There's nothing like a Sunday afternoon at Lambeau Field and we get our first of the 2013 season as the Washington Redskins open the home schedule at high noon this weekend. It's a meeting of 2012 Division winners, the Redskins of the NFC East and the Packers coming off back to back NFC North titles. Just when you thought you had enough of a young, athletic, strong armed quarterback last week in San Francisco in Colin Kaepernick, here comes another in Robert Griffen III. The NFL's offensive rookie of the year is still rounding into form after his celebrated off-season knee surgery and even more controversial rehabiliation. It was a clash between RGIII, Washington Head Coach Mike Shanahan and the team's medical staff over how much work he should get in before the season began. Griffen looked a bit stale early in Washington's Monday night loss to Philadelphia but played much better in the second half. He's still a ways away from his late season form a year ago which is probably a good thing for the besieged Packer secondary after last week at Candlestick Park.
Three key starters for Green Bay were limited all week in practice but my guess is they'll be on the field Sunday. Josh Sitton has ironed out the kinks in his back from the west coast plane ride, Jermichael Finley's sore toe will be tolerable and Morgan Burnett's hamstring appears ready to be stretched full time. Only second year corner Casey Hayward has been ruled out, for the second straight week with his hamstring injury.
So how can the Packers right the ship, get back to .500 and keep the home field cooking hot? Here's how I see this one:
When the Packers have the ball
Washington's defense, coordinated by Mike McCarthy's former boss in New Orleans, Jim Haslett, is a 3-4 base set that relies on a heavy dose of creative blitzes. That could be playing with fire as Aaron Rodgers was the NFL's best beater of the blitz a year ago. The Redskins struggled mightily early against the Eagles and their frantic, no huddle offense. There were big gaps in coverage and breakdowns against the run as LeSean McCoy rumbled for 184 yards. The Packers operate out of the no huddle a bit more judiciously, but Rodgers has been at his best without a huddle and the offense builds some consistency. Keeping an eye on hard charging outside linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan is a must for the Pack's young tackles. The can be slowed if Eddie Lacy is able to pound out positive yards early. Washington's coverage in the back end is not as good as San Francisco's and that bodes well for a spread the wealth passing game. If the Packers stay balanced and avoid three and out series, I see the potential for a lot of points.
When the Redskins have the ball
Griffen is scary athletic but I'm afraid he won't be so quick to carry the ball out of read option fakes. The only way he'll run until he's fully confident in the knee is if protection breaks down and he has to run. Problem for the Packers is RGIII has a really good back to hand off to. Alfred Morris was outgained only by Adrian Peterson on the ground last year. It will be incumbent for the Packers front seven to continue their stout play against the rush. The cycling in and out of Ryan Pickett, B.J. Raji, C.J.Wilson, Johnny Jolly and Mike Daniels will keep the big boys fresh. If the Packers win against the run, they'll have an opportunity to feast on the pass. Griffen's collection of skill players on the perimeter include 34 year old Santana Moss and former Colt Pierre Garcon. Fred Davis is a tight end from USC I liked coming out of college. One reason the Packers have won 20 of their last 21 games at Lambeau is the defense's ability to take the ball away. Their turnover ratio at home has been off the charts the last couple of years. They failed to take it away last week and with just a couple on this Sunday will give RGIII fewer and Aaron Rodgers more possessions to deal with.
Each week, I take a swing through the locker room to collect some thoughts on what the guys feel about the matchup and the environment and here's what a few of them had to say:
So what's my call? I hit last week pretty close, a hard fought 49er victory. The Packers are a touchdown favorite against the Skins and I have a feeling that will be covered. Green Bay can't afford to lose the first two with a tough trip to Cincinnati awaiting before a very early bye week. While they won't hit on all 8 cylinders, six or seven should be enough, I like the Packers to roll 35-20. Check back Sunday night for an analysis of the game.