Ed: A lot has been made of the Packers’ need to develop their young wide receivers and get better play from that group. How is that going? Who has impressed? Who has not?
Evan: Packers fans have fallen deeply, madly in love with 4th-rounder Romeo Doubs, and for good reason. Doubs has had a remarkable start to the season, especially for a rookie receiver in an Aaron Rodgers-led offense. He has touchdowns in back-to-back games and his route-running is very advanced for a first-year player. 2nd-round pick Christian Watson has stunning pure speed, and it’s clear that he’s the fastest player on the field any time he has the football.
The challenge for both players has been consistency and ball security. Watson dropped a sure-fire 75-yard touchdown on the first play of the season (which was also the first play of his NFL career after missing the preseason with an injury). Doubs has fumbled twice and he dropped a touchdown from Rodgers in the fourth quarter against the Patriots on Sunday. If they can clean up some of these issues, the Packers’ receiving corps, which also features steady, consistent veterans in Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb, should be just fine.
Ed: Personally, I’m not a big fan of these London games, especially because they cost a team a game in front of its home fans. What are your feelings about international NFL games?
Evan: This game is the Packers’ first trip overseas, as they were the last NFL team to make the trip over to the UK. They had previously refused to give up a home game due to the impact on the local economy, and opposing teams for road games generally didn’t want to give up the guaranteed payday that comes from Packers fans traveling well. The local revenue piece is certainly a major factor for the Packers, and it is probably a bigger deal for them than for any other franchise simply because they play in the smallest market in North American professional sports.
That said, I know that the team also has an avid following in the UK and all across Europe, and I’m happy for those fans that they finally get to see the team play closer to their homes. Personally, I won’t be too bothered by the early kickoff and find myself very neutral on the idea in general. The hassle for teams with the travel schedule seems like a significant challenge, but growing the game internationally is good for business, so I get it.
Ed: How is it that the Packers (18.8) are averaging fewer points than the offensively-challenged Giants (19.0)?
Evan: Ball security. I actually think it’s that simple – the Packers had a dropped touchdown on Sunday, Aaron Jones fumbled at the 1-yard line in Tampa the week before, and Watson dropped a wide-open bomb on the first play of Week 1. If those three plays go the other way, Green Bay is averaging 24 points per game and I genuinely think that the concerns about the Packers’ offense are largely erased.
Along with those examples, Green Bay hasn’t won the turnover battle in any game so far this season, and Rodgers has thrown three picks in the first four games. That certainly can’t continue if the Packers want to be a Super Bowl contender, but I expect that to be a major focus area for this team over the next several weeks and for them to get back to a more normal turnover rate.
Ed: If you could take one player NOT NAMED Saquon Barkley off the Giants’ roster and put him in the Packers’ starting lineup, who would it be? Why?
Evan: If we can guarantee full health, it’s Leonard Williams and it’s not particularly close. The Packers have needed a running mate for nose tackle Kenny Clark for years, and Williams would be a ludicrous upgrade over Dean Lowry or Jarran Reed. Reed is a new addition this year, coming over in free agency, but he has really struggled in the run game, while Lowry has historically been just a 5-tech pass-rushing end. A player like Williams, who can defend the run and the pass from a number of different places along the defensive line, would help solve the Packers’ biggest weakness.
Ed: The Packers are a significant favorite, according to DraftKings Sportsbook. If the Giants are going to pull off an upset, what are they going to have to accomplish? What weakness can they exploit?
Evan: That weakness is, again, the run defense. Although the Packers kept Tampa Bay in check two weeks ago, both the Bears and Patriots gashed them consistently, to the tune of 180 and 167 yards, respectively. Green Bay still insists on playing nickel personnel consistently, running either their standard 2-4-5 or 3-3-5 “Penny” alignments, and too often they give up big plays on the ground as a result.
Getting Saquon Barkley going should be the Giants’ primary goal on offense. Then try working in the occasional play-action deep shot to…somebody? I don’t know who will be catching passes for the Giants on Sunday, but that’s my best guess for them getting open against a very good Packers secondary.
Defensively, the key for the Giants or any team against the Packers is to get pressure on Aaron Rodgers without blitzing. If you can keep two safeties high and get home with four, you can generally prevent Rodgers from getting explosive plays in the passing game. Right tackle Elgton Jenkins has struggled a lot in his first few games back from a torn ACL, so that’s the weakest spot on the Packers’ line and where I would try to attack.