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Five Days to Kickoff: 5 Packers-Colts Keys to Game

The Green Bay Packers' potent offense will face its biggest challenge to date against the Indianapolis Colts.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – Led by Aaron Rodgers, Davante Adams and Aaron Jones, the Green Bay Packers are third in the NFL in scoring. However, they’ve fattened up on a bunch of high-calorie cupcakes.

Six of their games have come against teams that rank in the bottom 10 in points allowed: Minnesota (twice), Detroit, Atlanta, Houston and Jacksonville. Only two games have come against defenses in the top 10 in points allowed. One was Tampa Bay, which dominated the Packers over the final three quarters so thoroughly that Green Bay didn’t take a single snap from the Bucs’ side of the field. The other was San Francisco, which shouldn’t count because its roster has been destroyed by injuries.

The challenge for Rodgers and Co. will be much more difficult on Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts are fourth in points allowed. They’re first in yards allowed per carry and first in opponent passer rating.

The return of Jones from a calf injury hasn’t provided much of a jolt. Green Bay averaged just 3.2 yards per carry in an ugly win over Jacksonville. Meanwhile, until allowing 4.9 yards per carry against Derrick Henry and the powerful Titans last week, the Colts had allowed merely 2.9 yards per carry their previous five games.

With a combination of pressure and coverage, the Colts’ pass defense has been exceptional. If Green Bay can’t run the ball, it could be a long day.

Here are the rest of this week’s keys to the game.

2. Old Man Rivers

During his time with the Chargers, Colts quarterback Philip Rivers lit up the Packers. In four career games, he averaged 373 passing yards.

The Colts hoped Rivers – No. 5 all-time in passing yards – could make them contenders after they were sent reeling by the retirement of Andrew Luck. While he’s on pace for an eighth consecutive season of 4,000 passing yards, he is only 22nd with a passer rating of 93.6. In losses to Jacksonville, Cleveland and Baltimore, he threw one touchdown vs. five interceptions. In six wins, he’s thrown 10 touchdowns vs. two interceptions.

The Packers, obviously, would get a big boost if Jaire Alexander (concussion) and Kevin King (quad) are good to go.

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3. Hines 21

The Colts made a second-round splash by drafting Jonathan Taylor, the record-breaking running back from Wisconsin. Taylor has started every game and leads the team in rushing but his playing time has dropped week by week. Now, it’s Nyheim Hines who is the team’s top back.

A fourth-round pick from North Carolina State in 2018, Hines rushed 12 times for 70 yards against Tennessee last week, is the team’s leading receiver with 33 receptions and returns punts in his free time.

Indy’s running game has been disappointing. Despite having a highly touted offensive line, the Colts are 29th with 3.76 yards per carry. Of course, the Packers’ run defense has been Charmin soft for most of the season, though it did limit James Robinson to 48 yards on 14 carries in the second half (3.4 average) compared to 61 yards on nine carries (6.8) in the first half.

4. Tackling

Here’s one of the big statistical mismatches. According to Pro Football Reference, Indianapolis has missed only 35 tackles in nine games. That’s a league-best 3.9 per game. Green Bay has missed 71; that rate of 7.9 per game being the seventh-most.

Against a strong defense like Indy’s, can the Packers make something happen? Two understated plays on Sunday were Jamaal Williams breaking a tackle on a pass on third-and-7 in the second quarter to get the first down and set up a touchdown, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling running through two tackles for an 18-yard gain to set up Davante Adams’ winning touchdown. However, those plays have been outliers. In fact, according to PFR, Green Bay has forced 24 missed tackles – the eighth-fewest in the NFL. In fact, MVS’s two missed tackles on that play represent 40 percent of the receiver corps’ woeful total of five by our unofficial count.

5. Special Teams

Just don’t screw things up.

That should be the mantra of every special teams coordinator. Shawn Mennenga’s special teams have given up huge plays in two of the last four games, with a blocked punt against Houston and a punt returned for a touchdown against Jacksonville.

Colts kickoff returner Isaiah Rodgers has a 101-yard touchdown and Hines has averaged 8.9 yards per punt return. Meanwhile, Packers punter JK Scott is third-from-last in net average and returner Tyler Ervin suffered injured ribs against the Jaguars.

Mennenga’s units hit their stride late last season. Starting a similar upward swing against the Colts would be huge.