The Green Bay Packers return home to face the New England Patriots on Sunday in their first game against an AFC opponent this season. The Patriots still have head coach Bill Belichick, one of the greatest defensive minds in league history, but are expected to be without their starting quarterback, Mac Jones, who suffered a high ankle sprain last week.
The Packers are coming off a gutsy 14-12 win over the Bucs that improved their record to 2-1 while the Patriots fell to 1-2 after a 37-26 home loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
The Packers trail the all-time series between these two teams 6-5-0 in the regular season. The Packers won the only postseason meeting between the teams, beating the Patriots 35-21 in Super Bowl XXXI. New England has won three of the last four meetings between these clubs.
Here is a look at six key factors that will determine who wins Sunday’s game at Lambeau:
- Stop the Patriots Running Game
This is even more important this Sunday because the Patriots will be without their starting quarterback. The Patriots enter the game with the league’s 13th best rushing attack, averaging 115.7-yards per game on the ground.
New England features a one-two punch with Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson splitting the carries depending on the situation and the opponent they are facing. Both players are running the ball well so far this season with Harris leading the team with 160 yards and averaging 4.6-yards per carry while Stevenson averages 5.0-yards per attempt and has gained 145 yards.
The Packers defense did a good job of stopping Leonard Fournette last week against Tampa Bay but struggled to stop the Bears rushing attack in Week 2. The Packers are 18th in the NFL against the run and have allowed 113.3-yards per game.
Kenny Clark was done an outstanding job of dominating the middle of the line and he will go up against Pats center David Andrews. Quay Walker and De’Vondre Campbell did a good job against the run last week and the tackling on defense was better overall which is important to contain the New England running game.
- Make Brian Hoyer Win the Game with His Arm
Hoyer will be 37 next month and he is a solid, veteran backup quarterback who can step in and be efficient. He has started 14 games since 2017 but hasn’t won any of them. The former Michigan State star will have his hands full with the Packers defense.
The Packers did a good job of getting pressure on Tom Brady a week ago despite Brady’s ability to get rid of the ball quickly. Hoyer cannot match Brady in this department. The Packers led by Rashan Gary, Preston Smith and Clark, should be able to get pressure on the Patriots quarterback. Defensive coordinator Joe Barry has also used De’Vondre Campbell and Quay Walker occasionally on blitzes which kept Brady off balance for large segments of the game. They may do the same with Hoyer who isn’t as good at getting ball off quickly or on the same level as the future Hall of Fame quarterback.
The Patriots offensive line has allowed just five sacks in three games but Hoyer is not as mobile as Jones who is one of the more elusive quarterbacks in the league.
- Stick with the Running Game
The Packers did what they needed to do a week ago against the Bucs, running the ball 25 times despite having only limited success on the ground. Head coach Matt LaFleur will have to duplicate that game plan against New England.
The Patriots run defense is average, currently ranking 19th in the league by allowing 114.7-yards per game on the ground. Opponents are averaging a healthy 4.8-yards per rush against the Pats.
Belichick tries to take away the opponent’s top weapon and he may think the Packers running game is that strength. If so, the Pats will be geared up to stop the Packers from running.
The Packers need to keep running the football throughout this game, even if they aren’t creating chunk plays like they did against Chicago. Rodgers and LaFleur need to keep running the ball enough to set up play action passes and to keep the defense off balance. If they do that, the Packers will score enough points to win this game.
- Protect Aaron Rodgers
The Patriots recorded 10 sacks through three games and can get to the quarterback. Deatrich Wise, Jr. leads the team with four sacks followed by Matthew Judon with three.
The Packers offensive line remains in flux. David Bakhtiari returned against the Bucs and split time with Yosh Nijman. Whether Bakhtiari plays at all this week and if so, how many reps he gets remains up in the air.
Elgton Jenkins is back in the lineup but still isn’t back to pre-injury form. Royce Newman has struggled in both pass protection and run blocking while Jon Runyan, Jr. has been a solid pass blocker but average on running plays.
The Packers will have to protect Rodgers and give him enough time to work his magic against a vulnerable New England secondary. The Packers need to run the ball enough and establish a quick release passing game to set up a few shots downfield later in the game.
If Rodgers has time to throw, the Packers should be able to move the ball through the air.
- Be More Consistent On Offense
The Packers offense played well early against Tampa Bay but sputtered in the second half. They scored touchdowns on their first two drives and then lost the ball on a fumble near the goal line on the third. They were shutout for the rest of the game.
The offense needs to find its groove and be more consistent against the Patriots. Defense is Belichick’s specialty and points may not be easy to come by but the Packers need to keep playing consistently throughout this game to earn the win.
- Win the Chess Match vs. Belichick
Bill Belichick is one of the great defensive minds in the history of the NFL. Aaron Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks at recognizing defenses and changing plays at the line of scrimmage to gain an advantage. The battle between these two will be an interesting chess match between two future Hall of Famers and will be worth watching.
Because the Packers have the overall edge in talent, the pressure is more on Belichick to win this battle and gain an advantage for his team. Look for the Patriots to mix up their coverages and formations on defense throughout the game and for Rodgers to try to respond to each change.
This will be a fun battle to watch.
The Packers are certainly catching New England at the right time with Jones out of the lineup and Hoyer likely to start. The Packers defense should do the job and limit the productivity of New England’s offense. Hoyer likes to take chances and may hit on one deep pass to set up a score especially if Jaire Alexander does not play.
The Packers are the better team and are at home and Rodgers relishes the challenge of facing Belichick’s defenses.
It won’t be easy, but the Packers will score late and pull away.
Packers 27, Patriots 10
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