Packers at Chargers preview: Predictions, 5 things to watch
TEAMS: Green Bay Packers (7-1) at Los Angeles Chargers (3-5).
WHEN: 3:25 p.m. CT Sunday.
WHERE: Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, Calif.
TV: CBS with Jim Nantz (play-by-play), Tony Romo (analyst).
RADIO: AM-620 in Milwaukee, FM-101.1 in Green Bay; Packers Radio Network.
SERIES: Packers lead, 10-1.
LINE: Packers by 3½.
WEATHER: Sunny, high of 78 degrees.
COACHES: Green Bay’s Matt LaFleur (7-1) vs. the L.A. Chargers' Anthony Lynn (25-18).
LIVE GAME BLOG: Join Tom Silverstein for analysis and lively conversation.
5 THINGS TO WATCH
1. CHANGE OF PLANS: Unhappy with his 17th-ranked offense, Chargers coach Anthony Lynn fired offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and gave play-calling duties to quarterbacks coach Ken Steichen. Lynn, a former running backs coach who served with Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine under New York Jets coach Rex Ryan for four seasons, undoubtedly wasn’t happy with the No. 28 ranking in run offense. Pettine isn’t expecting sweeping changes with Lynn now involved more with the offense but knows Lynn will find ways to get the ball in the hands of backs Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler. “Being a running backs coach, he wants to run the ball and I think looking at his history has been very creative in finding ways to be productive in the run game,” Pettine said. “The number of runs and maybe even the types of runs will change. But we don't want to chase those ghosts. We want to prepare for what we've seen on tape.”
2. JONES VS. EKELER: The Packers are getting more out of running back Aaron Jones in the passing game than they are the running game, and the same could be said of the Chargers and Ekeler. Jones is about 15 pounds heavier, but the two backs are similar in height and testing numbers. Jones leads the Packers with 34 catches for 355 yards (10.3 average) and three touchdowns. Ekeler is tied with Keenan Allen for the Chargers’ receiving lead with 51 catches for 507 yards (9.9 average) and five touchdowns. Ekeler is a true running back, but there are times he’ll be used like Kansas City’s Tyreek Hill, who caught six passes for 76 yards against the Packers last week. “Ekeler is a versatile athlete,” Pettine said. “He can play traditional running back, run inside, run outside, and then (they) spread him out,” Pettine said. “He’s certainly a more than functional receiver and they get him the ball on the fly sweep stuff and do some gadget things with him.”
3. MISSED OPPORTUNITIES: It’s probably coincidence if opposing kickers miss a couple of times against you, but Chargers opponents have missed nine field goals and four extra points against them. The biggest of all was Chicago Bears kicker Eddie Pineiro’s 41-yard miss last week that would have won the game. “They blow those guards and tackles up pretty good inside," Packers special teams coach Shawn Mennenga said. “Last week they put about a 315-pound guy that rushes between the end and the wing. Usually, you see a safety or a linebacker that tries to jump through that. These guys just blow everybody up on a side and just try to cave it all down and try to get a hand up.” Mason Crosby enters having connected on 11 of 12 field goal attempts and all 26 extra points.
4. HOME SWEET HOME: The Chargers were 10-6 at home in Los Angeles coming into this season, but they are just 1-3 this season and they are expecting a stadium three-quarters full of Packers fans Sunday. It’s not the first time the Chargers have been on the “road” when playing at home. Three weeks ago, Steelers fans turned Dignity Health Sports Park into Pittsburgh West and made the Chargers deal with crowd noise in their own stadium. “We don’t play the fans,” Lynn said. “We play the Packers.”
5. UNCOMMON OPPONENT: Quarterback Philip Rivers is 0-3 against the Packers, but he hasn’t played poorly. He has completed 65.3% of his passes for 1,194 yards and nine touchdowns with four interceptions, good for a passer rating of 99.4. Rivers threw for career highs in yards (503), completions (43) and attempts (65) in the last meeting with the Packers in 2015. In his career against NFC North teams, Rivers has thrown for 20 touchdowns with 17 interceptions and is 5-9. He ranks tied for second in completions (202) and is third in yards (2,315) and 19th in passer rating (92.5) this season. Rivers has started a franchise-record 216 consecutive regular-season games, which is the NFL’s longest active streak, and played the fourth-most offensive snaps of any player since 2012. “I don’t know if there’s anything he hasn’t seen,” Pettine said.
Back-to-back road games can lead to stale performances, but the Packers will feel at home despite the long plane ride because of a stadium full of their fans. Expect the Chargers to put up a good fight, but the Packers are on a roll. Packers 27, Chargers 23
The Chargers have a good quarterback (Philip Rivers) and decent run game (Austin Ekeler), so they could give the Packers’ run-vulnerable defense some problems. But the guess here is the Packers’ de facto home-field edge and good health prevail. Packers 28, Chargers 24
Melvin Gordon has had a poor month since returning from his holdout, and though Philip Rivers can still sling it, a passing game without a run attack plays into the strength of the Packers’ defense. This is a road game in name only, with green and gold expected to fill the stands. The Packers should win this one without breaking much of a sweat in southern California. Packers 31, Chargers 21
Green Bay is playing a de facto home game on the road in Los Angeles, but the Chargers will present enough issues on both sides of the ball to challenge Matt LaFleur’s bunch with an excellent pass rush and an expected re-commitment to Melvin Gordon and the run game. That said, the Packers have proven they can get a key turnover when needed and Aaron Rodgers is on a roll. Packers 28, Chargers 24
The Packers are mostly healthy and hot heading into this road trip. Even when the games are close, they’ve found ways to win. The Chargers have an impressive defense, namely their pass rushers Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, but the Packers have solid tackles in David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga. In a home-team-on-the-road environment, the Packers can win one in Los Angeles. Even if Davante Adams is out. Packers 34, Chargers 21
On paper, the Packers win this game handily and improve their record to a heady 8-1. But even with the possible return of Davante Adams, the hunch here is that things don't break Green Bay's way this time and the defense comes up one big stop short against crafty Philip Rivers. Chargers 31, Packers 30