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Here are 10 questions going into Packers’ 10-game stretch run
By CHRIS HAVEL
The Green Bay Packers went back to work Monday after their well-deserved bye week. Morgan Burnett, Davante Adams, James Jones and others were looking healthy and rested.
Here are 10 questions going into the bye, and 10 answers coming out of it as the Packers enter their 10-game stretch run:
#1: Is the Packers’ receiving corps going to respond after two so-so performances going into the bye?
I’ll answer that question with a question: Do you feel better about the Packers’ receivers coming out of the bye than you did going into the season? Of course you do.
Going into the regular-season opener at Chicago there were a fair amount of questions. Would James Jones be able to contribute at a high level? Could Ty Montgomery learn the offense quickly enough to help sooner than later?
Does Davante Adams truly possess the big-play ability the Packers so desperately need right now? Check, check and check.
No one thought life would be uncomplicated – much less easy – without Jordy Nelson.
Through six games many of the questions have been answered. Jones has been terrific despite battling a sore hamstring the past two weeks. Montgomery was sensational until he suffered an ankle injury, but he should be fine. Adams also played well before enduring an ankle injury, but he’s back too.
Now it’s up to Randall Cobb and Co. to stay healthy. If that happens, the offense will be fine.
#2: Who is the Packers’ defensive MVP?
Wow, that’s a tough one. The obvious and correct choice would be Clay Matthews. The Clay-Maker has made the transition from being a pure pass rusher off the edge to becoming a more complete – and therefore dangerous – player.
Matthews shored up the run defense by moving to inside linebacker on early downs. He also studied his role and along with defensive coordinator Dom Capers and the staff has been like a dominating chess piece owning the board.
#3: If the defensive MVP is Matthews, who is the player who has been the most pleasant surprise?
Nate Palmer. The inside linebacker has been strong in coverage while also being a fierce tackler in the hole. Palmer’s improvement has helped the defense more than overcome the loss of Sam Barrington. It also allows Matthews to roam.
#4: What’s wrong with Eddie Lacy?
Well, he’s had a sore ankle. That has hampered him. He also hasn’t been able to get lathered up, as they say, and find a groove where he rushes 20 times for 120 yards. Trust me on this. It will happen. Lacy’s temporary struggles might be a concern except there is James Starks always ready and able to step in. Starks has to be the offense’s MVP among non-starters.
#5: Can the special teams’ play be better in the final 10 games?
It should be and here’s why: Packers head coach Mike McCarthy is evolving in his expanded, non-player caller role. That should pay dividends on special teams as the season unfolds. First, the Packers will have enough film on teams through six games to discern where and when to use an onside kick, for example.
Also, the kick and punt return games become more important when the weather turns ugly late in the season. More kick returns means more opportunities for Montgomery to make big plays. It also means more chances to cover kickoffs and tilt the field.
Mason Crosby is money and Tim Masthay has been punting better. He needs to be sharper pinning teams inside the 20.
#6: How many touchdowns and interceptions will Aaron Rodgers finish with this season?
That’s easy. Enough touchdowns to win eight of the final 10 games, and so few interceptions that it won’t hurt them. I’d say Rodgers finishes with 35 touchdown passes and five picks.
#7: Do you play B.J. Raji or Mike Daniels?
How about both? Raji and Daniels are difference-makers on defense. As such, they are critical both on early downs against the run and as pass rushers. Raji and Daniels should figure in the Packers’ long-term plans.
#8: What is your first thought when you consider the Packers face back-to-back undefeated teams out of the bye?
My first thought is the Packers are awfully glad to be 6-0, especially with road games at Denver and at Carolina.
The prevailing theory seems to be that if the Packers split the next two games they’ll be 7-1 and in the NFC driver’s seat. I’m thinking 8-0 is still mighty do-able.
The Broncos’ defense is insanely dangerous, but Peyton Manning is no longer an MVP-caliber quarterback. The Packers’ defense has an opportunity to show a Sunday Night Football television audience which defense is the best. And Manning provides an inviting target.
#9: Who are the offensive and defensive rookies of the year thus far?
On offense, it’s got to be Montgomery, although Aaron Ripkowski has been a solid contributor on special teams. On defense, I’ve got to give the edge to Quinten Rollins over Damarious Randall, although both have been very good.
#10: Ultimately, what will decide the Packers’ fate in the 10-game stretch run?
I still believe the Packers’ defense and special teams are improved enough to compliment the offense.
So long as the Packers’ offensive line plays well, and keeps Rodgers from taking a pounding, Green Bay should represent the NFC in Super Bowl 50.
Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio (www.thefan1075.com). Havel also hosts Event USA’s MVP Parties the evening before home games.