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By CHRIS HAVEL
Will Vikings continue to dominate? Can Packers channel inner champ? How ‘bout them Cowboys’ rookies?
The Green Bay Packers limp out of their “second bye” week hoping to be rested and reinvigorated.
The task ahead is formidable, but the goal no less attainable. The Packers (4-2) have managed to keep hope alive through six.
The next 10 will be pesky, if not unpleasant at times, but there exists enough optimism and potential – some realized, most not – to think the Packers can roll into December at 9-3 or better.
What happens in the next several weeks is critical. After six of the ugliest quarters of football – the Cowboys’ game and the Bears’ first half – the Packers’ offense finally arrived.
Perhaps Aaron Rodgers merely threw his way out of a slump. Coaches are always talking about the importance of repetitions, and Rodgers’ 39 completions in 58 attempts versus Chicago qualifies and then some.
If Rodgers has indeed regained his MVP touch, the Packers are sure to ascend to a place among the NFC’s big boys.
Frankly, I think it’s going to happen. When it does I will be the second to say, “I told you so,” right behind a cocksure quarterback with a chip he intends to play.
Rodgers’ renaissance is just one of several surefire predictions. In fact, it may be the easiest of all.
The Packers’ second-half MVPs will be Nick Perry on defense, Ty Montgomery on offense and Trevor Davis on special teams. I didn’t include Rodgers or Clay Matthews out of respect for the obvious.
Perry has been a stud through six games. He has created more havoc in that time than the previous several seasons. I don’t see any letdown for Perry.
“Hey, opposing quarterbacks: You’ve been warned.”
Montgomery is learning at a computer-like speed.
The transition from wide receiver to running back isn’t as simple as one might suspect. Montgomery has had to learn pass protections and blitz pickups. In the past, all he knew about the pass rush was whether it got there before his QB threw it. He also has to learn how to set up blocks, screens and draws.
Then there is the not-so-simple check-down. It requires Montgomery to sit in pass protection, determine if it’s OK to slide out of the backfield, and then avail himself to the QB.
If he leaves too early, the QB may be killed. If he leaves too late, the QB has no outlet if his receivers are all covered up. It can be tricky. There also are ball security issues because Montgomery is being hit by bigger, stronger defenders between the tackles.
On top of all that, plus a whole lot I haven’t time to get into, Montgomery has to be able to chip-block off a tackle’s or tight end’s outside shoulder and not knock him off the block.
It’s a good thing he’s a quick study.
Trevor Davis is just a whisker away from becoming a legit threat as an NFL return man. His speed is intriguing and his knack for slipping would-be tacklers and hitting it hard into the seam is impressive.
I’m calling not one but two returns for touchdowns by Davis.
Adams rather quickly builds upon his record-setting evening against the Chicago Bears. By that I mean Adams is going to have a really exceptional run here.
He is a legit second-round talent who has taken time to develop. That’s not surprising at the receiver position. Receivers must deal with a lot of moving targets while they are precisely that.
I’ve got a hunch Adams is going to become a reliable and occasionally spectacular player.
Other Key Players
Rookie defensive tackle Kenny Clark is going to continue to blossom. By season’s end he’ll be considered one of the truly promising young players and leaders on the defense.
Nick Perry receives a contract extension which will be well-deserved.
Eddie Lacy, Sam Shields, Jared Cook and Damarious Randall will be sorely missed. The Packers’ defensive backfield has been decimated by injuries, the latest being Randall’s torn groin muscle that required surgery. All are expected to miss multiple weeks.
The Packers’ Challenge
Meantime, the Packers’ challenge is clear. On offense, Rodgers and head coach Mike McCarthy have to embrace the reality that circumstances have made them one-dimensional.
Instead of wasting time and plays on gratuitous runs, it’s better to devise ways to make the passing game so potent and potentially overwhelming that a modest run game is enough. The notion of the short passing attack replacing the run isn’t new. What is new is McCarthy’s variety of ways he is using the hand he’s been dealt.
Montgomery out of the backfield is becoming a legit part of the arsenal. My guess is that Knile Davis lining up behind fullback Aaron Ripkowski in the I-formation also is something the Packers will do with considerable success.
Defensively, it’s survival mode for the next stretch.
Atlanta, Indianapolis and Philadelphia each present serious tests.
The Falcons’ Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, plus a terrific running attack, gives Atlanta one of the NFL’s most explosive offenses. The Colts’ Andrew Luck seems to be finally getting enough time to deliver, which makes Indianapolis dangerous.
Then, there is Doug Pederson’s Philadelphia Eagles, who rely upon excellent defense and special teams to set the tone.
If the Packers can win two of their next three it’ll set up intriguing December games with Seattle and Minnesota.
First, the Packers will bypass the Vikings for the NFC North title. Then, they’ll take care of business in a rematch with the Cowboys come the post-season.
It’s going to be an exciting ride.
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. Also check out our new Podcast: Between the Lines for more Packers insights. New episodes every Wednesday.