The Green Bay Packers have a real chance to get to 3-1 after four games when the New England Patriots – without starting quarterback Mac Jones – arrive at Lambeau Field for a late afternoon showdown in Week 4.
The Patriots are still coached by Bill Belichick, but Tom Brady is in Tampa Bay and Jones will be watching from the sideline, leaving veteran Brian Hoyer to start Sunday.
Can Belichick mastermind the recipe of a major upset, or will the Packers keep rolling after consecutive wins against the Bears and Bucs?
Here are five keys to the Packers beating the Patriots on Sunday:
Match the intensity
(AP Photo/Jason Behnken)
You can almost guarantee that Bill Belichick will have his team ready to play and ready to compete. The Patriots are big underdogs, don’t have their starting quarterback and are coming off a tough loss against an AFC contender. Falling to 1-3 after four games would be a tough spot for Belichick’s squad, so expect the Pats to bring the fight. Can the Packers, coming off a huge win in hot temps in Florida, match the intensity? Let down games happen, and the Packers could be a little physically drained and mentally overconfident at home against a team without its starting quarterback. It’s on Matt LaFleur to have his team ready to go from the opening kickoff. Even without Mac Jones, the Pats can keep this tight for 60 minutes if the Packers don’t bring their A game.
Handle the run
(AP Photo/Stacy Bengs)
It’s hard to imagine the Patriots scoring enough points on Sunday without a dominant performance from the offensive line and run game. Hoyer needs the support, and the Patriots have the combination of run-blocking and running back talent to really pressure the Packers up front. Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson are averaging 4.8 yards per carry, and they are both tough, downhill runners who can make people miss. The Packers need to be physical along the defensive line and fit the run well, especially in nickel personnel, and then tackle consistently. The group did the job last week in Tampa Bay, but the run defense has been up and down overall. The Packers need to keep De’Vondre Campbell and Quay Walker clean and let the inside linebacker go hunt the Pats run game all afternoon.
Rattle the backup
(AP Photo/Jason Behnken)
There’s no better way to turn what could be a competitive contest into a blowout than pressuring a backup quarterback into game-changing mistakes. That’s exactly what the Packers are capable of doing on Sunday if the defensive front keeps playing at a high level. Rashan Gary, Kenny Clark, Preston Smith and Jarran Reed can all win one-on-ones and get Hoyer uncomfortable in the pocket. The Patriots have turned the ball over eight times in three games, including five interceptions from Mac Jones. In his two starts over the last four years, Hoyer tossed four picks. Turnovers will come if the defense plays well on early downs, and then makes the backup’s life hell in the pocket during obvious passing situations. If the Packers win the turnover battle Sunday, a comfortable win is not only possible, but likely.
Block the edge rushers
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The Patriots probably can’t spring the upset without pressuring Aaron Rodgers, and they will bring two potential difference-makers in their pass rush to Lambeau Field: Matthew Judon and Deatrich Wise Jr. Together, they’ve combined for 20 pressures and 7.0 total sacks. Judon has a sack in each of the team’s first three games, and Wise is coming off a three-sack game against Lamar Jackson. The Packers will counter with David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins (and possibly some Yosh Nijman) at offensive tackle. This is a good test for the tackle pair coming off major injuries. Neither rusher is the bendy, super-explosive type, but both are big, physical and know how to get off blocks. There’s plenty to like about the matchups in the passing game if the Packers can keep Rodgers comfortable in the pocket.
Dominate with the run
(AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
The Patriots are giving up 4.8 yards per carry and have the second-worst defense in terms of EPA allowed per rush this season, and one of their best run defenders – veteran Lawrence Guy – won’t play. This certainly looks like one of those games in which the Packers can impose their will offensively with the run game. The offense’s identity is still being formed, but this is another opportunity to get the ball to Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon and let them be the engines. Control the line of scrimmage on both sides, win the game. Football isn’t a complicated sport.