The Indianapolis Colts (3-5) will face the Green Bay Packers (4-3) this Sunday at Lambeau Field, and it will be a tough matchup for a Colts team desperate for a victory.
To find out more about the Packers this year, we asked five questions to Acme Packing Company’s Jason B. Hirschhorn about the Packers and this Sunday’s matchup. Our questions are in bold, and Jason’s answers follow. And a big thanks to Jason for taking the time to answer our questions!
1. There has been a lot of talk about Aaron Rodgers and his play this year, but what's the reality? How has he been doing, and what's the reason(s) for any dropoff?
Rodgers' through all but one half of the Packers first five games looked little the MVP-winning quarterback who dominated the league from 2009 through 2014. He consistently missed targets in the flats and over the middle -- the football equivalent of layups -- in key games against the Minnesota Vikings and Dallas Cowboys. He also seemed unwilling to attempt passes into the tight windows he often exploited earlier in his career.
However, adjustments made by head coach Mike McCarthy and the Packers' coaching staff along with improved play from Rodgers has begun to change that narrative over the past two weeks. With no true running back to serve as a backfield workhorse, the offense has shifted towards a more-open passing attack. Additionally, the personnel groupings and formations have become more varied, with McCarthy mixing in motion to create more mismatches with the defense.
With those new advantages, Rodgers played his best game of the season against the Falcons. Rather than breaking the play design on seemingly every other passing play, Rodgers stayed calm in the pocket when reasonable and hit receivers in stride and down the field for a more effective approach.
While Green Bay certainly welcomes the development, it remains too early to say whether Rodgers and the offense have fully righted the ship. A strong performance against a weak Indianapolis defense represents a solid next step though.
2. Without Eddie Lacy, how does the Packers run game (and offense overall) look? What should we expect from the offensive approach on Sunday?
As mentioned above, the offense has shifted towards the pass and more receivers on the field in a manner not seen in Green Bay in many years. In 2014, the Packers never used true five-wide formations (occasionally a running back would motion out of the backfield before the snap, but that doesn't reflect the true pre-snap alignment). This year, they have already used five-wide over 30 times with more such looks likely to appear in the future.
As for the ground game, the Packers seem content to use a rotation of versatile wideout Ty Montgomery, fullback Aaron Ripkowski, and undrafted rookie Don Jackson. That could change somewhat if James Starks returns to the fold, but until then don't expect anything approaching a ground-and-pound attack from Green Bay.
3. Defensively, how do the Packers stack up? What players in particular should Colts fans know about?
By all appearances, this year's defense ranks as the Packers' best since their 2010 Super Bowl run. The run defense has held opponents to among the lowest per-carry rates in the entire league while the pass rush has little trouble generating pressure when healthy. Fifth-year edge rusher Nick Perry has enjoyed a career year, leading the team in sacks, pressures, and also contributing greatly against the run. On the other side, Clay Matthews hasn't quite performed up to his All-Pro status, but when healthy he remains problematic for offensive lines.
The biggest issue through eight weeks has been the secondary, which has seen each of its top-3 corners succumb to injury. At least two -- Sam Shields and Damarious Randall -- will miss Sunday's game against the Colts, and Quinten Rollins could join them depending on how his groin injury progresses. Without them, Green Bay relies heavily on second-year man LaDarius Gunter and veteran Micah Hyde, neither of which possess great speed. That could mean a big day for Indianapolis wideout T.Y. Hilton.
4. What have been the thoughts of Packers fans about how this season has gone for the team through the first half of the year?
To the best of my ability to judge such things, most appear at least somewhat frustrated with the team as the season nears the midway point. While the defense has improved, the offense has not yet fully reclaimed its the explosive nature seen as recently as 2014. A loud minority hope the team makes significant changes to its front office and/or coaching staff -- the former should not happen and the latter appears unlikely barring a late-season nosedive -- while others simply want to see McCarthy more quickly adapt to his roster's strengths and limitations.
5. Knowing what you do of the Packers, how would you attack them if you were the Colts' offensive and defensive coordinator?
With the running game effectively nonexistent, Packers opponents have had success limiting their number of blitzes and leaving more of their defenders in coverage. Doing so forces Rodgers to either throw receivers open or take very limited gains that ultimately bog down the flow of offense. While Rodgers can exploit this approach with his legs on occasion, he cannot do so every time, leading to more stalled drives and punts.
On the other side of the ball, Andrew Luck should look even more towards Hilton and his tight ends than he already does. Hilton's speed should cause numerous issues for Green Bay's banged up secondary while its young linebackers have yet to master coverage over the middle. Better still, focusing on shorter throws over the middle limits the number of times Luck has to absorb hits behind Indy's O-line.