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Packers vs. Patriots: Two Must-Win Matchups

The Green Bay Packers have been dominant at home. (In regular-season play, anyway.) Here are two keys to beating the New England Patriots.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers have won 14 consecutive home games entering Sunday’s game against the New England Patriots.

Lost in the fog of back-to-back playoff debacles, the Packers have dominated at Lambeau Field, whether the tundra was frozen or a lush green. Since 2000, only two teams have won at least 15 in a row at home: the Patriots, who did it three times, and the St. Louis Rams.

In the Matt LaFleur era, the Packers are 23-2 at home. That’s four more wins (and five fewer losses) than any other team, with the Kansas City Chiefs 19-7.

With a victory over the Patriots on Sunday, Green Bay would earn its 250th victory at Lambeau Field. That’s the most wins at one stadium in NFL history. For that to happen, the Packers must win these two matchups.

Packers on Offense: Bakhtiari and Jenkins vs. Judon and Wise

In time, the Packers hope David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins will be the bookend tackles that power the offense. That time might not be now. Coming off their knee injuries, Jenkins will make his third start and Bakhtiari will make his second. They’ve drawn the touch matchups against Patriots edge rushers Matthew Judon and Deatrich Wise.

A seventh-year pro coming off a third consecutive Pro Bowl season, Judon has three sacks. He had a career-high 12.5 sacks last season and led the NFL in quarterback hits in 2019. A sixth-year pro, Wise has four sacks – one off his career high – including three last week vs. Baltimore.

Judon, from Division II Grand Valley State, and Green Bay’s Rashan Gary are one of four players in the league with a sack in each of the three games.

Judon mostly has lined up on the defense’s left this season, meaning frequent matchups against Jenkins. That would pit Wise vs. Bakhtiari.

“A lot of things in their schemes, they’re trying to create one-on-one matchups,” offensive coordinator Adam Stenavich said. “(Judon) is a really, really good pass rusher. He’s long, he’s fast, he’s big, he’s got all the tools. When he comes off the edge, he can be a big problem. We’ve got to be ready for that. I know our guys are getting ready for him.”

Packers on Defense: Tackling Patriots’ Running Backs

In terms of name recognition and hype, New England’s Rhamondre Stevenson and Damien Harris aren’t exactly Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon. But they are one of the more effective running back tandems in the NFL.

Harris, a third-round pick in 2019 who is coming off a career season of 929 rushing yards and 15 rushing touchdowns, has 160 rushing yards (4.6 average) and six receptions. Stevenson, a fourth-round pick last year who rushed for 606 yards as a rookie, has 145 rushing yards (5.0 average) and seven receptions.

One of the things that Green Bay did really well last week was tackle Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette. One of the better backs in the league, Fournette was limited to 35 yards on 12 carries with a long run of just 6 yards. According to Pro Football Focus, Fournette broke one tackle and averaged 1.92 yards after contact. That’s big-time run defense.

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Stevenson and Harris aren’t prolific tackle-breakers. Jones has more broken tackles (16) on half as many carries (32) as Stevenson (eight on 29 carries) and Harris (six on 35 carries) combined (14 on 64 carries). What they do is consistently gain more yards than provided by the blockers. According to PFF, 38 backs have at least 25 carries. Stevenson ranks fifth with 4.17 yards after contact per carry and Harris ranks 14th with 3.46 yards after contact per carry.

“Their backs run really hard,” LaFleur said.

Football can be so easy to figure out that it’s cliché, but the Packers have to stop the run. If they can’t, it will open things up in the deep passing game. The Patriots do like dialing long distance. Patriots quarterback Mac Jones, who might try to play through a high-ankle sprain, entered Week 4 leading the NFL in completions (10) and yards (324) on deep passes, according to PFF.

“Both of them can do everything,” safety Adrian Amos said of Stevenson and Harris. “They’ve got good vision and they’ve both been playing really well. We’ve got to stop the run early.”

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