Sunday, November 06, 2011

Packers vs. Chargers Preview: Wild, Wild West

The Green Bay Packers are today making their first trip to San Diego since 2003; this is only the sixth time in the long history of the Packers that the team has played in "American's Finest City," as the city of San Diego so humbly refers to itself (it may not be LA or Hollywood, Packer fans, but it's close's still all about the hype). The Packers have won the last five straight matches between the two teams and are 5-0 all time in San Diego. Today, the Pack enters the game as 5.5-point favorites.

As all Packer fans are aware, the team is the only remaining undefeated team in the league at 7-0 and coming off their bye week. They should be well rested. The only players who were listed earlier in the week as definitely out were LT Chad Clifton and DE Mike Neal. Everyone else is available (although recall that rookie RB Alex Green was placed on the injured reserve list earlier in the week following his leg injury early in the game against the ViQueens; practice squad RB Brandon Saine took his spot on the 53-man roster). The Chargers, on the other hand, are coming off a short week after their Monday night loss at Kansas City. They are also injured.

Make no mistake, however, this could very well be a trap game for the Packers. The Bolts have looked bad in their last two consecutive game losses, especially last week against division rivals, the Kansas City Chiefs; they had penalties, turnovers, and you-name-it when they got near or into the red zone, particularly late in the game with a chance to win. The Chargers are 4-3, with the largest point loss being to the Patriots in week 2, 35-21; they are in every game. With QB Phil Rivers at the helm, huge receivers and one of the better tight ends in the game, the Chargers can present problems for a defense. Given the nature of the Packers "D" through the first 7 games of the schedule, unless things got tightened up over the bye and this last week of practice, it could be yet another tight but high-scoring game for both teams. In fact, Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said this week that, “This is one of the best offenses we’ll face all year.”

This is a must-win type of game for the Chargers. If there is any game in which they will likely be at their best, this is it. As such, the Packers will also need to start fast, stay consistent, and finish strong in order to win this game. The Packers are the league's top scoring offense, at 32.9 points per game, and scoring at least 24 points in each game game so far, the only team in the league to accomplish that, as well. Driving this offense, as anyone who is even a mild observer of football knows, is QB Aaron Rodgers. He is the top quarterback in the league, at the moment. In fact, he's registered a quarterback rating of 110 or more in each of his 7 appearances so far this season -- the only quarterback in NFL history to do so! Oh, and did I mention that Rodgers just won another Offensive Player of the Month Award? But wait...there's more! Since last November -- LAST November -- nobody in the NFC other than Rodgers has won this award. A-wha...??? A-duh!!! Anytime, anywhere, Mr. Rodgers wants to do his "belt" routine, he's earned it.

The edge on offense has to go to the Packers, of course. Lots of weapons for the league's best passer -- and best player (there, I said it!) -- to choose from. Although when breaking things down, the edge in the running game goes to the double-headed San Diego rushing attack of Ryan Matthews and Mike Tolbert; the Packers will have to slow that threat down in order to keep the ball in Rivers hands and hopefully have him continue to make the kind of mistakes he has in recent weeks.

But what about the defense, in particular the Chargers' defense? Through 6 games, the Bolts have had just 10 sacks, ranking them 29th in the league. The biggest pass rush threat is Shaun Phillips but, like the Packers' Clay Matthews, he hasn't had much help from the rest of his crew. The Chargers minus-5 turnover differential is a reflection not only of how often their offense has shot itself in the foot, but that the defense only has recorded 7 turnovers in their first 6 games.

The Packers' brain trust has had two weeks to plan for this game. While there may be moments in this game that make you wonder what the heck's going on out there (paraphrasing a former Green Bay head coach whom you may have heard of), the only way the Packers lose is if they beat themselves. Look for the Pack to dial it up early and often on both sides of the ball.

We're calling this one 37-20 Packers.

Go Pack Go!!!