With a loss to the defending NFC champions in the rear view mirror, the Green Bay Packers (0-1) will welcome the Washington Redskins (0-1) to Lambeau Field for a Week 2 matchup that may already have an impact on playoff chances.
Since 1990, only 22 of 212 teams have qualified for the playoffs after starting a season 0-2. No team has done it since 2008, while the Packers have never accomplished the feat in their 93-year history.
Sunday’s outcome certainly won’t eliminate either the Packers or Redskins from postseason contention, but recent NFL history is very clear about the difficulty of overcoming an 0-2 start. Both teams need an early rebound, as an uphill climb to the playoffs awaits Sunday’s loser.
Here’s five important questions that the Packers need to answer during Week 2:
1. Can Green Bay Force a Turnover?
Held without a turnover against San Francisco Sunday, the Packers dropped their record to 1-14 under Mike McCarthy when the defense doesn’t produce a takeaway. Coming home should give Green Bay a real chance to break into the turnover stat for the first time in 2013. Since 2009, no team has more takeaways or a better turnover differential at home than the Packers’ 78 and plus-45. The defense has also forced at least two turnovers in four straight home games. The Redskins were especially generous Monday night, with two giveaways over their first four plays and three overall against Philadelphia. The Packers can’t bank on Washington being that sloppy in Week 2, but you can bet Mike McCarthy has hammered home that a minus-two turnover differential won’t cut it against good football teams.
2. To Blitz, or Not to Blitz?
A season ago, no quarterback in football was better against blitzes than Robert Griffin III. As a rookie, he led the NFL in both Total QBR (96.8) and passer rating (134.1) when defenses sent five or more rushers. Those numbers might suggest that the Packers will send very few blitzes against RG3 Sunday, but don’t count on it. The Eagles rattled a rusty (and clearly still recovering) Griffin III in the season opener with extra rushers on 24 of his 56 drop backs. Overall, he looked like a quarterback who hadn’t played against any kind of live competition in nine months. More importantly, his ability to break pocket contain still appeared limited, even against pressure. Green Bay shouldn’t have to concentrate as many resources in keeping the quarterback in the pocket this week. As a result, Dom Capers and the Packers defense should make Griffin III prove he can still beat a blitz Sunday.
3. Will the Running Game Come Alive?
An offseason committed to getting better at running the football produced just 63 yards on 19 carries (3.3 yards/carry) in the season opener against the 49ers. The run-starved Packers might feel better about their chances to rev up the ground game versus Washington Sunday. The Redskins were gashed by the Eagles to the tune of 263 rushing yards—the most allowed in the NFL in Week 1—and 5.4 yards per carry. A big reason for that onslaught was Chip Kelly’s up-tempo, run-heavy offense, but the Redskins also frequently lost gap integrity and looked worn down at times along the defensive line. The Packers won’t be expected to match Kelly’s pace, but Green Bay’s no-huddle could help out a run game that didn’t produce much space for Eddie Lacy and the rest of the running backs in Week 1.
4. Can the Packers Win Field Position?
Without much question, the Packers were dominated in terms of field position in San Francisco. While the 49ers’ average starting field position was the 33-yard-line (seventh-best in Week 1), Green Bay started its average drive inside the 20-yard line (19.9, 28th). Nine times the Packers started at the 20-yard line or worse, and only the Chiefs-Jaguars game had a bigger disparity in starting field position during the opening weekend. Green Bay’s problems were partly due to two turnovers on the wrong side of the 50-yard-line, but also the complete breakdown of the return units. Kick returns were a disaster, as Jeremy Ross (13.3 yards/return) made a few bad decisions but received next to nothing in terms of block execution around him. Beating good teams is hard enough without having to fight field position the entire game.
5. Will the Young Offensive Tackles Hold Up Against Another Tough Test?
Save for two sacks allowed to 49ers All-Pro linebacker Aldon Smith, the Packers offensive line actually held up surprisingly well in pass protection Sunday. Rookie David Bakhtiari made two mistakes (missed low block on first sack, shifted weight inside on second), but keeping Rodgers clean wasn’t as big of an issue as many believed entering Week 1. However, Bakhtiari and right tackle Don Barclay receive no rest in Week 2. Washington linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan are a first-round duo capable of collapsing the pocket from the edge on any passing down. The two provided 10 total pressures of Michael Vick in the season opener and have 26 combined sacks since 2011, despite Orakpo missing 14 games in 2012 to injury. While neither is an All-Pro talent on the level of Smith, each can cause problems against an inexperienced pair of offensive tackles. Bakhtiari and Barclay need to pass another test Sunday.
Prediction: Green Bay 30, Washington 20 (1-0)
Zach Kruse is a 25-year-old sports writer who contributes to Cheesehead TV, Bleacher Report and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He also covered prep sports for the Dunn Co. News. You can reach him on Twitter @zachkruse2 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.