After the Patriots traveled to Buffalo to duel with the Bills on Monday Night football, they now return home for their week 9 matchup with the Green Bay Packers on Sunday Night Football.
It wasn’t all fun and games in Buffalo however, as for much of the night the offense was kept in check. The 25-6 score may seem like the game was not close, but in reality the Bills were only down 12-6 entering the 4th quarter. The stingy Bills defense forced the Patriots to kick 4 field goals and only allowed one touchdown against the high caliber Patriots offense. A major part of the offensive struggle came on third downs, as the Patriots converted only 5 of their 14 total third down plays.
The Pats offense is going to have to be much more efficient overall to match that of the explosive Packers. Let’s take a look at what the Packers provide on both sides of the ball:
The Packers offense, and franchise to be exact, is led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The once-in-a-generation talent has had his fair share of praise, as some put his name in the same category as Tom Brady, Joe Montana, and Peyton Manning. Since joining the league in 2008, Rodgers has put up 40,785 yards, 326 touchdowns, and 79 interceptions. His 4:1 touchdown to interception ratio is the best for any quarterback in NFL history. He is also a 6-time pro bowler, 2-time MVP, and a Super Bowl MVP. Many experts and analysts have said that Rodgers has the best arm talent and play making ability that anyone has ever seen. His ability to escape the pocket with his mobility combined with his strong arm and down field vision can cause defenses headaches after headaches. Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are the two best quarterbacks in the NFL right now, and this will be only the second time these greats face off head to head.
At running back, the Packers deploy Aaron Jones. The second year player was drafted in the 5th round in the 2017 NFL Draft out of Utah. In his rookie season, Jones had 448 yards and 4 touchdowns on only 81 rushing attempts. This season, Jones is averaging 6.2 yards per carry which is one of the top averages in the NFL. So far this season he has 274 yards and 2 touchdowns on 44 carries. Jones has great speed and vision which allows him to hit the hole quickly and gain positive yards. Jones missed the first 2 games of the season after he was suspended for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Jones is a young, thrilling player that can slash through a defense.
The Packers have a great arsenal of receivers for Rodgers to work with in Davante Adams and Randall Cobb. Adams is the team’s number one receiving option and is seen as the go-to guy for Rodgers. His smooth footwork and great break off of the line of scrimmage allows him to create seperation from defenders and run fluent routes. Since being drafted by the Packers in 2014, Adams has accumulated 289 receptions for 3,500 yards and 32 touchdowns. The Rodgers-to-Adams connection is developing into one of the best duo’s in the league, as Rodgers often looks to Adams when the team needs a big play. Davante Adams told reporters he “doesn’t feel like anyone can guard him” earlier in the week. Hopefully Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore will use this quote as added motivation Sunday as he will most likely trailing Adams all game long.
Randall Cobb is a talented receiver and a great second option for Aaron Rodgers. Cobb has been a member since 2011 and has put up enticing numbers throughout his career. He had a breakout 2014 campaign when he caught 91 passes for 1287 yards and 12 touchdowns. These stats allowed him to be chosen for the Pro Bowl that year. Cobb’s numbers are down this season due to injuries, but he should be a go for Sunday night and his presence on the field should never be ignored.
At tight end, the Packers have Jimmy Graham. Graham signed a 3-year, $30 million contract over this past offseason to join Green Bay. He spent his first 8 seasons as a member of the Saints and the Seahawks. During his tenure with the Saints, Graham was regarded as one of the best tight ends in football. He made the Pro Bowl in three out of five seasons with the Saints and put up at least 85 receptions, 800 yards, and 9 touchdowns in four straight seasons. He was then traded to the Seahawks in 2015 and his production declined. He did sneak into two Pro Bowls during his time with the Seahawks, but never amounted to what he was in New Orleans. Since joining the Packers he’s been a big disappointment, as he has 28 receptions for 370 yards and one touchdown. The stats aren’t bad, but the team was hoping to get more out of their new tight end after paying him big money. Graham isn’t what he once was, but his 6’7 frame still causes lots of mismatches, especially in the red zone.
