When The Packers Have The Ball:
The Packers’ offensive tackles, Marshall Newhouse and Bryan Bulaga, have taken turns the past two weeks turning in their worst performances of the season. Bulaga’s was in Detroit, while Newhouse struggled mightly in New York. Both struggled with speed off the edge and Newhouse, in particular, was left flailing much too often going up against what admittedly is one of the best young pass rushers in the league in Jason Pierre-Paul.
Though no defense is capable of stopping the Packers offense entirely, a team that can rush and get consistent pressure on Aaron Rodgers with four has the best chance to slow them down, at least enough for their own offense to try and keep up by taking advantage of a suspect Packers defense.
Newhouse and Bulaga will probably be able to handle Lamarr Houston and Desmond Bryant, the Raiders’ starting defensive ends. It’s linebacker Kamerion Wimbley, who has seven sacks so far this year, that both the tackles and the interior of the Packers offensive line will have to be wary of on stunts and blitzes.
Expect the Raiders to keep their safeties back but to pick their spots from time to time and run some zone-blitz looks at Rodgers to try and keep him off balance. The Raiders like to drop guys from unexpected spots from time to time and Rodgers is coming off a game where he flat out missed seeing a guy in coverage before throwing an ugly interception.
Raiders corners Stanford Routt, Lito Sheppard and (ex-Packer) Chris Johnson all have some talent but none of them match up well in any way with Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson or James Jones. Provided he’s afforded the time, he should have a bonanza throwing the ball in Lambeau on Sunday – yes, even in the cold.
James Starks will not play, so Ryan Grant will get the start – but look for rookie Brandon Saine to get the majority of the work, especially if Grant is unable to get going early. The Packers wanted to run Grant against the Giants, but had to go to Saine after Grant proved completely ineffective. Saine has shown a burst and surprisingly good vision. Not only that, he looks like anything but a rookie on the handful of screen plays McCarthy has called for him the past few weeks.
When The Raiders Have The Ball:
The Packers defense catches a break this week when they’ll be facing a beaten up Raiders offense. Running back Darren McFadden will miss the game Sunday, a bruising back and a type of player that has given the Packers problems this year.
The Packers are giving up way too many big plays through the air, and McCarthy indicated the deep post in particular has been a problem. The victim of that exact play twice last week, Tramon Williams has to hone in on his technique, communicate with the safeties, and shut that play down. The Raiders will pound and pound the football and then take shots deep. It’s in their DNA, and you can bet head coach and playcaller Hue Jackson will work to get the matchup he likes and take a shot deep at least once a quarter against Williams until he proves he can stop it.
Look no further than this play from last week.
Williams gives his man a big cushion, almost conceding a short route. But once the receiver drives on him, he opens his hips as though he is expecting help inside. Once he does that, the receiver knows he has him beat on the post. Williams knows what he has to do to make the correction – now he has to do it.
Enough Already, Who Wins?
I have admittedly been nervous about this game for some time. The Raiders are a streaky team, but when they are playing well, they can get after the quarterback and they can be physical and smash you in the running game. The Packers are coming off their toughest test of the year and will be without a number of starters, including Josh Sitton. Chad Clifton and Desmond Bishop, as well as a big contributor in James Starks.
All that said, as has been the case all season, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense just looks to be too much for the other team to handle. Teams have learned they need to keep two safeties back, try to keep them deep over Finley and/or Jennings, and roll the dice that Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver and others won’t beat you. That hasn’t worked so far and I don’t see it starting to this Sunday.