Jason Wilde breaks down three keys for the Green Bay Packers when they host the Carolina Panthers on Sunday afternoon at Lambeau Field in Green Bay.
1. BOUNCING BACK
On Monday, in the wake of their pathetic performance against the Los Angeles Chargers, Aaron Rodgers (above) called up every Green Bay Packers player into a post-workout. Following the team’s 26-11 loss to the Chargers, Rodgers had sharply criticized the team’s readiness and focus entering the game, which he felt contributed to the poor showing.
“It was important for us to be very critical. I don’t think it helps to just brush it under the rug,” Rodgers explained. “I think it’s important to correct the correctable things and then move forward positively and learn from the mistakes and set your eyes on the next performance.”
In an effort to move forward “positively,” as Rodgers put it, the quarterback gathered everyone together with a message: “Let’s get back to being us.” Translation? Going forward, and starting with Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers, play the way you did during that 7-1 start, not the way you did against the Chargers. How the Packers come out of the home tunnel and perform early on in this game will show whether that message got through.
“(As) ‘12’ talked about, it’s about us coming back and being us. The energy wasn’t there, just the whole vibe wasn’t been there,” defensive captain Za’Darius Smith said. “(He said), ‘We just need to continue to do what we do, have fun, we can’t let this loss get to us.’ It was a loss for us that a lot of people outside of football felt like we needed because we went 7-1. I’m glad that happened then instead of on down the road when they really count.
“We came in Wednesday and we had a new mindset of, just be us, continue to have fun and continue to know the person beside you has got your back.”
Added veteran tight end Jimmy Graham: “You can tell a lot about the character of a team obviously by the way they respond to a loss. Obviously last week was pretty disappointing, but guys seemed really locked in this week and really about the game plan and playing with everything they’ve got. We’re going to find out just what kind of team we have in this game.”
Early in his career, Rodgers loved the chess match he and Chicago Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher would engage in before the ball was snapped. Rodgers would read the defensive alignment, make an adjustment to the offensive play call, Urlacher would recognize Rodgers’ check and make a defensive adjustment, and ‘round and ‘round they went.
Expect a similar matching of wits between Rodgers and Panthers inside linebacker Luke Kuechly (above) in this game.
“Just going back to my experience going against Luke when we were in Atlanta twice a year, he is on top of everything,” said Packers coach Matt LaFleur, who was the quarterbacks coach for one of the Panthers’ NFC South rivals, the Atlanta Falcons, in 2015 and ’16. “He’s got a pretty good feel in terms of when you check to a play, what’s coming. And so that is a chess match, and when you get two of the best at their positions that are able to do that, it’s fun to watch. It’s not always fun to play against, but it is fun for the fans and for everybody else to watch and see how that works itself out during the course of the game.”
According to Rodgers, it’s clear Kuechly takes note of all the little details other defensive players might miss when watching film of opponents.
“He’s a talented player, and I’m sure he studies the TV copies for calls and checks and audibles,” Rodgers said. “You’ve got to be smart about what colors are live, what colors are dummy colors and same with your calls and your code words. He’s been doing it for a while at a high level and been an all-pro. He’s an impact player in both the run game and covering guys. He can do it all. And he does remind you of Brian and the way that he can be so versatile against the run and against the pass.”
Added Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett: “The more that he plays, the more knowledge he gains, and knowledge is power. I remember when he was at Boston College when we were at Syracuse. He was doing a lot of the same stuff. He’s just continually gotten better.”
3. SLIP SLIDIN' AWAY
After back-to-back road games at Kansas City and Los Angeles, it might’ve slipped — pun very much intended — some folks’ minds how many issues the Packers and their opponents had with the apparently slippery track that Lambeau Field was for the team’s Oct. 14 prime-time win over Detroit and the team’s Oct. 20 win over Oakland in a game that started at noon. Considering each game was played at a different time of day, there was no rhyme or reason to why slipping was such an issue in both games.
Presumably, the Packers should be at an advantage since it’s their home field, but they slipped as much as the Lions and Raiders players did — most notably, rookie wide receiver Darrius Shepherd (above) having his feet go out from under him on an out route near the goal line, causing Rodgers’ pass to hit him in the facemask and carom into the hands of a Lions defender for an interception.
Asked after those two games what was amiss, LaFleur replied, “The grass has been slick out here, but we’ll just keep continuing to try to get the right shoes on. Our guys have to be mindful of that as well. That’s why when they go out there in warmups, they have to see how their footing is. Sometimes you have to alter the way you play the game. Some of it is adjusting and trying on different cleats and some of it’s just understanding that, sometimes you’ve got to adjust your game a little bit in terms of if you’ve got a slick surface.”
On Friday, LaFleur said it’ll still be a trial-and-error process before the game, with the weather forecast calling for cloudy skies and a 20 percent chance of precipitation with a high of 35 degrees and a low of 20.
“It’s not like we’re practicing in Lambeau,” LaFleur said of testing various cleats during the week. “... So that’s something that the guys are going to have to adjust to in the pregame and get a feel for.”
Jason Wilde covers the Packers for ESPN Wisconsin. Listen to him with former Packers and Badgers offensive lineman Mark Tauscher weekdays from 9 a.m. until noon on “Wilde & Tausch” on 100.5 FM ESPN Madison.