Packers-Redskins: 5 things to watch
Packers host Redskins in home opener
The teams: The Green Bay Packers (0-1) vs. the Washington Redskins (0-1).
The time: Noon CDT Sunday.
The place: Lambeau Field, Green Bay.
The TV coverage: FOX – WITI (Ch. 6 in Milwaukee), WMSN (Ch. 47in Madison) and WLUK (Ch. 11 in Green Bay).
The announcers: Joe Buck and Troy Aikman in booth and Pam Oliver on the sideline.
The coaches: Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy is 80-43 (including 6-4 in the postseason) in his eighth season as the Packers’ coach and as an NFL head coach. The Redskins’ Mike Shanahan is 175-132 (including 8-6 in the postseason) as an NFL head coach. He is 21-28 in his fourth year as the Redskins coach after going 146-91 as head coach of the Denver Broncos and 8-12 as head coach of the Los Angeles Raiders
The series: The Packers lead the all-time regular-season series, 17-13-1, while the teams have split two postseason matchups. The Redskins won the last meeting, on Oct. 10, 2010 at Washington.
The rankings: The Packers’ 11th-ranked offense is tied for No. 26 in rushing and No. 8 in passing. Their 31st-ranked defense is tied for No. 20 against the run and No. 30 against the pass. The Redskins’ 12th-ranked offense is No. 20 in rushing and No. 9 in passing. Their 27th-ranked defense is No. 32 against the run and No. 8 against the pass.
The line: The Packers are favored by 7 points.
The injury report:
Packers – Out: CB Casey Hayward (hamstring). Questionable: S Morgan Burnett (hamstring), LG Josh Sitton (back), CB Jarrett Bush (hamstring). Probable: TE Jermichael Finley (toe), OLB Nick Perry (neck).
Redskins – Questionable: K Kai Forbath (right groin). Probable: CB David Amerson (back), DL Chris Baker (illness), NT Barry Cofield (hand), S Brandon Meriweather (groin), RB Chris Thompson (ankle).
THE BREAKDOWN: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH
Jet fuel: If it didn’t seem like the Packers generated much pressure in the season opener against San Francisco, it was because they didn’t. Clay Matthews had the team’s lone sack, and according to Pro Football Focus, the Packers had one sack, one quarterback hit and 11 hurries against Colin Kaepernick. So why would a team with 47 sacks a year ago (fourth in the NFL) struggle? At least part of the reason was the Packers’ respect for Kaepernick’s ability to run. Not only did the Packers use Matthews as a spy frequently, but their down linemen were seldom given what the coaches call “Jet” calls, where they’re cleared for takeoff upfield. Instead, rookie first-round pick Datone Jones, who played 18 snaps in the dime defense, and the linemen spent more time dancing with their blocker to be sure they had their rush lanes covered in case Kaepernick took off. It worked, as Kaepernick finished with 22 rushing yards on seven attempts, but it slowed the rush.
While Robert Griffin III may not be back to his pre-knee injury form, and thus may not run as much as he might have if healthy, the Packers will likely take a somewhat similar pass-rushing approach against him.
“I think anytime you’re playing a mobile quarterback you’ve got to be smart about what you do. You want to get as much pressure on him as you can. But the more you start getting vertical and the more people you blitz, the more seams there are,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “The key is being able to catch a guy like this if he pulls it down and takes off running.
“I would think coming off this injury, he still ran with the ball Monday night. It was mostly scrambles. It wasn’t where they majored in the read-option, but they have that element in that they can run against it anytime and you certainly have to be prepared for it. And he’s very capable of extending plays and letting receivers uncover down the field. A big part of their offense is taking the vertical shots. They run a lot of very deep routes and if you don’t get some pressure on them, he can sit back there and launch that ball down the field.”
Ball security: Eddie Lacy should have known better. As admirable as it was that he wanted to get an extra yard or two against San Francisco last Sunday, the end result – a fumble – was avoidable.
“It’s a fine line. You get big guys who break tackles, you have to keep your legs churning and trying for extra yards. (But) we say in our room, ‘Know when the journey is over.’ Sometimes you have to pull the plug, protect the football and go down,” running backs coach Alex Van Pelt explained during the week. “Unfortunately, it cost us seven points there with the turnover, but hopefully it’s a lesson he learns throughout his career. At some point in the middle of the run you have to know, ‘OK, I’ve gotten all I’ve gotten. Now I have to get on the ground and take care of the football.'”
The Packers, meanwhile, are hoping that they can do exactly what the 49ers did to Lacy. McCarthy made forcing more fumbles an offseason emphasis, and the Packers responded by failing to force a single turnover in the opener, although cornerback Tramon Williams did drop an interception.
“I think most people in the league, if you say, ‘What do you want to do?’ We try to make the game one dimensional and when you do that, you can create more pass rush and you can get more takeaways,” Capers said. “I think if you did a study on where the takeaways come, the majority of them come when the game becomes more of a throwing game. The quarterback’s involved in a lot of them. The fumbles, if you study that, more of them happen with the quarterback than anybody else.
“Obviously the more disruptive you can be with the timing of these passing games now, then the more takeaways you get. If the game’s two-dimensional and they can run the ball on you and they keep the down and distance in their favor you don’t have as many opportunities to all out rush and probably not as many opportunities to get the ball taken away.
Safety in numbers?: Undoubtedly you’ve heard the old football saying that if you think you have two starting quarterbacks, you have none. That might be the case for the Packers at safety, too. Forced to play without Burnett last week when his hamstring, neither M.D. Jennings nor Jerron McMillian – the two young players who competed all offseason and training camp for the starting job opposite Burnett and whom the coaches said were both starters – looked deserving of such a role. With Burnett questionable, that pair could start again.
