Each Tuesday, Press-Gazette Media will turn to the week ahead with three storylines for the Green Bay Packers’ next game. This week, the opponent is the Carolina Panthers. Here’s a glimpse of what to watch for when the Packers travel to Carolina for a noon kickoff Sunday.
1. Playoffs? We’re talking about playoffs? It may be early in the season, the first week of November with a lot of football left, but it’s impossible to ignore Sunday’s potential late-season ramifications. Since the start of their offseason, shortly after blowing a trip to the Super Bowl with a shocking collapse at Seattle in the NFC title game, the Packers’ stated goal has been the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage in the playoffs.
They were on track through six weeks, jumping out to a 6-0 record before last week’s blowout loss at Denver. That loss didn’t much hurt the Packers. They were never going 16-0, so losing on the road to an undefeated AFC team is understandable.
It does make this week, a road trip to undefeated Carolina, the closest thing to a must-win you’ll find in early November. If the Panthers win, they’ll have a three-game lead on the Packers for the No. 1 seed and home field, counting the tiebreaker. That would be a lot of ground to make up in the season’s second half.
2. 3.5 and 4.5: The Packers' offense looks like it’s in a compressor right now, and two numbers from their trip to Denver highlight that more than anything.
Aaron Rodgers averaged 3.5 yards per pass on 22 attempts against the Broncos’ stingy defense. Randall Cobb, the team’s top receiver, averaged 4.5 yards on six catches. One of Cobb’s catches was 17 yards, and boy did that inflate his average. On Cobb’s other five catches, he gained 10 yards.
At this point, the seismic impact Jordy Nelson’s absence has made on the Packers' offense is undeniable. Rodgers’ efficiency has nosedived, at least in terms of passing yards. He’s averaging 7.69 yards per pass, the fewest since his first season as starter in 2008. He’s on pace for 3,584 yards, which would be his fewest as a starter — by 338.
It’s not time to panic, not for a 6-1 team, but the Packers' offense somehow has to figure out how to be more explosive. If they don’t, it could be the critical flaw that prevents them from punching a ticket to the Super Bowl.
3. 843: The Packers' secondary once was good this season. Remember when they picked off St. Louis Rams quarterback Nick Foles four times? Returned one for a touchdown? Defensive backs were feeling good that day, and it’s fitting that pride cometh before the fall, because they’ve been torched in two games since.
Now, Philip Rivers (the NFL’s leader in passing yards) and Peyton Manning (first-ballot hall of famer) are going to get their numbers. Still, in the past two games, the Packers have allowed 843 passing yards. That’s close to a half mile. In two games.
Now they must deal with Cam Newton, who doesn’t have the gaudy passing stats (he’s tied with Teddy Bridgewater for 28th with 218 passing yards per game) but has the dual-threat mobility to a be a tough matchup for a Packers secondary that’s reeling.