Thursday, November 21, 2013

Green Bay Packers: How to Win Without Aaron Rodgers

Mike McCarthy, Scott Tolzien This will be the third week that the Packers are without starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers. This week, the Packers face their long-time divisional rival, the Minnesota Vikings. Since the NFC North is about as tight a division as can be, the Packers need a win to still be competitive to win the division over the Detroit Lions and the Chicago Bears, both of whom are currently 6-5 going into this week’s games. It would help the Packers immensely to not only get another “W”, but to get a win from a divisional game.

However, it’s no coincidence that the Packers have gone 0-3 since Rodgers went down on the first play against the Chicago Bears, and was diagnosed with a broken collarbone. Since then, the Green Bay offense has predictably sputtered, along with the defense, which, without the presence of their star quarterback, needs to step-up in order for the Packers to remain competitive. Since Rodgers got injured, the Packers have had two back-up quarterbacks start in his place. First, it was veteran QB Seneca Wallace, who hadn’t played a single practice snap in the regular season; he took over for Rodgers in the game he went down, ending in a loss to the Bears. Wallace then started again in the next week, and was injured on the first play from scrimmage against the Philadelphia Eagles, ending up on season-ending IR. He was replaced by now starting quarterback Scott Tolzien, a guy nobody had heard of when he had taken the field. Tolzien showed himself to be competent, though, he didn’t have much of a chance to prove himself in that game, as the Eagles ate up the last 9:32 of game time. It’s not a good sign when Chip Kelly’s fast-paced offense runs out 9:32 of clock, which is a fault more attributed to the defense rather than to Tolzien’s performance under center.

The main thing that the Packers need to concentrate on to win is for Tolzien to step up in the passing game. In his two starting games, he’s thrown five interceptions (Rodgers has 4 total on the season). Two of them were particularly egregious, as one occurred in the end-zone against Philadelphia, and the other was returned for a touchdown by Jason Pierre-Paul last week against the Giants. Tolzien needs to cut down on the turnovers, and provide a stable passing attack. Not just so that the Packers can make it up the field efficiently, but also to give room for their ground-game. Eddie Lacy has been an absolute horse the last few weeks, averaging over 23 touches on the ground per game. He’s the first stable running back the Packers have had in years, and if they have any chance of winning, especially against a particularly weak Vikings run-defense, the Packers will have to establish a reliable passing game to take the attention away from Lacy and give him room to run. That means for Tolzien to accept taking a sack, or throwing the ball away.

The Vikings are a particularly weak team in the NFC, and in the NFC North division. The Packers should come away with the win, but they need Eddie Lacy to establish an authoritative ground game to do so. Otherwise, the Packers can kiss the playoff hunt goodbye.

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