McCarthy insisted during the week that the way practice had played out before the 49ers game – Burnett practiced on Wednesday and Thursday before surprising the medical staff on Friday when he came in ailing – factored into McMillian’s and Jennings’ performances because they didn’t get enough snaps during the week. That was rectified this week, as the coaches ran all three players – plus rookie Chris Banjo – through the starting defense.
“Guys are playing different positions, particularly when we go dime. Jerron’s supposed to be the guy playing the dime but now he’s had to get back and play a safety position in that package, where he doesn’t done that,” safeties coach Darren Perry explained. “So, you’re kind of shuffling guys around they’re playing new positions. That was probably the biggest adjustment with Morgan being out, just having to make that change.
“Obviously, you want your best players out there but we don’t make excuses. We were in positions but we just didn’t make the plays. That was the bottom line. It wasn’t anything special that they did. We didn’t make any plays and we certainly allowed for some big-play opportunities through some missed tackles that we can easily correct. From that standpoint, there’s really no need to hit the panic button. It’s a matter of us going out there and executing our responsibility and not doing much and not doing more than what our job requirement asks us to do.”
Special importance: The Packers started a pair of post-kickoff possessions inside their own 10-yard line last week, but only one was the fault of returner Jeremy Ross, and that’s part of the reason why special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum is sticking with Ross on kickoff returns.
“You know, you can always do better. I felt like I could do a better job just overall on special teams, all aspects of the game. Not just the return,” Ross said this week. “(I) felt like I could have played a lot better.”
Ross was indecisive on the first return, and a penalty added to the mistake. On the second return, after the 49ers reclaimed the lead at 31-28, Ross was victimized by atrocious blocking on the return unit, which put the offense in a hole at its own 9-yard line.
“I thought our production in the return game was nowhere (close) to where it needed to be in the kickoff return game. We had opportunities and we didn’t get it done. Our blocking was poor,” Slocum said. “We gave our offense two series starting inside the 10-yard line. That’s totally unacceptable. Our punt return, we had an explosive return with Randall and Jeremy had a solid return and could’ve broken it even longer.”
For that reason, Ross will get the call again on kickoffs and he and Cobb will split punt returns.
“I think, as I told you guys all along, where we are with Randall and Jeremy with punt return, I think we’re in a good spot. Micah Hyde is also a good catcher. Right now we’re not using him there but he’s ready to go if we need him,” Slocum said. “From a kickoff return standpoint, I just foresee Jeremy continuing to do it. I thought in the game the other day that he made one poor response, actually, not necessarily decision. He hesitated prior to coming out, he shouldn’t have done that. The last kickoff, he came out and the spacing was right and he was right. We did a poor job blocking for him.”
Line items: With Sitton returning to practice, the Packers’ offensive line will likely be intact. But if the Pro Bowl left guard’s back seizes up on him again and he’s a no-go for the game, his appearance on the injury report raised a worthwhile question: What exactly would the Packers do with their line if Sitton sat?
Marshall Newhouse is the answer.
Newhouse started 28 games over the past two seasons (including playoffs) at left tackle – Packers’ record in those games: 22-6 – but is now the offensive line’s sixth man. When Bryan Bulaga suffered a season-ending knee injury during the Aug. 3 Family Night Scrimmage, it was rookie fourth-round pick David Bakhtiari, and not Newhouse, who got the call from coach Mike McCarthy.
Newhouse continued to compete for the starting right tackle job, which he then ended up losing to Don Barclay. McCarthy has told Newhouse that he’s a starter in his book, if that’s any consolation. And if Sitton can’t play, Newhouse will be first off the bench, McCarthy said.
“Obviously, Marshall Newhouse will play. How that works out, that’s what practice is for and that’s what the week is for,” McCarthy said at midweek.
Presumably, Newhouse would come in at right tackle, since he hasn’t had any guard reps in practice since 2011. Barclay would then move to guard. But would he shift to right guard – since he spent all summer on the right side – and thus shift T.J. Lang from right guard back to the left guard spot he used to play before the offseason shuffle? Or would Barclay go to left guard, allowing Lang to stay put?
Offensive line coach James Campen wasn’t willing to divulge such contingencies on Thursday after practice, but it sounds like Barclay would move to left guard.
“You know, you want to play your best guys all the time, and the ones that you think are the most ready,” Campen said. “I understand your question is like, ‘Why don’t you guys just take maybe Greg (Van Roten) or Lane (Taylor) and put them in there?’ You know you have to look at things like experience. We did spend a lot of time moving Donny tackle-guard-center in camp, so I don’t think that’s an issue. Marshall’s played both sides. T.J. and Marshall, you have to look at it that way too, they’ve played a whole two years on the left side together, now on the right, so in this instance, I don’t think it’s an issue. But I can see your point.”
There is no such thing as a must-win in Week 2, no matter how much longer the odds are for 0-2 teams to make the playoffs as compared to 1-1 teams. Nevertheless, digging out of an 0-2 hole with a trip to Cincinnati up next would be daunting. The Packers are an impressive 26-2 at Lambeau Field in regular-season play since Week 10 of the 2009 season, and that .929 winning percentage is tops in the NFL over that span. Expect them to be 1-1 and 27-2 by 3 o’clock or so. Packers 28, Redskins 17. (Season record: 1-0)
– Jason Wilde
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