As per semi-tradition I’ve traded five questions with SB Nations Packers blogger Brandon from the Acme Packing Company. His answers are below, so here we go:
Question 1: The rejuvenated Brett Favre now has the Packers passing offense up to #2 in the NFL. What would you say has been the cause of his resurgence? What must the Panthers do in order for Favre to have a bad day?
APC: I really focus on his receivers. Rookie James Jones has been amazing,he's not going to the Pro Bowl or anything, but he's a threat both deep and short, despite not being a burner, and is not playing like a rookie. Greg Jennings is much better in his second season, and Donald Driver is his usually near-Pro Bowl level self. TE Donald Lee recorded an underwhelming 10 catches in 2006, but has come out of nowhere in his fourth season and is on pace to set the franchise single season record for most catches by a tight end. Another major contributor has been veteran LT Chad Clifton who has played hurt most this season but shut down star pass rushers like LB Shawne Merriman and DE Jared Allen this season one-on-one. As far as stopping the Packers I look back to the game a few weeks ago against Washington, which is the last team to shut them down. It was before Washington was demolished by New England and their defense was still playing great. They dropped their linebackers 10 yards deep to swarm Driver and Lee in the middle, and dropped their safeties even deeper to let Sean Taylor play centerfield if Favre tried to go deep down the sidelines (Taylor had two picks in the game). It worked because Washington's defensive line was able to stop the running game and rush Favre without blitz help. The other thing is turnovers; the Packers are unbeaten if they have two or fewer turnovers.
We certainly have no Sean Taylor playing center field but maybe former Packer FS Marquand Manuel might no enough to make a play or two. If we avoid the deep TD pass in this game it will be a miracle.
Question 2: The Packer run defense is much improved as well. Who must the Panthers double team if they are going to run the ball?
APC: You can't double team to run against the Packers. With Cullen Jenkins (Kris' brother) now starting at defensive end, all the lineman are good against the run. The linebackers and strong safety are all very good against the run too (but struggle in coverage if you look back at Tony Gonzalez's 10 catch torching of them two weeks ago). There isn't one or two great run stoppers; everyone is good and it makes them a great unit.
The meeting of the Jenkins brothers is nice storyline in this game. It doesn’t sound like the Packers will try anything special to stop the Panthers running game. Let’s see if Jeff Davidson can game plan something that will work.
Question 3: I saw you have a new running back in Ryan Grant who carried the load last week against Minnesota. Is this guy for real?
APC: Grant's good, but it really is the system that has played well over the last few weeks. Rookie DeShawn Wynn was averaging over 4 yards/carry with 4 TD runs before he was lost for the season three weeks ago, now Grant's taken his place and performing just about the same.
So we shouldn’t have to worry about the RB killing us with big plays (knock on wood).
Question 4: Who is your Defensive MVP for the first half of the season? Why?
APC: Aaron Kampman. He led the NFC in sacks last season with 15.5 and is tied for the lead this season with 9. Plus he's a good run defender at defensive end and never comes off the field. He's a former 5th round pick, so he's no great athlete, but he's an all energy guy who never quits. He can go quiet for a game or two, but then he has a game where he spends half the time chasing the QB and RB behind the line of scrimmage.
Kampman was a 5th round pick? Geez that pisses me off. I’ll trade you another Jenkins for him and you can corner the market!
Question 5: How do you think the Panthers will game plan the Panthers on both sides of the ball? What should we expect?
APC: Other than last week when the Packers put eight men in the box to stop RB Adrian Peterson, the Packers usually run their base defense. They don't need to blitz to generate a pass rush, and never play cover-2. It's always man-to-man with a lot of press coverage. You'll see CB Al Harris in WR Steve Smith's grill all game. That's not to say Harris will shut down Smith but that's how he will be played. I've gotten bad at guessing how Mike McCarthy will attack a defense, but you'll see a lot three wide receiver sets, some odd two fullback sets on short yardage, and often two backs (or
tight ends) in the backfield with Favre in the shotgun. Early in the game I would expect them to attack deep to test the secondary and try to run off-tackle with Grant. After that it's wide open because a lot of different things have been working well for them this season.
The weakest link of the Packer defense is the pass coverage but their exceptional pass rush helps protect it. Since we rarely pressure the QB or blitz, our secondary better have a good day or this one could get ugly quick.
The offensive line has to have a good day to keep Carr/Vinny T off the ground. If we can somehow run the ball early maybe we can get Steve Smith some space to operate. I hope David Carr is the starter because I'm our QB will be on the run and he is obviously much faster.
I’ve been very critical of the Panther brass this past week since the loss to the Falcons. An upset victory or even a close loss would lighten me up a little. Let’s see if the Panthers are up to the task.