To get ready for Sunday's game, I sent five questions to Devin Shanley from Acme Packing Company, SB Nation's Green Bay Packers blog. His answers to my questions are below.
1. Since their 2-3 start, the Packers have won four games in a row. What have the Packers done so much better during this winning streak compared to the start of the season?
The biggest thing the Packers have done during this four-game winning streak has been finding an offensive identity. The Packers did not have many changes from last year on offense, but there were enough to cause some struggling early on. It took about three weeks for the offense to find a balance between running Cedric Benson and letting Aaron Rodgers get in his groove. Only two weeks after that, Benson suffered a significant injury. By the time the Texans game came around, though, the offensive line gelled and Rodgers found his groove with James Jones, Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson.
2. Injuries have been a big issue for the Packers, especially as of late. Aside from Clay Matthews being out, what injuries will have the biggest impact on the Packers this week in Detroit?
That is going to be the injury to Bryan Bulaga. Bulaga struggled in a high-profile game on Monday night, but other than that has put together a pretty good season, especially in the last few weeks before his injury. Bulaga being out causes left guard T.J. Lang to swing out to right tackle and backup guard/center Evan Dietrich-Smith to play left guard. Even more troubling is that it leaves the Packers paper thin for offensive line depth. Now the backups are going to be two undrafted rookie free agents in Don Barclay and Greg Van Roten. The good news for Packers fans is that EDS and Lang held up very well against the Cardinals. It will be interesting to see how they can hold up when a team has a week to prepare for them.
3. How has former Michigan State defensive end and second-round pick Jerel Worthy performed this season? Have any other rookies had particularly notable seasons so far in 2012?
Worthy has been solid. Packers fans were probably more excited about the Worthy pick than their first-round selection of Nick Perry, so expectations were pretty high. I'm not sure if Worthy has had the consistent performance to meet those lofty expectations, especially in the pass rush, but he has been surprisingly good against the run and slowly earned more time on the field. It's a promising start and should be an asset to the Packers for years to come.
It's hard to narrow down the notable rookies to just one. The Packers spent six of their eight draft picks (and the first six on top of that) on defensive rookies. All of them have been counted on, as well as a few undrafted rookie free agents as well. Surprisingly, most have turned out positive for the Packers, and these rookies have helped turn around the defense from its woes last year. The most notable rookie, though, has to be Casey Hayward. Hayward has now worked his way into a starting role opposite Tramon Williams. He has shown terrific ball skills, nabbing four interceptions (the most for rookie defenders and tied for third in the league), as well as solid tackling ability. More impressive, though, are his instincts. He's already playing with the instincts of a veteran, and he's able to make plays happen.
4. What do you think will be the most important matchup for the Packers to control if they are going to beat the Lions on Sunday?
The most important matchup is going to be Evan Dietrich-Smith against Nick Fairley. With the Lions secondary struggling and the Packers defense looking for a pass-rusher, it's going to be critical for Aaron Rodgers to have a big day and put up points in bunches. He can't do that if Fairley is in his face all day like he was with Christian Ponder. EDS was able to put together a strong performance against Suh last year on Thanksgiving, even getting him riled up enough to have him ejected. Fairley doesn't seem as much a hot head, but he's just as talented, so EDS will have his work cut out for him. I think he's up to the task, but it's going to be a matchup to watch.
5. Do you think the Packers will catch the Bears in the NFC North? And do you think this team can make another run to the Super Bowl?
Yes, I think the Packers will catch the Bears. The Packers handled the Bears in Week 2 and have only lost to the Jay Cutler-led Bears once. In that one loss the Packers had nearly 20 penalties AND the Bears needed a last-minute turnover to stop the Packers. Needless to say, as much as Bears fans like to say the Bears play the Packers close, the Packers have had the Bears' number lately. I don't see that changing, as the Bears offense still looks awful and the Packers are disciplined enough to limit the turnovers the Bears defense will get. Frankly, I don't see the Bears playing well down the stretch as their schedule increases in difficulty.
As for a Super Bowl run? Well, it's going to depend on health. How can the Packers adjust to life without Bulaga? When will Benson be back, and how well can they integrate him back into the offense? That goes for Greg Jennings as well. If they can get those two, plus Matthews and Woodson, back quickly then this team should be able to get on the same page and make a good push. When the Packers are firing on all cylinders there aren't many teams in the league that can match up well with them, especially with the 49ers and Giants cooling late in the year.
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