In a Week-9 matchup described as a “defining moment” by Colts’ head coach Chuck Pagano, the Packers take on a reeling Indianapolis squad that is currently struggling in just about every facet of the game, but the one thing their NFC South foe will have going for them is a healthy Andrew Luck who gives this downtrodden 3-5 franchise a fighting chance against a rag-tag secondary that is constantly looking for new pieces to fill in for their ailing cover men.
What the Boys from Packers News USA will be up against in a few short days is the equivalent of wounded animal that’s been backed in a corner and has no choice but to pull out all he stops in order to stop the bleeding following a definitive 30-14 thrashing at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs.
But while many view the Packers as the superior team, this group isn’t exactly walking on air off a one-point loss to the Atlanta Falcons in which a vulnerable Green Bay defense proved ill-equipped in preventing their opponent from moving the ball down the field and coming back from a six-point deficit during the latter stages of a high-scoring affair.
This week’s contest could easily follow the same script considering the fact that Luck has already engineered 13 comeback victories in a little over four seasons as an NFL starting quarterback.
The difference this week is that Aaron Rodgers and friends are back in the friendly confines of Lambeau Field, where their raucous hometown fans will be ready to make noise conditions as distressing and unpleasant as possible for the bearded man from Stanford.
Thus far the Packers have been victorious in every one of their games where they’ve had the decided advantage over their adversary, but putting forth a B-level effort will only allow the road team to hang around and gain increasing levels of confidence as the game wears on.
In order for an objective observer to adequately breakdown this battle of high-powered passing attacks, one must identify the essential matchups and evaluate which side has the upper hand in each.
So with that in mind, let’s dive right into this tale-of-the-tape analysis of Sunday afternoon’s highly-anticipated out-of-conference meeting.
In his first game back from a five-week absence due to a shoulder injury, Moncrief wasted no time in reestablishing himself as one of Indy’s top downfield weapons.
He not only led his team in targets (9) and scored on a 13-yard connection with Andrew Luck, but the third-year pass catcher also had an additional 40-yard score wiped off the board due to an offensive holding penalty.
From a talent standpoint, the 6-foot-2 weapon has the physicality, hands and speed to be a legitimate No. 1 receiver on a number of teams. And while Moncrief brings a much-needed element of size to the Colts’ offense, he also possesses a run-after-catch dimension to his game as evidenced by how he can routinely elude the first defender.
Look for Moncrief to see a lot of Ladarius Gunter this Sunday. The Packers’ second-year corner possesses the obvious height and length to make life difficult for his opponent along with the ability to jam his man at the line of scrimmage to prevent clean releases into his routes.
Outside of his disastrous Week-6 performance against the Cowboys, Gunter has done a credible job of applying tight man coverage on the likes of Odell Beckham Jr and Alshon Jeffrey in recent games. And though the superb job the defense accomplished versus Julio Jones last week was by and large a group effort, the former Miami Hurricane didn’t embarrass himself on the few occasions he was isolated on Atlanta’s all-world vertical threat.
So what does this all mean for this week’s game? At this point, it seems as if TY Hilton should be ready to suit up given the fact that he put in a full-practice Thursday which would indicate that Dom Capers will most likely focus on using multiple bodies to keep the smaller speedster in check rather than giving Moncrief the star treatment.
Therefore, Gunter will be leaned on heavily to run stride-for-stride with No. 10 in single coverage. Though the 24-year-old defensive back has markedly enhanced his body positioning and discipline, all that goes out the window if Moncrief gets a couple of steps on him.
It would be reasonable to expect the Colts’ wideout to bust loose for a big play or two given his 4.4 speed, acceleration and ability to create separation with double moves. The key for the Packers will be to ensure that no one else is also on the receiving end of chunk plays.
Jack Doyle versus Packers ILBs
The offseason departure of Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen’s continued struggles to stay on the field have created an opportunity for Jack Doyle to emerge as a reliable security blanket on shallow routes.
