Well the Packers second preseason game against the Rams is almost here and Packernation looks forward to watching their team play a dry game this time. The Rams will be a serious test for the Pack when starters meet starters. This is a team that has not made the playoffs since 2004, right about the time the balance of power shifted to the Seahawks. Now with the 49’ers also recently winning in the playoffs, the Rams have all but drifted into the Mississippi and floated away into the gulf of Mexico to NFL fans. But this is a good team with 53 sacks, 14 interceptions and 21 forced fumbles last season.
This team gets pressure and will give the Packers O-line a chance to show their mettle. At the same time, we will perhaps see a glimpse of a new focus for offense. Now, we know that teams are not going to show their hand in the preseason, but we could see some shorter passes and throwing over pressure in this game which is how Green Bay will need to manage the pressure (along with, of course, a strong running game) of the St. Louis defensive line.
While I am VERY excited to see Aaron Rodgers in action for the first time in the preseason, there is another thing I will be focusing on while the ones are on the field because I think it is the key to winning the NFC North. I will be watching for the Packers to pressure the quarterback. Pressure is the key to the North this year.
Can the defense get pressure on opposing quarterbacks?
The answer to the question “Which team will win the NFC North?” comes down to that one word…pressure. The North will always have excellent quarterback play, the best in the NFL. Only the Vikings have ANY question whatsoever about who their starter will be and the quarterbacks the Packers face twice apiece can make all the throws and have great receivers too.
What team will get the most pressure on the quarterback? The Packers defense was a liability last season and when Clay Matthews was sidelined with injury, there was little pressure to speak of. Give quarterbacks in the North time and they will find receivers. The Packers got safety help in Ha Ha Clinton Dix and a veteran pass rushing presence in Julius Peppers. The dark horse here is how several other players will play this season. Will BJ Raji again be a force up the middle? Will Mike Daniels bring a new attitude to the Pack? Will Datone Jones take a step forward? Will the inside linebackers improve? I think the answer to that group of questions will be the missing factor in the pressure equation for the Packers this year. That is why I am excited to see them play tomorrow. I think a healthy Packers defense would have been much better without Julius and Ha Ha, with them, I think this defense could be special. In terms of pressure, the Packers have not stood pat and that is important in the NFC North where the Bears and Lions will always be on the hunt for Aaron Rodgers.
Can the Offense handle the pressure from other teams?
First, if the Offensive line can stay healthy, they will be key to handling the pressure of opposing teams, and especially in the North, that is critical. Even minus Barclay, the Packers O-line looks deeper and more experienced with Tretter looking to lock up the center position.
Second, there have been ripples that the Packers offense has undergone some subtle changes. These changes are more than just verbiage as McCarthy has talked about getting more plays out of the offense this season. This means more than just a tempo change. With Eddie Lacy’s ability to catch out of the backfield, I look to see more swing passes and throwing over pressure this season than we have seen in the past. We can run at pressure, we can throw quick outs and slants over pressure, and then when the defense starts to cheat down…the shot play will be successful.
The beginning that gives us a glimpse of the end
I think the Packers have done enough in retooling the defense and hopefully bring a new attitude out on the field with them this season. I also think some subtle tweaks in the offense set the Packers up to handle some difficult pressure packages this year. And I truly believe that pressure is the key to winning the North. The Packers don’t have to suddenly get 3-4 sacks a game, but they do need to improve the pressure, get sacks, and when they don’t get sacks, force errant throws that our DB’s can pick off. Tomorrow’s game will be a chance to see if we are heading in the right direction.