On the offensive line, the Packers obtain elite talent at both tackle positions in Bryan Bulaga and David Bakhtiari. Bulaga has been the right tackle for the Packers since 2010. He was drafted 23rd overall in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft. He won Big-10 Offensive Lineman of the year in his final year at Iowa. He obtains good lateral quickness to cut off and secure defenders away from the play and has smooth footwork in pass protection. Bakhtiari has been the starting left tackle for the Packers since 2013. He was drafted in the 4th round of the 2013 NFL Draft and has been an consistent player over his career as he has has missed 6 games throughout his time in the NFL. He earned a Pro Bowl appearance in 2016 as well, so Bakhtiari’s skillset is no secret. The duo of Bryan Bulaga and David Bakhtiari makes it difficult for teams to get after Aaron Rodgers, and the Patriots defensive line will be up for quite the test when Sunday Night rolls around.
The defensive line for the Packers is led by defensive end Mike Daniels and defensive tackle Kenny Clark. Daniels has been on the Packers since 2012 and has been a productive player ever since. He is very reliable as well, as he has only missed 4 games throughout his 7 year career. Daniels excelled last season with 5 sacks, 49 tackles, a forced fumble, and 14 quarterback hits. These stats were great enough to earn Daniels his first Pro Bowl appearance. Clark has been a member of the Packers since being drafted by them in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Clark only started two games in his rookie year, but then started in 15 games during his second year in the league and had 4.5 sacks. Throughout 7 games this year Clark is at 4 sacks, and he is destined to break his career record this season if he doesn’t get injured. Clark is a young, talented player who is improving year by year.
The linebacking core for Green Bay consists of Clay Matthews, Blake Martinez, and Nick Perry. Matthews is enduring his 10th season as a Packer after being drafted by the team in 2009. After 6 Pro Bowls, All-Pro honors, a Super Bowl win, and over 82 sacks he is still getting the job done sunda after sunday. Matthews has a knack for getting after the quarterback and disrupting the backfield. It will be key to see how the Patriots adapt to Matthews with an injured offensive line.
Martinez was drafted by the Packers in the 4th round of the 2016 NFL Draft and has been a crucial part of Green Bay’s defense ever since. He had a breakout 2017 season where he totaled 142 tackles, which tied for second in the entire league. Martinez obtains the speed to go sideline to sideline and keep up with any linebacker.
Perry has been apart of the Packers since 2012, the same year he was drafted by the team. Last season, Perry only amounted 38 total tackles in 12 games but had 7 sacks to make up for it. Perry, like Clay Matthews, excels at getting after the quarterback. He broke out in 2016 with 11 sacks, and over the last 2 seasons he has 30 quarterback hits. Tom Brady is going to have to get the ball out of his hands quickly and efficiently in order to avoid the talented pass rush the Packers display.
The secondary for the Packers is headlined by Kevin King, Jaire Alexander, and Tramon Williams. King was drafted by the Packers last year in the second round. His 6’3 frame allows him to matchup with bigger receivers and high point the ball over smaller receivers. Throughout this season he has 15 combined tackled, 2 bass breakups and an interception.
Alexander is an exceptional rookie who has made his name known throughout the league. Drafted in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, it’s more likely than not that had Alexander slipped to the 23rd pick the Patriots would have selected him. Alexander is even receiving major praise from Patriots head coach Bill Belichick; “This guy is a really good football player, and I think he’s got a great future in the league. I think he’ll become one of the top corners in the game for quite a while here.” It’s not everyday where Belichick gives that kind of praise to a player, let alone a rookie.
Williams usually plays cornerback, but with the recent trade that sent former starting safety HaHa Clinton-Dix to the Washington Redskins he may have to change positions. This statement came from The Fan 107.5, which is the sports radio show in Green Bay. Williams will transition to a position he played in the past. He started at least two games at safety with the Browns in 2016 and said he’ll have no issues making the transition again. It won’t be easy for Williams on Sunday Night however, as his first game back at safety will be against a long overdue and angry Rob Gronkowski. Gronk hasn’t been as affective this season as he has been in years prior, but it’s only a matter of time until Gronk has a breakout game.
This Sunday Night showdown between the leagues top-2 quarterbacks will be a game that fans will remember for a long time. This may be the last time these two greats face off against each other, so lets hope Brady has the last laugh. It will be key to see how much Sony Michel is used on sunday after missing a week with a knee injury. If Sony runs like has been all season and Brady is in sync with his offense, than there is no reason why the Patriots can’t match the Packers in points drive after drive. The game may be a shootout that ends in the winner being the team with the ball last. Keeping Rodgers in the pocket and sending consistent pressure will be key on defense for the Pats, as forcing turnovers will be a major help in taming the Packers offense.
-Adam Pasquale, Jr. is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @adampasqualejr