At 6-foot-5, 254 pounds, Doyle isn’t blessed with amazing speed or agility, but he catches just about everything that’s thrown to him and has secured over 80-percent of his targets three seasons running.
The former Western Kentucky Hilltopper gets open by running precise routes and employing subtle fakes to put himself in position to make plays over the middle as he did while reeling in a 7-yard touchdown pass in Week 7 that was essentially the knockout blow his team needed to put away the division-rival Tennessee Titans.
A multitude of injuries at the cornerback position have forced the Packers to utilize safety Micah Hyde, who specializes in blanketing tight ends, as their primary slot corner entrusted with the responsibility of defending inside receivers.
As a result, Green Bay’s defense is now covering tight ends with inside linebackers that are ill-equipped to run step-for-step with athletic opponents on deep seam routes.
Capers’ unit currently ranks 12th in the NFL against the tight end position and have given up numbers to the likes of Eric Ebron, Kyle Rudolph and Julius Thomas along with allowing rookie Austin Hooper to post a healthy 5-41 stat line in Atlanta last week.
Over the past six seasons, Anthony Castonzo has been a constant on the Colts’ offensive line. There have been times when he’s been superb, such as his 2014 campaign that saw him give up two sacks all year, and others where he’s been simply average.
In 2016, however, the Chicago-born left tackle would be the first to admit that he’s been mostly terrible. A rare outstanding outing versus Tennessee was sandwiched in between poor showings against the Jaguars, the Texans—a game in which pass rushers on his side accounted for seven pressures—and the Chiefs, where Dee Ford beat the 28-year-old for two sacks.
The result of Castonzo’s diminishing level of play—along with that of his fellow linemen—is a league-high 31 sacks produced by the opposition which is putting Luck at high risk of going down with yet another season-ending injury for a second year in a row.
Locking horns with Nick Perry looks to be a tough matchup for Castonzo in that while the blindside protector is generally agile and plays with good technique, he is susceptible to being driven back against the bull rush—something that No. 53 does quite well.
Perry is coming off arguably his worst performance as a pass rusher versus Atlanta, but he came into that game as one of Pro Football Focus’ top-25 pass rushers having generated a career-best 27 pressures.
The outside linebacker’s combination of power, balance and leverage looks to be too much to handle for the 6-foot-7 bookend.
Ty Montgomery versus Colts LBs
Green Bay’s new hybrid running back/wide receiver will resume running routes out of the backfield after a week off and should have success against a slow-footed Colts’ linebacker corps featuring 32-year-old D’Qwell Jackson and one-dimensional run stuffer Josh McNary on the inside.
McNary, in particular, has been putting the defense in compromising spots due to his many misreads.
Rookie free agent Edwin “Pound Cake” Jackson, though, has been a pleasant surprise and plays with a level of speed and physicality that Indy’s unit sorely lacks.
Collectively, the Colts’ defense has had five opposing backs gain 43 receiving yards or more against them.
In terms of running the ball, Montgomery is becoming more comfortable at identifying cut-back lanes and sidestepping tacklers. There’s little reason to doubt that he can replicate his rushing total (60 yards) gained in the Bears’ game when one factors in Indy’s fifth-worst 4.5 yards-per-carry average in defending the run.
Randall Cobb should be ready to go after a week of resting a tender hamstring and will match up with Darius Butler in the slot, who has the hip flexibility to defend shifty receivers as they cut in and out of their breaks.
Butler, however, lacks the recovery speed to catch up to his man if the receiver gains a step on him. Similarly, the veteran cornerback has been known to miss a tackle or two while Cobb, on the other hand, has been tremendous at fighting for extra yardage after contact in recent weeks.
While the one-time UConn Huskie has only played in five games this season, last year wasn’t a banner one from a numbers standpoint considering his PFF ranking of 89 among 111 qualifying cornerbacks.
In the event Cobb is matched up with free safety T.J. Greene, things can get even worse since the rookie’s lack of awareness is preventing him from adjusting to balls in flight (see 49-yard gain by KC’s Tyreke Hill).
