By Chris Havel
Special to Event USA
GREEN BAY, Wis. – For all that comes with losing Aaron Rodgers for an extended time, the Packers’ goal remains in play: They are 1 ½ games behind Minnesota (6-2) for the NFC North Division lead with nine games to play.
Ready or not – and I think he’s ready – Brett Hundley’s time is now for Packers
Game Day Deals! More Ticket Choices at Low Low Prices Buy Tickets Now >>
They can still capture the NFC North title.
The most important game is tonight’s against Detroit.
Whatever this Monday Night Football match-up lacks in star power with Rodgers’ absence, it makes up for in importance.
Whoever wins tonight’s 7:30 game at Lambeau Field immediately positions itself as the Vikings’ top challenger.
The Packers (4-3) and the Lions (3-4) may be perceived as teams going in different directions. Yes, Detroit lost in disappointing fashion at home against Pittsburgh, but the Lions do have the most accomplished quarterback in the division.
They also have lost three straight games.
Do the Lions lose a fourth? Few teams reach the NFL’s postseason with a four-game losing streak on their resume.
The Packers are home underdogs not merely because of Rodgers’ absence. It is also due to Matthew Stafford’s presence. Stafford drove the Lions’ offense up and down Ford Field against the Steelers’ defense last Sunday night, but it fizzled horribly in the red zone, going 0-for-5 in a 20-15 loss.
The Packers’ defense can’t count on its bend-but-don’t-break mentality against the Lions. Just because it worked for Pittsburgh doesn’t mean the Packers will do likewise.
The Lions’ defense also is better than advertised, especially with its ability to force turnovers thanks in large degree to a hard-hitting secondary.
So what are the Packers to do?
** Clay Matthews has to be moved to middle linebacker if not full-time at least on what appear to be passing situations. Matthews has proven he can generate pass rush from the inside. It also allows the Packers to utilize young pass rushers such as Kyler Fackrell and perhaps Vince Biegel.
Any help in the pass rush would be greatly welcomed.
Perhaps Biegel can do just that.
** Morgan Burnett seems to be overlooked until he’s injured. Then the back of defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ unit seems to fall apart.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has either been lost without Burnett or dealing with injuries. Between the bye and Burnett’s return it’s likely that Clinton-Dix’s game should be on the rise.
** Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry, Mike Daniels and Quinton Dial have been very good. Capers must rely on his defensive front more than he has in the past. Sometimes too many sub-packages cause defensive linemen to lose rhythm.
That Packers’ defensive line group needs to be cut loose.
It will be interesting to see what Montravius Adams, the Packers’ third-round pick from Auburn, brings to the party.
Adams is an imposing specimen who looks entirely different in former Packers player B.J. Raji’s jersey number 90.
Adams and Biegel give the Packers not one but two new options in the pass rush. They also come from different angles – Adams inside and Biegel outside.
** Aaron Jones should be the running back on early downs and downs that aren’t obvious passing situations. Ty Montgomery should be the running back on obvious passing downs.
There, that’s not too complicated.
** The Packers will be better offensively merely because of the line’s presumed return to health. This unit absorbed an obscene number of injuries. At some point it’s not an excuse, it’s just the fact.
Brett Hundley will benefit the most.
Once he gets comfortable he’ll be playing better than the naysayers suspect. He’s worked too long, and too hard, to let this opportunity slip through his fingers.
Hundley’s early adversity isn’t without reasons.
The prospects in Minnesota were ugly before he stepped into the huddle. Losing Rodgers took the wind out of the Packers’ sails. The Vikings’ strong defense drowned them.
Hundley will benefit from the bye week and the full week of practice. There should be better communication between McCarthy and Hundley, and a more obvious game plan should present itself against the Lions.
Hundley needs to relax and let the game come to him.
He also needs to trust in his teammates as much as he trusts in himself and his coaches.
That takes time to develop. Playing in live action hastens it.
** The Packers need to grab hold of reachable, attainable goals.
A victory against the Lions, a division opponent with a top-level quarterback and title aspirations, would be a great start.
The margin for error is a lot slimmer without Rodgers.
That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to win. The Packers have too much invested in their 53-man roster – not 52-man roster – to toss it in with nine games to go.
There was a time not so long ago when the Packers’ 4-3 win-loss record to start a season and MNF match-up against Detroit would be considered a tremendous opportunity.
That hasn’t changed.
This game is going to come down to a Mason Crosby field goal attempt. If he drills it, Packers win, 23-21. Otherwise it’ll be a “close-but-not-quite” narrow loss, with scant room for “moral victories” and the like.
My prediction: It’s up, and it’s good …