It’s time for 5 Questions so you know that gametime is getting close. This week we visit with Brandon over at Acme Packing Company.
Blogging The Boys: Brett Favre is having an amazing season. Is he just making better decisions with the football, is it his corps of talented receivers, maybe the offensive line? What has been the big thing this year for Brett?
Acme Packing Company: The biggest difference for Favre has been his receivers, although the offensive line deserves credit too. The veteran offensive tackles, especially LT Chad Clifton, have played very well this season. The offensive line has been better since C Scott Wells and RG Jason Spitz returned from earlier injuries, and 2nd year LG Daryn Colledge plays better with Wells next to him (they combined to shut down DT Shaun Rogers last week). Last season defenses swarmed WR Donald Driver while the other receivers played poorly. This season WR Greg Jennings is much better, rookie WR James Jones has been much better than a typical rookie, and WRs Ruvell Martin and Koren Robinson are now in their 2nd season with the team.
TE Bubba Franks started last season and was awful while TE Donald Lee was a forgotten man. Now Lee is the starter and on pace to set the franchise single season reception mark for a tight end. Mike McCarthy runs a lot of four receiver plus Lee or five receiver sets, all of them are capable of getting open, and Favre is usually finding at least one of them open. Favre is still capable of making bad decisions when the offense is struggling, but that has happened so rarely this season that his bad side has rarely come out.
BTB: Ryan Grant came out of nowhere to provide the Pack with a respectable running game. Talk about Grant and do you think the Pack will try to run against a Cowboys defense that has been very stingy against the run all year?
APC: Mike McCarthy ran very little early in the season, but he has been stepping it up in recent weeks. Against Minnesota's excellent run defense three weeks ago, RB Ryan Grant ran for over 40 yards on the opening drive when I was expecting a pass heavy offensive day. Last week at Detroit, I expected them to try and run outside early and let Grant challenge Detroit's smaller linebackers, but McCarthy only called 3 running plays in the first half. Still Grant managed to have over 100 yards in the game. Basically I have no idea what McCarthy will try to do. He's really surprised me this season with his ability to keep defenses off balance this season. Grant has been a big surprise. He has an upright running style and is good at fighting through arm tackles. He doesn't have great speed but has very good vision. His only value as a receiver is in checkdowns. It isn't a fundamental problem, but Favre and him have fumbled a couple of handoffs this season which have usually come back to haunt them. Grant is compared a lot to former Packer RB Dorsey Levens and it's a fair comparison and not surprising since they wear the same number 25.
BTB: The injuries are a huge part of the story in this game. Who do you think is in and who is out, and how will that affect the Packers on Thursday?
APC: Starting S Nick Collins should be back for the first time in a few weeks, and DE Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila should play after suffering a sprained ankle last week. KGB isn't technically a starter, he only plays on passing downs, but he plays as much at right defensive end as starting DE Cullen Jenkins (who moves inside on passing downs). Starting DT Johnny Jolly is out, but DT Corey Williams has played very well in his place. Starting RT Mark Tauscher will probably play through his sore ankle. CB Charles Woodson is the big name injury, but he's played through a lot of minor injuries over the past two seasons so he should play. If he doesn't, I'm not sure it would have a big impact on the game since he wouldn't spend much of his time covering Owens or Witten anyway, he usually covers the slot receiver. It's odd because although Woodson is clearly the starter, in the nickel package he plays in the slot while CB Jarrett Bush plays outside. You probably don't know LB Tracy White, but he's the leading tackler on special
teams and his absence could be felt too.
BTB: What are your thoughts about Al Harris and Terrell Owens? Will the Pack try to keep Harris on Owens everywhere he goes? How will he do against T.O.?
APC: I'd expect CB Al Harris to always play opposite Owens and get in his face all day. Harris is a slight 6'1" 180 lbs. but he's very physical at the line of scrimmage. He's capable of shutting Owens down, he's shut down WRs Plexico Burress and Roy Williams, but this isn't his best season. Owens will at least have a 100 yard game.
BTB: How do you see the game going? Will it be a shoot-out? What do the Pack have to do well to win the game?
APC: The defense and/or special teams have to make some big plays. If it's a straight shoot out with a lot of scoring and few turnovers, then I would worry that Favre would try to force some big plays, and that Dallas' running game would take over in the 4th quarter and control the clock. The defense and/or special teams have to score on a turnover, or set up at least two scoring drives to give them an edge. The home field should be a big advantage for Dallas. There are a lot of reasons to expect the Packers to lose, but they've won ten games in so many different ways this season that I expect they'll find some way to win this game too. The only way they've lost this season is when they committed 3 turnovers against Chicago that either ended an obvious scoring drive or led to a Chicago TD drive. Unless Dallas' defense and special teams force 3 or more turnover I'm expecting the Packers to find a way to win the game.