Sunday, September 23, 2007

Packers vs. Chargers Preview

What to make of this game? The Packers are 5-point home! Of course, the odds makers are looking at the Bolts through their preseason Super Bowl-tinged glasses, and the Packers as maybe -- maybe -- an 8-8 team. Still, the Packers are 2-0, the Bolts 1-1. The Packers are coming off two energizing victories; they were not expected to win either game. The Chargers are coming off a cross-country loss to the Patriots. Now they have to travel again. And then they have three consecutive games against AFC West opponents. So this game might not have the urgency for the Chargers that some upcoming games do.

While the Packers running game or lack thereof has been the subject of much angst among fans dating back to the loss of Ahman Green this Spring, it might surprise folks to learn that both the Packers and the Chargers have exactly the same number of rushing yards coming into today's game. Each team has rushed for exactly 64.5 yards per game. Now, refresh my memory: which team is it that has LaDainian Tomlinson, the NFL MVP, at running back? And which team has...running back by committee? The nightmare scenario for Packers fans, of course, is that this is the weekend that Tomlinson and the Chargers decide to uncork their running game.

But...if the Packers can keep LT in check, at least not allow him to break any big runs, that means the game goes into the hands of QB Phil Rivers. If that happens, look for the Packers to load up against what is considered to be a weak right tackle situation; the Chargers regular RT, Shane Olivea, got hurt in last week's game and is expected to be replaced by second-year tackle Jerome Clary whose first-ever action was last week...where he was taken to school by the Pat's Ty Warren. Despite probably having to face a double-team most of the day to assist Clary, Aaron Kampman and KGB could have big days if the defense is able to bottle up LT and force Rivers to drop back. And Johnny Jolly has shown an ability to get just enough of his 6-3, 312-pound (is that all? c'mon!) body off the ground to bat down or tip passes at the line. And assuming our LBs and DBs don't fall down or miss tackles, the Pack should be able to keep receivers in check.

On the Packers side of things, the offense gets back WR Greg Jennings. Throw him into the mix with Donald Driver, James Jones and a resurgent tight end group, and Brett has even more air weapons to exploit than he did against the Giants. Now, can the Pack get any semblance of a running game going today? The Chargers defense is giving up 112 rushing yards per game. Compare that with the Packers allowing 98.5 yards rushing per game. The Bolts play a 3-4 defense, and the "3" are stout. Until the Packers can demonstrate the ability to move the ball on the ground, the jury is out. Last week, we saw two brief glimmers of what rookie DeShawn Wynn might be able to do. While there will still be shuffling going on the backfield until someone emerges to take on the load, we might well expect that Wynn may see more action today than will Brandon Jackson.

A 5-point spread. If you're a betting man (or woman), take the Pack to beat the spread. And win the game.