Now that the NFL season is here, I’m putting a twist on my weekly Blogger on Blogger series. Each week, I hope to enlist a blogger who regularly writes about the Ravens’ opponent to help me break down the game. This week, I exchanged emails with Zach Kruse, who blogs about the Packers for Cheesehead TV.
MV: The Packers were my Super Bowl pick, so you’re welcome for the kiss of death. But right now, what are we to make of a Packers team that has two wins and lost to two good teams on the road?
ZK: Much of the script for this Packers team still needs to be written. What can you really take away from wins against a lifeless Washington team that is now 1-3 and a Lions club lacking Calvin Johnson? And the two losses came on the road to San Francisco, one of the NFC's elite, and Cincinnati, which has arguably the best pass defense in football. This is clearly a good team through four games, but also one that needs to prove it is worthy of "elite" status in 2013. Winning a road game in Baltimore -- where the defending champs have won 26 of their last 29 regular-season games -- would be a fine start.
MV: Aaron Rodgers is off to another strong start and the Packers have one of the NFL’s top receiver trios in Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and James Jones. How do you think they match up with Terrell Suggs and the Ravens pass defense?
ZK: Cobb, Nelson and Jones are all on pace to eclipse 1,300 receiving yards this season, largely because Rodgers is so good at finding the right matchup to exploit, regardless of coverage. There's also a trust level in all three receivers for the Packers quarterback. The blueprint for matching up with the Green Bay passing offense might always be to sit back in a two-deep shell and rely on getting pressure with the front four. Suggs, who has seven total sacks and at least one in each game, will be a big part of that game plan. The Ravens can hang if four-man rushes are consistently collapsing the pocket.
MV: The Packers aren’t just throwing the ball over the place this year, though. They drafted Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin in April and are averaging 141 rushing yards per game. What has the impact been on the team as a whole?
ZK: The Packers are fifth in rushing and second in yards per attempt at 5.3, two mind-blowing rankings for a team that has struggled so mightily to run the football in recent years. Adding Lacy and Franklin has obviously improved the talent level at running back, but the Packers offensive line is also starting to control the line of scrimmage in the run game. Surprisingly, the improvements in running the football haven't yet translated into unstoppable spurts from the Packers offense overall. Maybe Rodgers is still adjusting to not having to carry the entire load. It's also worth noting that defenses are still giving Green Bay a ton of six-man fronts, too. Eventually, teams will begin paying more and more respect to the run, and that's when Rodgers will see the benefits.
MV: Green Bay spent their first six draft picks in 2012 on defensive players, starting with pass rusher Nick Perry. Are those youngsters making an impact?
ZK: Let's run them down, pick by pick. Perry is finally healthy after missing the final 10 games of last season with a wrist injury. We'll go deeper into his impact in the next question. Jerel Worthy is still rehabbing a torn ACL suffered last December and Casey Hayward hasn't played this season because of a lingering hamstring injury. While Mike Daniels has developed into the Packers best interior rusher, safety Jerron McMillian hasn't made a big jump and is only playing in dime packages. Terrell Manning is now on San Diego's practice squad. I'm a firm believer in not making concrete judgments on a draft class until three years in, but it appears the Packers 2012 class could be hit-or-miss. The Ravens will see Perry and Daniels the most Sunday.
MV: It sounds like Clay Matthews has a broken thumb. If he is sidelined for Sunday’s game or longer, what can the Packers do, if anything, to overcome that loss?
ZK: There's really no way around the reality that losing Matthews is a big blow. Not only is he the Packers’ best pass rusher, but Matthews has also developed into a relentless defender against the run. Green Bay will miss his playmaking ability and non-stop motor. In his absence, the Packers need Perry and Mike Neal, a converted defensive lineman, to stay healthy and play well on the edges. As Ravens fans will understand, the 3-4 defense is dependent on outside linebackers causing havoc for quarterbacks and setting the edge against the run. Perry (two sacks) and Neal (one) both played well in extended action against the Lions in Week 5. Green Bay now needs that to continue Sunday in Baltimore and over the next six or so weeks.
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