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Panthers at Packers: 5 questions with Acme Packing Company

Panthers fans, come one and come all for disillusionment of any errant hopes you may have for this weekend.

Carolina Panthers v Green Bay Packers Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

The Carolina Panthers have guaranteed themselves a losing season and have three weeks of evaluation left before they get to turn full tilt towards the 2021 season. This week is expected to be painful as the Green Bay Packers are actually good this year. In fact, as I’m told by Jon Meerdink of Acme Packing Company, they are good at the things the Panthers are bad at. What is the disparity between the teams on third down competency? Well, read on if you both want to find out and are well hydrated. Don’t worry, we’ll have tissues on the other side.

As a Panthers fan, I stopped paying attention to the MVP race after about Week 1. I’m assuming Russell Wilson has it all sewn up and Patrick Mahomes is probably a shoo-in for Vice MVP or whatever (listen, I don’t know what they’ve done with the award since 2015, it has been a dark time). Since Rodgers is a reasonably decent quarterback who otherwise has no shot at postseason honors, I was wondering if I could ask you to ask him a favor on behalf of Panthers fans. Can he just chill on Saturday? You see, the Panthers defense is young or injured at almost every position. We really think it would be an ideal opportunity for Jordan Love to get some ‘live’ fire experience.

You know, I’ll do what I can to put in a good word for you guys, but I think Rodgers might be available. If this game was happening in Carolina, you might have a shot. But it’s December and it’s Green Bay — unfortunately, there just isn’t much else going on right now. I think even if we throw our best distractions at him, Rodgers is still going to find his way to Lambeau for game time.

Playing to the Panthers strengths, how has the Green Bay short to intermediate passing defense been in 2020? We’re defining that down here as passes attempted when a receiver is within +/-3 yards of the line of scrimmage.

It’s been pretty good, but not quite as good as last year. In year one of the LaFleur system, the Packers did tons with receiver screens. This year? Not as much. They’ve done a lot more work in the intermediate and deep portions of the field this season. To the extent that their running backs and other pass catchers get the ball in the short area of the field, it’s usually on check downs.

The one exception here is screens to Davante Adams. While they’re super inefficient, the Packers throw a lot of them, counting on Adams to do damage after the catch. That’s really not the strength of his game, but they do it anyway, and it occasionally works

As with most games, this will probably end as a story about third downs. Both teams are league leaders of a sort. The Panthers have allowed a league-high 50.6% of opponent third-down attempts to be converted while the Packers pace the NFL with 49.7% of their own such attempts converted. Are Packers fans aware of their team’s success in this metric or do they honestly not see enough third downs to notice?

I think Packers fans are pretty well aware, in part because the team didn’t have a lot of success on third downs last year. Their issues still pop up on third-and-short from time to time, but generally you’re exactly right: they do pretty darn well converting third downs.

How does Aaron Rodgers fare against three-man defensive fronts that don’t typically generate pressure?

Maybe not so much with a three-man front, but if you’re hoping to beat Aaron Rodgers, sending minimal rushers is kind of the way to do it. If you can get home with as few rushers as possible — at least moving him off his spot — and flood the field with defensive backs behind that, you’ve got a good shot. That’s essentially what the Buccaneers were able to do, along with some creative pressure now and then. (Having some uber-athletic linebackers never hurts, either, since you can play heavy and still cover.)

Now, that hinges on a pretty big “if,” and if you can’t find a way to get after Rodgers with only a few rushers...well, you might be in for a long day. I suppose this is the part where I mention that Rodgers has nine games this season with three or more touchdowns and no interceptions.

Let’s forget about score predictions this week. If the Packers were going to blow this game, what would that most likely look like and when does it start (first quarter, third, etc)?

The third quarter seems to have been their trouble spot lately. As strong as they’ve been early in games (the “on-script” portion of the gameplan, in particular), they seem to take a bit of a nap on offense in the third quarter. If the Panthers can hang tight until the Packers inevitably cool a little bit, they can make a game of it. That’s basically what the Lions did, and they were within a touchdown until late. Shorten the game, minimize the Packers’ possessions (especially since they tend to play very slowly lately), and you might have a shot if their offense runs into its traditional second-half lull.