World’s Best Preview Two-Minute Drill: The Bounce-Back Pack

Bill Huber

From the outside, at least, the overwhelming focus for this week has been on last week.

The Green Bay Packers were crushed 26-11 by the Los Angeles Chargers. Despite a 7-2 record, were the Packers exposed a bit? And how will they bounce back from such an awful performance?

“I think handling success is an important part of being a consistent player in this league, and also dealing with failure and kind of how you respond that day, that night on the plane, Monday coming in, off day, and then coming in for Wednesday practice,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “What kind of energy are you bringing? Are you able to push past it but also have a resolute determination to improve? Or are you kind of playing the victim role all week? I’ve been watching the guys. Obviously, we played Philly and lost the game, which we played fairly well on offense and moved the ball (but) were terrible in the red zone. This one didn’t feel great, so I think it’s a different kind of loss atmosphere. But I have been feeling good about the positivity I’ve seen and I feel like we’re bouncing back mentally and moving on.”

When the Packers have been rolling, they had a tremendous bounce-back ability. When they reached the NFC Championship Game in 2014, they never lost two consecutive games. After a dreadful start to 2016, they rebounded with the season on the line to win eight straight. After losing to Philadelphia in Week 4, they bounced back to beat Dallas. Last year, however, after falling short on a Thursday night at Seattle, they lost three in a row to fall out of contention.

Rodgers had a simple message to his teammates this week, which corresponds to this memorable exchange.

“I think when we were breaking it down after the workout (on Monday, he said) we just need to continue to do what we do, have fun, we can’t let this loss get to us,” outside linebacker and defensive captain Za’Darius Smith said. “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.”

Video: Rodgers on how he handles a bad performance

He can catch, too: A lot of the spotlight is on Carolina running back Christian McCaffrey, and for obvious reasons. He leads the NFL in yards from scrimmage this season after setting an NFL running backs record with 107 catches last season.

Packers running back Jamaal Williams has caught a touchdown pass in four consecutive games, matching Ahman Green’s franchise record set in 2003. According to STATS, the last NFL running back with a touchdown catch in five consecutive games is the Giants’ Joe Morrison in 1966.

History lesson: The Packers are 8-6 in regular-season games, though Carolina won in Charlotte in 2015 and 2017. Rodgers is 2-3 against the Panthers with 15 touchdowns, five interceptions and a 102.5 passer rating. In Rodgers’ return from a broken collarbone in 2017, Rodgers threw three interceptions. It was his first three-interception game since 2009 at Tampa Bay, when he was playing through an injured throwing shoulder.

The first meeting was the 1996 NFC Championship Game. The Packers rolled 30-13 en route to victory in Super Bowl XXXI against a second-year Panthers team coached by Dom Capers.

Pep’s breakdown: On, Julius Peppers – the former Carolina and Green Bay defensive standout – has a weekly pregame breakdown. Part of his focus is on “one of my old friends,” Rodgers.

“There’s no shortage of things that he does well,” Peppers said. “We can talk all day about the things that he does great. People look at all the highlight-reel throws and the big-play touchdowns. That’s a small part of his game. He does that well but he plays the game pre-snap very well, which I think helps him out and makes him an elite player.”

Part of that breakdown is on Rodgers’ voice inflection and how he excels at getting defenses offside. “These are the types of things that make him elite in my eyes,” Peppers said. He also talked about his 2017 sack of Rodgers.

Bend but don’t break: The Packers’ defense has thrived in the red zone, and that’s helped them survive some stretches of sketchy play. Green Bay is tied for sixth in the league with a touchdown rate of just 48.3 percent and is second with a passer rating of 67.6. Panthers quarterback Kyle Allen leads the NFL with a red-zone passer rating of 116.7.

“He’s a guy with a lot of speed, man,” Smith said. “I can see from watching film man that he knows how to read a defense very well. We’ve just got to key in to details and be us and play our defense.”

Don’t give it away: Another key will be turnovers. The Packers and Cardinals lead the league with six giveaway-free games. Green Bay has not turned over the ball in three consecutive games for the first time since 2016. Meanwhile, the Panthers are third in the league with 19 takeaways. When they force at least two, they’re 5-0. When they force zero or one, they’re 0-3.

“When you have a pass rush and then you have eyes to the quarterback, you’re going to be in position to have your hands on the football a lot more often,” Rodgers said.

Last word on the run defense: In an extra point to this part of the World’s Best Preview, the Packers have recorded a tackle for loss against the run on just 11 of 237 opponent rushes. That 4.6 percent TFL rate is the worst in the league and far worse than the average of 12.2 percent, according to Inside Edge.

Video: Blake Martinez on Christian McCaffrey

Youth movement: McCaffrey (1,078) and receivers D.J. Moore (45 receptions, 564 yards) and Curtis Samuel (30 catches, 407 yards) have combined for 2,286 of the Panthers 2,926 yards. That’s a whopping 78 percent. Those three players are all 23 years old or younger. Carolina has received 2,402 yards from its 23-or-younger contingent, 947 yards more than any other team.

Remember this guy?: The only member of Carolina’s offense to play every snap is left guard Greg Van Roten. Van Roten was a late addition to the Packers’ training camp roster out of Pennsylvania in 2012 and made his mark in the daily one-on-one pass-protecting drills to win a job. He played in 10 games for the Packers in 2012 and 2013, didn’t play a single snap in 2014 through 2016, and emerged as a first-time starter for the Panthers last season.

“Smart, very smart football player,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “He’s a got a good, athletic skill-set that fits what we do with our left guard. But being a very smart football player I think helps. Couple that with some athleticism he’s going to be a good football player for you. Again, we didn’t see it right away. He developed into it and grew into that position. It’s one of those things, some guys it takes a little time to grow into it, some guys have a knack for it and other guys they just fit right in.”

Van Roten is a key part of the left side of the line. Darryl Williams was a disaster at left tackle, so second-year player Dennis Daley has moved into the starting lineup and solidified that spot. He’s allowed one sack compared to 7.5 for Williams.

Up next: The Packers get their bye next week. The past four seasons, they’re 3-1 in the game before the bye.

“The week’s a lot sweeter when you win, I can promise you that,” Rodgers said. “The scotch tastes better. The sand feels better. Everything’s better. This is an important one for us to bounce back. I think that’s the main focus. Obviously. we know what’s coming after this week, we know what’s coming after that week. as well. This is an important one for us to get back on track. We’ve been good at home this year. We’re 4-1, excited about the weather. The colder the better, I say, this time of year. We can set ourselves up to be in a position to play some really meaningful games in December, but we’ve got to take care of the ones at home.”

The World’s Best Preview

The truth about run defense

“Sh** happens,” so no need to overreact

Inside the Panthers: Big-play D, McCaffrey, Allen, LBs

Two-minute drill: The bounce-back Pack