First things first, this is more than just a "winnable" game. This is a highly favorable matchup for the Packers as anyone with any semblance of common sense knows. My final score prediction is Packers 30, Jaguars 20. Now, on to what to watch for:
l1) The effectiveness of the offensive line. Things have been kinda crazy this past week with Pro-Bowl guard Josh Sitton being released under a shroud of mystery. Recent reports point towards Sitton's displeasure with the Packers telling him they would not be negotiating an extension with him this season, and that he'd have to wait until long-term deals are reached with some of the younger players (i.e. Lacy and two other O-lineman in Bakhtiari and Tretter). Given that Green Bay's front office is not a big fan of drama - even though this move caused a lot of it - this seems like a legitimate reason for Sitton's release, along with the money it freed up in the process.
But anyways, onto the players that will be actually be on the field in Jacksonville this Sunday, protecting the Golden Armed God that is Aaron Rodgers. Lane Taylor will be stepping in at left guard and should be a solid replacement for Sitton. He's gotten plenty of in-game reps as the first guard off the bench for the last two years, so I'm not too worried about it.
The rest of the O-line is filled out by solid returning starters. TJ Lang at right guard, Bryan Bulaga at right tackle, JC Tretter at center with Corey Linsley injured, and David Bahktiari at left tackle. It should be interesting (terrifying) to see if all the drama this past week has any affect on the offensive line's performance. Let's hope for the sake of Rodger's brain and collarbone that it does not.
2) Can Davante Adams and Randall Cobb make up for subpar 2015/2016 seasons? Last year Cobb caught six touchdowns, half the number he had in 2014. This was in a season where he was supposed to step up and be WR1 with Jordy out for the year. It was disappointing to say the least and made it pretty clear that Cobb is not a top level receiver in the NFL, but rather he benefits from opposing team's top CBs covering Nelson and constantly sending safety help in the direction of that majestic white stallion.
Adams was supposed to be a breakout star after he exploded onto the scene in the end of the 2014 season. He responded by catching one touchdown and racking up less than 500 receiving yards. Granted, he missed three games due to injury, but if Cobb's season was disappointing, Adam's season was a goddamn abomination.
I'm not worried about Jordy. He'll be playing fewer snaps than usual as a precaution, but I think we'll see him at full speed and 100% healthy for the downs he does play.
3) The triumphant return of Clay Matthews to outside linebacker. After two seasons of playing inside due to an awful Packer's run defense, we finally get to see Clay back in his natural position at ROLB. This will be key for a pass rush that now features both Matthews and Peppers coming off the edge. If Peppers can maintain the level he played at last year, it should be a formidable dual attack.
The major concern with the defense now is up the middle. Fourth round pick Blake Martinez will be starting at ILB alongside Jake Ryan, and will be the defensive signal caller despite being a rookie. Week 1 will be a solid test of the run defense as the Pack is gonna have to stop both Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon. Now here's some Clay Matthews highlights to drool over:
4) Eddie Lacy running hungry. And I'm not talking about him running after some China food. Lacy has looked really good in the preseason (yeah yeah I know it's just preseason) which gives me hope that he can bounce back from a rather unimpressive 2015 season.
Lacy is never going to be a 25+ touch a game running back, over his three years in the league his number of rushing attempts has gone down each year. I expect him to be at about 15 attempts per game, with Starks getting around 5 attempts when we need to switch things up to a more cutting/slashing run attack. But despite his relatively low number of touches per game compared to most RB1s, I truly think he'll have an effective year and be threatening enough to really open up the play action game for Rodgers.
5) Coaching and play-calling. I firmly believe that both of these areas have been the biggest weaknesses for Green Bay over the last few years. I don't buy into Dom Capers, I think he has a tough time these days in a league where at least 50% of the quarterbacks are mobile enough to make plays with their feet. This has been shown in multiple playoff loses to the Kaepernick-led 49ers and Russell Wilson's Seahawks.
Also, Mike McCarthy will once again be taking over play-calling duties. I discussed this in a previous blog but I'll quickly recap my thoughts on this:
Go Pack Go