What Cam Newton did last week was impressive. I watched a good chunk of that game. Yes, there were coverage breakdowns on Steve Smith and yes there were some passes heaved up like Favre in Oakland where the WRs just made great plays. But Newton also accumulated hundreds of passing yards legitimately. The guy looked really good and the Packers better come ready to play assuming that what Newton did last week was standard and not flukish.
RT Jeff Otah being out for this game could be a real problem for Carolina. The key will be how Capers chooses to take advantage of this. Rookie Byron Bell will be replacing Otah and will no doubt be given lots of help in managing Matthews. Last week Matthews was double and triple teamed – rendering him mostly ineffective. But Matthews’ ineffectiveness wasn’t really the problem last week. The problem was that Capers and the defensive personnel did very little to take advantage of the disproportionate attention being paid to Clay. As I learning at basketball camp in 8th grade: two men on me, one must be free. Walden, Bishop, CBs, safeties all need to be brought in to take advantage of the extra attention Matthews will get – and to create chaos for Newton. (Not Hawk, he’s too slow.)
Despite being a bit nervous that Carolina may indeed have a quality passing attack, I’m more concerned today about Carolina’s running game. AZ is not a tough defense but they did a surprisingly good job stopping DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart last week – 56 yards on 19 carries total. While I think Pickett and Raji are stout run stuffers and I realize our defense is much better overall than AZ’s, I do worry about how well Jarius Wynn and the right side of our defense will do stopping these two. I would think it’s quite possible today that Howard Green will get a bit more playing time during the early downs. Somehow, the defense will really need to key on stopping these two because I’m convinced that most of this past week, Carolina’s practice was dedicated to getting the run game going.
While I expect Carolina to put quite a bit of effort into getting their running game going there are two factors that could disrupt this: the Packers jumping out to an early lead and Newton having success throwing to Steve Smith (and TEs Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey) early. Smith was tremendous last week, but he could pose particular match-up issues for the Packers if Tramon Williams doesn’t play (or plays at substantially less than 100%). Williams is not only fast but very quick and one of Smith’s greatest assets it his quickness. Yes, Shields is pretty quick too and could help out some if Williams can’t play, but I’m not keen on having Woodson or Bush defending Smith.
I don’t think Carolina can stop our passing game. Jon Beason’s injury is big and leaves a huge void in the middle of the defense. But the rest of the Carolina defense is not too intimidating. Yes, Ron Rivera is a defense dude, but I don’t think the personnel on defense should be able to do enough to deter our passing attack. I’m guessing that Rivera may call a bunch of blitzes or try other less conventional options to try to rattle Rodgers. But fortunately for us, Aaron Rodgers doesn’t rattle.
It will be interesting to see how much we use the running game this week. Considering Carolina plays a 4-3 defense, they’ll be a bit more vulnerable against the pass (assuming we can keep the pressure off Rodgers). And we shouldn’t be afraid to take advantage of that until we either get tired or we’re up by a lot.
While I don’t expect another return TD by Cobb necessarily, a few solid returns could seriously demoralize Carolina and squash any hopes they may have of pulling off the huge upset.
This game is an away game and the longer Carolina sticks around, the more the crowd gets into it and the harder it is for the Packers to pull out the win. So, I am hoping we start really fast (like last week) and not be afraid to be aggressive early on. That means no huddles, deep passes that stretch the field, throwing it to anyone and everyone and going for it on close-call 4th downs.
The Packers are the better team by a mile here but this is the NFL and Carolina was more competitive in their first game than many predicted. I don’t see the Packers running away with this one necessarily.