The teams: The Green Bay Packers (2-2) vs. the Indianapolis Colts (1-2).
The time: Noon CDT Sunday.
The place: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis.
The TV coverage: WITI (Ch. 6 in Milwaukee), WMSN (Ch. 47 in Madison) and WLUK (Ch. 11 in Green Bay).
The announcers: Thom Brennaman and Brian Billick, with Laura Okmin reporting from the sidelines.
The coaches: Green Bay's Mike McCarthy is 70-38 (including 5-3 in the postseason) in his seventh season as the Packers' coach and as an NFL head coach. Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who has spent 20 years as an NFL assistant, will be serving as interim head coach in the wake of head coach Chuck Pagano’s leukemia diagnosis.
The series: The all-time regular-season series is tied, 20-20-1, and the teams have split the past six regular-season meetings. The Packers are 0-3 all-time in Indianapolis.
The rankings: The Packers’ 20th-ranked offense is No. 25 in rushing and No. 15 in passing. Their ninth-ranked defense is No. 18 against the run and No. 6 against the pass. The Colts’ 17th-ranked offense is No. 21 in rushing and No. 12 in passing. Their 18th-ranked defense is No. 23 against the run and No. 15 against the pass.
The line: The Packers are favored by 7 points.
The injury report:
Out – S Sean Richardson (hamstring), WR Greg Jennings (groin).
Questionable – CB Davon House (shoulder).
Probable – DT Ryan Pickett (shoulder), S M.D. Jennings (neck).
Out – LB Pat Angerer (foot), CB Vontae Davis (ankle), CB Justin King (groin), G Seth Olsen (knee), G Joe Reitz (knee).
Questionable – TE Coby Fleener (head), RB Mewelde Moore (ankle), C Samson Satele (knee), LB Dwight Freeney (ankle).
Probable – LB Robert Mathis (ankle).
THE BREAKDOWN: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH
Making his point(s): While McCarthy was encouraged by last week’s 28-point output against New Orleans, the coach wasn’t pleased, either. Accustomed to a juggernaut that averaged 35 points per game last season and looked downright unstoppable for most of the year, McCarthy hasn’t seen that from this year’s group yet, even though scoring four touchdowns in five red-zone possessions – with the one failure being backup quarterback Graham Harrell’s comedy-of-errors fumble at the 1-yard line – was pretty impressive last week. Nonetheless, McCarthy wants more, and he made that clear on Friday.
“Offensively, the No. 1 objective is scoring points. We’re not scoring enough points,” McCarthy said matter-of-factly. “Obviously, there (are) the factors and the characteristics of how we operate need to improve. But our number one focus is on point production.”
One encouraging sign was that NFL MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers looked more like himself against New Orleans, throwing for 319 yards and four touchdowns, but the fact that the Saints came in with the NFL’s worst-ranked pass defense cannot be completely ignored.
“(We’re) heading in the right direction, definitely,” Rodgers said. “We’ve put together a few quarters of better football. We’re still not playing exactly the way we want to. We’re a team that’s built a reputation of being very efficient, not turning the football over, being good in situation offense. We did better at that (against New Orleans). We were 4 for 5 in the red zone, could easily have been 5 for 5. (We were) 4 for 8 on third down. We had great production on first and second down, 50 percent on third down is good. So we’re moving in the right direction. We just have to eliminate the turnovers and cash in in the red zone when we got those opportunities.”
So are the Packers back in the groove?
“Let’s stack a couple in a row first before we say that. We put together a pretty good game, still not quite exactly where we want to be,” Rodgers said. “Obviously you’re always searching for that perfect game. The first three were pretty far off. Last week was a little closer. We can’t turn the ball over like we did. I think we can finish some of those drives off there in the second half. But we’re happy. We had a fourth-quarter drive score which was important. This is going to be the start of a very important stretch for us. We have to learn to win on the road and we have three in a row here.”
No such Luck: The Packers have already faced one rookie quarterback in Seattle’s Russell Wilson, and while the ending was controversial and Wilson’s most important task for much of the game was to hand the ball off to Marshawn Lynch, the fact is the rookie third-round pick from the University of Wisconsin got the ‘W.’ Now, the Packers will take their shot at another rookie signal-caller in the Colts’ Andrew Luck, and the offensive approach is vastly different with the NFL’s No. 1 overall pick: He is the franchise.
Despite his pedigree, Luck is still very much in the learning phase – in fact, the Packers’ defense will be the first 3-4 scheme he has seen in a regular-season NFL game – and has had moments where he has certainly looked like a rookie. That said, Arians has been impressed with how quickly he has carried his collegiate success at Stanford over to the pro game.
“I’m very pleased where he’s at. If we can get the other 10 guys on offense up to his speed, we’ll be in good shape,” Arians said of Luck, who engineered a game-winning field-goal drive in the waning seconds of the team’s Week 2 victory over Minnesota. “The injuries up front have cost us a little bit of continuity, but his progression has been outstanding, especially in situational football. He’s played extremely well in 2-minute and on third down for us as a rookie. He’s got a good command of what we’re trying to do and he understands the game. He’d like to have a throw or two back, but we all do, even when you’re eight and 10 year veterans, you’d like to have one back every now and then. But I’m really, really pleased where he’s at.”
It’s up to the Packers defense to deliver a setback in that development. Before Wilson escaped unscathed two weeks ago, Packers veteran safety/cornerback Charles Woodson had feasted on rookie QBs, posting eight interceptions in eight games. Just ask Cam Newton, the Carolina Panthers’ 2011 No. 1 overall pick, and Minnesota’s Christian Ponder, another 2011 first-round pick, how effective Woodson is at baiting young QBs into mistakes.
The Packers defense as a whole under defensive coordinator Dom Capers has been similarly effective against young QBs, as Capers has mixed unexpected blitzes in with three-man rushes and flooding passing zones with dropping defenders to keep them off-balance. Whether he can do the same to Luck will go a long way toward deciding the outcome.