Thursday, October 14, 2010

Q&A with Green Bay Packers columnist, Part II

[Zach Kruse, a senior at UW-Madison and a Green Bay Packers Featured Columnist on Bleacher Report, asked to interview me leading up to the Packers' upcoming game with the Miami Dolphins this Sunday. That interview can be found in the first part of this Q&A here. What follows in this post is my interview with Zach as he answers questions about the Packers.]

The Miami Dolphins have stumbled to a 2-2 record after opening the season with two straight victories, and with two tough losses to division rivals, the 2010 season is quickly coming to a turning point.

Coming off their by week, the Dolphins play the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field this Sunday, and will certainly have their hands full on the road against one of the best all-around teams in the NFC.

Working in the Dolphins' favor could be injuries to some key members of the Packers' team, including quarterback Aaron Rodgers (concussion), tight end Jermichael Finley (knee), inside linebacker Nick Barnett (wrist), and outside linebacker Clay Matthews III (hamstring).

I sat down with Zach Kruse in the week leading up to the Dolphins' game in Green Bay to get his take on the state of the Packers and how they match up against Miami.

Chris J. Nelson: Aaron Rodgers’ status for this weekend is in doubt due to a concussion. If Rodgers cannot go and the Packers are forced to start Matt Flynn, how do you think it will affect the Packers’ offensive strategy and their chances of winning the game against Miami?

Zach Kruse: In my mind, the entire game Sunday really hinges on whether or not Aaron Rodgers plays. He is far and away the most important player on the team, and if Matt Flynn is forced to start, the whole Packers’ offense changes.

If Flynn started Sunday, I’d expect the Packers to turn much more to the run game. He’s had two years in the offense, but he’s only thrown 17 career NFL passes and even in the preseason he’s looked shaky at best. Green Bay would have to rely on Brandon Jackson and John Kuhn to alleviate some of the pressure of Flynn’s first career start.

Either way, if Flynn has to start, the Miami Dolphins are the clear favorite to win this football game.

CJN: Ryan Grant seems to be a huge loss, and the Packers have struggled to get much going on the ground. Do you think the Packers have the personnel (both at running back and on the offensive line) to have a consistently productive running game in 2010? Can Aaron Rodgers continue to produce with the lack of a ground game?

ZK: While the running game finally showed some signs of life last week, it’s still a major problem for the Packers. Jackson ran for over a 100 yards last week, but 71 of it came on one run and the Packers all but abandoned it after that.

And everyone in Green Bay made a big deal about not getting Marshawn Lynch, but I think the problem goes deeper then just personnel. For the most part, the run blocking has been dreadful all season and have opened very little running room for any of the Packers’ backs.

I think Packers’ coach Mike McCarthy recognizes that, and has relied on Rodgers hitting short passes to substitute for the run. To be fair, however, his play-calling hasn’t really given the run game much of a chance. Case in point: last week the Packers lead for over 58 minutes of the game, but they only called 13 designed runs on 67 plays. You do the math.

CJN: Despite his success, Aaron Rodgers has been sacked quite often over the past few years due to poor pass protection. Have the Packers’ remedied this to any extent this season? If so, what has been the biggest change? If not, why is this still an issue?

ZK: I think the pass protection has gotten considerably better. They have only given up nine sacks all season (but five last week), compared to the 50 they gave up over 16 weeks last season.

The biggest reasons for the improvement have been tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher playing together to start this season, and, even when Tauscher was injured, having first round pick Bryan Bulaga available to fill in.

That said, it’s still far from an elite group of pass protectors. Plus, from the limited time I’ve watched the Dolphins defense this season, you can tell they have some skilled pass rushers. Speed from the outside, much like Brian Orakpo gave the Redskins last week, can really put pressure on the two tackles and force sacks and holding calls. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see the Dolphins tally two or three sacks with a couple of holding penalties.

CJN: Clay Matthews III has been on an absolute tear in the first quarter of the season and is wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks. If he is unable to play against the Dolphins due to his hamstring injury, how will this affect the Packers’ ability to put pressure on Chad Henne? Who will need to step up to fill Matthews’ void?

ZK: Clay Matthews means the world to the Packers defense, and last week was the perfect example of what I’m talking about. Sorry to go all statistical on you, but it paints a pretty clear picture.

Before Matthews’ injury in the third quarter (about 43 minutes into the game), the Redskins had scored three points and accumulated only 172 yards of total offense.

Once Matthews went out, McNabb and ’Skins offense scored 13 points and racked up 201 yards of offense in the 25 or so minutes after the injury.

Was it all Matthews? Probably not, but the Packers defense was still night-and-day different without Matthews playing.

And while I’m confident Green Bay will still be able to pressure Henne if Matthews can’t play, he is the difference between the Packers just pressuring him and sacking him. That can be a huge difference for a defense that is as banged up as the Packers.

Lastly, who needs to step up if he can’t play? Probably the entire defense. The rest of the Packers’ blitzers won’t require a double team like Matthews would, so his absence could really open up Miami’s offense. Everyone needs to play better if they expect to play well.

CJN: The Packers have been hit hard with injuries at strong safety, with both Morgan Burnett and Derrick Martin out for the season. Can Charlie Peprah handle the starting strong safety job until Atari Bigby is ready to return, or might he be a liability against the Dolphins?

ZK: The Packers have just been hit hard with injuries in general. Safety is definitely a thin spot right now, however.

I think Charlie Peprah is a serviceable safety, and a smart football player too, but he’s already been exposed as a liability. He made some nice open field tackles on underneath routes last week, but when he’s forced to cover the back end of the secondary, he gets in trouble.

If you need any proof of that, watch Anthony Armstrong’s 48-yard touchdown catch last week. Peprah got all turned around and was late recovering on what turned out to be a huge play in that game.

I can imagine Henne and Brandon Marshall are salivating at the chance to throw a deep ball Sunday against him.

Thanks to Zach for bringing this great idea to me, for interviewing me in his article, and allowing me to interview him for this part of the feature!

For more Packers coverage, check out Zach's Bleacher Report profile here.

Discuss this article on the forum here!