Davante Adams exhibited his versatility in last week’s loss to Atlanta by catching four of his 12 receptions lined up in the backfield.
But the most notable area of improvement for the third-year wideout has arguably been his route running as he’s been able to get open by using a variety of head/shoulder fakes and stutter-and-go moves to disengage from coverage.
His direct opponent should be Patrick Robinson, the one-time highly touted speed merchant selected by the New Orleans Saints in the first round back in 2010.
GM Ryan Grigson highlighted the journeyman’s physical skills and intangibles after acquiring him as a free agent, but Robinson has yet to live up to his billing.
In last Sunday’s loss to the Chiefs, the 5-foot-11 defensive back was victimized by his own poor instincts on downfield plays where he should have turned his head and looked for the football.
His backpedal was just as sloppy and caused him to trip over his own feet on one occasion.
Robinson is PFF’s 83rd-ranked cornerback out of 112 qualifying players at the position and the fact that his run-support grade is far better than his performance indicators in pass coverage is telling.
The first-round bust was physically dominated by the bigger Cameron Meredith earlier in the year and it would be fair to expect Adams to give Robinson the same type of treatment.
Packers O-line versus Colts’ Pass Rush
The Colts have an average-at-best pass rush with former Packer Erik Walden being the biggest threat at getting after the quarterback among Indy’s outside linebackers offering impressive speed off the edge. At 31 years old, Walden has added an element of consistency to his overall game and leads the team in sacks (6).
Graybeard Robert Mathis (35) can only play limited snaps, but still has his trademark spin move in his arsenal that both he and Dwight Freeney frequently used during their prime years together.
But while both Walden and Mathis remain viable defenders, they will both have their work cut out for them in trying to get past both Packers’ bookends David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga, who rank 3rd and 6th respectively at their position in pass blocking according to PFF.
In addition, of the 14 sacks Green Bay has been hit with, only 9.5 have been charged to the big uglies upfront…and four of those were produced by interior linemen which is bad news for outside penetrators, such as Walden and Mathis.
The one thing in this matchup that could truly work in Indy’s favor is T.J. Lang’s questionable status as he’s dealing with a hip issue. Lang is the one member of the line that hasn’t yet been beaten for a sack.
Chuck Pagano’s squad is constantly getting hurt by penalties (8pg) and only four teams have committed more infractions to date (Washington, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Jacksonville and Oakland).
Although they were only flagged five times in Arrowhead, there were four that very costly considering that a 45-yard touchdown to Moncrief was taken off the board and a 40-yard pass play to Hilton was similarly nullified. The other two violations gave the home team two automatic first downs.
The Packers lie at the other end of spectrum by averaging the 5th-least penalties per game (5.9).
The Colts’ best cornerback is in concussion protocol and, so far, there is no definitive sign suggesting whether he will healthy enough to run out of the tunnel two days from now.
His presence and physical style of play can have a major impact on the type of day Jordy Nelson will have.
The Colts have been so banged up at cornerback that they’ve had to line up safety Matthias Farley on the outside with predictable results.
Just to recap: the Colts aren’t blocking well, cannot consistently rush the passer, lack any kind of running game and are an undisciplined group that are racking up penalties at an alarming pace.
These aren’t issues that can be repaired in one week’s time, but poor blocking is especially damning due to how it’s preventing the organization’s best player from reaching his significant potential.
Week 8’s 19 completions out of 35 attempts were Luck’s fewest ever in a full game. The constant pressure he faced caused bouts of inaccuracy, including one pass delivered too far inside for Moncrief that was picked off.
When Indy’s franchise quarterback is underperforming, the team has no shot.
The Packers have their own set of problems, but they don’t compare to what Horseshoes are experiencing.
In comparing the various personnel groupings of both sides, Green Bay either does everything just as well or better than Indy—except maybe punt the ball.
Matchups and recent trends point to a Packers’ victory by 10 points and quite possibly more.