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Packers can't overlook Chargers
Each week, John Lynch breaks down a dynamic NFL offensive playmaker, devises a game plan and discusses a strategy for success. This week, Lynch examines how he would defend against Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers.
The Green Bay Packers are the only undefeated team left in the NFL and are coming off a bye week, while the San Diego Chargers are coming off a rather, uh, horrible loss to Kansas City on Monday night.
Mismatch, right? I wouldn’t be so sure. My assignment this week is game-planning for Green Bay’s defense vs. the San Diego offense and struggling quarterback Philip Rivers.
Let’s start with the Packers’ bye week. Ever since Mike McCarthy has been the coach, they’ve finished seasons pretty well after bye weeks, with a 30-19 composite record. You’re getting to the point in the season where teams are getting banged up, so a week off really can help — veteran teams more than anybody else.
Veterans know how to handle it. But with the new collective bargaining agreement, guys get four consecutive days off now. I don’t necessarily think that’s a good thing. On teams I played on, coaches would split it up two days here and two days there. Players have a tendency to get into a lot of stuff if they are away from football for four straight days. I was always amazed, in my 15 years in the league, that when players get away from football for even a couple of days, it really can disrupt the rhythm and flow of your team.
Also, what teams tend to do in bye weeks is self-scout themselves. The Packers are 7-0 and some people are starting to wonder whether this team can go 16-0, but they’ll be looking hard at making improvements on defense. The Packers are giving up more yards than all but four teams in the league. And while yards can be an overrated statistic, the Packers have given up 36 plays of 20-plus yards or more.
The Packers remind me of the New England team that went 16-0 in 2007. They have a very similar team with an explosive offense like the Patriots had. However, I don’t think the Packers will go unbeaten, because I know how hard it is to win every game.
Green Bay’s defense has been opportunistic, especially cornerback Charles Woodson, who leads the league in takeaways (six). He always seems to be in the right place at the right time. So, while teams are able to move the ball on the Packers, they’ve managed to avoid disastrous results. At some point, however, giving up big plays the way they have is going to bite them. A defense can take that only so far, and if they continue to give up big chunks of yardage, it’s going to catch up with them.
If this defense is going to take the next step, it has to look for ways to stay aggressive and still be able to stop the big plays. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers has an aggressive style anyway. The Packers can do that because they know they are going to score a lot of points with Aaron Rodgers and that offense. With big risks come big rewards. Big plays against you are going to happen, and while you want to play complementary football with an offense like the Packers have, there is a way to do both.
The Packers will need to do both, because you just know the Chargers are going to be ticked off after losing two straight, especially having the game against the Chiefs literally slip through Rivers’ hands Monday night.
Rivers is one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL but has been struggling. I’m actually prepping for the New Orleans-Tampa Bay game that I’m doing on FOX this week, and the one thing that surprised me a little is that the three quarterbacks with the most interceptions this season are Rivers (11), Drew Brees (10) and Josh Freeman (10). All three are top-flight quarterbacks. I’m not sure what’s going on with them. Could it be the lack of time they spent with teammates before the season because of the lockout?
It’s a little misleading with Brees and Rivers because those guys throw a lot. But it’s still uncharacteristic because those guys usually have the ability to make big plays and stay away from bad decisions.
With so much emphasis placed on getting the ball downfield this season, however, they are susceptible. I see a lot of defenses attacking more and taking more chances, because turnovers have become so valuable. It’s a combination of those two things.
Penalties were another area that killed the Chargers against the Chiefs. The Chargers were penalized 12 times for 105 yards. That can get you beat. But it’s not the only thing. It’s also penalties and turnovers, especially turnovers in the red zone. The Chargers do a lot of things well, but if they want to be a championship team, they are going to have to clean things up.
It’s got to be extremely disappointing for the Chargers, who have that “always start slow” label. The Chargers should have been running away with the AFC West. They brought in Bob Sanders for his ability and, probably more important, his toughness, but then he got injured. That was devastating. I know he wasn’t as productive as he had been in the past, but they brought him in to give this team an edge. I also know people are going to say it’s the coach, Norv Turner. Stop it. It’s time for the leaders of that team to step up. The leaders have to be held accountable and hold their teammates accountable.
I expect the Packers to get the Chargers’ best shot, especially in light of what transpired Monday. Green Bay needs to be on point. Rivers is going to want to prove something, particularly because he’s had such a big hand in the past two losses.
If the Packers don’t prepare for that charge, there won’t be any undefeated teams left in the NFL.