be stars, but it will be the extras that Rodgers turns to when he needs to move the chains.
When the defense is on the field, disrupting Gronk coming off the line will be central to their success.
Whether it’s Clay Matthews or Julius Peppers one or both of them will need to channel Wayne Simmons from the hollows of Lambeau and be physical with Gronkowski.
The Packers will also need to get after Brady, force him out of the comforts of the pocket.
Green Bay Packers defensive end Datone Jones (95) celebrates a sack. Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
And most important to the Packers success, stop the run. Just as Quarless, Rodgers and Adams will be central to the Packers offense, guys like Datone Jones, Josh Boyd, and Letroy Guion will need to step forward and solidify the run defense.
The big questions that surround the Packers are their ability to win big games against stellar opponents and their toughness. If the Packers do emerge victorious Sunday it will be because they had proved they have the heart to do so and their heroes rose to the occasion.