For the Green Bay Packers, it’s the calm before the storm.
If ever there’s a softball being lobbed in front of the Packers before their much-needed bye week, this is it.
The 1-4 San Francisco 49ers—sans franchise quarterback Jimmy Garappolo—are in town and the timing couldn’t be better for a team still searching for its identity.
After the bye, Green Bay faces a brutal stretch that will define the season: at Los Angeles Rams, at New England, host Miami, at Seattle, at Minnesota.
“Well, these are the types of games—the 49ers—that you absolutely have to win at home and gain confidence going into the bye,” said Mike Ditka, former Chicago Bears head coach.
“The Packers and Vikings are very fortunate the Bears lost in Miami yesterday. They had it won and let it slip away. Those kind of losses will kill you, change your season.
“Chicago, Green Bay, Minnesota—even Detroit all have a shot. There is parity in the division. The NFC North is up for grabs: a play here, a play there, makes the difference.”
For Green Bay, the issues on offense, defense, and special teams have been deeper than a few plays.
The team has not put together a complete game with all phases clicking yet in the 2018 season, a year in which the Packers were labeled NFC title contenders.
Poor starts in the Chicago, Washington, and Detroit games have dug deep holes and altered game plans.
The left knee of Aaron Rodgers is not 100 percent and several key players—Jaire Alexander (groin), Geronimo Allison (hamstring), Bryan Bulaga (knee), Randall Cobb (hamstring), Justin McCray (shoulder), Jason Spriggs (ankle), and Jermaine Whitehead (back)—are nursing injuries and listed as questionable.
“This is the NFL and everyone has injuries—no team is immune,” Ditka said. “And there’s a lot of season left. It’s simple, other guys have to step up.”
But tonight at Lambeau Field, against the 49ers, the Packers have the opportunity to put together a full game before a national television audience on a cold October evening.
Will Rodgers and the offense start faster and eliminate the recent trend of drops, misfires, and penalties that have killed promising drives?
Will Jimmy Graham have his breakout game at home against a 49ers defense that ranks last in takeaways? In the last three games, San Francisco is minus-six in the turnovers and ranked 11th in yards allowed per game.
Will Mason Crosby rebound after his career nightmare performance in Detroit?
Will Mike Pettine’s defense pressure 49ers back-up C.J. Beathard and create turnovers? And show significant progress to jelling as a unit?
The answers will come tonight against a 1-4 franchise reeling from season-ending injuries to its starting quarterback and prized running back Jerick McKinnon.
“The Packers have to put one game all together—all three phases,” Ditka said. “A fire has to start somewhere.”
Especially for the five-game stretch that awaits.
Week 6 NFL Picks
Slow starts have plagued Green Bay this season, along with penalties, turnovers, and an inconsistent play on both sides. This is a game the Packers can’t afford to lose at home. A sense of urgency is in the air and a fast start by Rodgers and the offense and an opportunistic defense key the victory.
Packers 27, 49ers 13