Week 2 of an NFL season seems awfully early to start throwing around the phrase "must win game."
However, the fact remains that in 46 tries, only three teams (the 1993 Dallas Cowboys, 2001 New England Patriots and the 2007 New York Giants) have recovered from an 0-2 start to go on and win the Super Bowl, so a "must win" game of sorts is exactly what the Green Bay Packers face when the Chicago Bears visit Lambeau Field Thursday night.
Here are three keys to the Packers getting their first win of the year.
1. More Balance on Offense
It's somewhat understandable that the Packers struggled to run the ball in their 30-22 defeat at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers last Sunday, as San Francisco possessed the stingiest run defense in the NFL in 2011, allowing fewer than 80 yards a game.
However, whether it's moving the ball on the ground with running back Cedric Benson or just using the run to set up play-action, the Packers can't allow the Bears to make them as one-dimensional on offense as they were against the 49ers—a fact that Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy is well aware of according to Tom Silverstein of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
“I’m not as caught up in the number of attempts, but the 2.0 [average per carry] is the area that we’re focused on as an offense,” McCarthy said. “We had an opportunity to discuss this as a team at 3:15 (Monday). The way the game goes sometimes dictates whether you’re heavy run or pass. But we don’t want to be running the ball for 2.0. That’s not acceptable.”
2. The Defense Has to Step Up
The Green Bay defense was the Achilles' heel of the team in 2011, ranking dead last in the National Football League and playing a big part in the Packers being bounced in the first round of the playoffs after compiling a 15-1 regular season record.
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The team hoped to have addressed some of their defensive issues in the offseason, but it certainly didn't appear so in Week 1. San Francisco running back Frank Gore gashed the Packers for 112 yards on 16 carries, and the loss of inside linebacker Desmond Bishop to a hamstring injury was sorely felt.
Replacement D.J. Smith and fellow inside linebacker A.J. Hawk were repeatedly caught out of position or swallowed up by blockers, and the entire interior of the defense needs to play harder, more focused football.
Even more important than the front seven lapses was the shoddy play of the Packers' secondary. Granted, Charles Woodson was his normal disruptive self with 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble, but the pass defense was as atrocious as ever, allowing 49ers quarterback Alex Smith to outplay Aaron Rodgers to the tune of 20-for-26 passing.
3. Aaron Rodgers Has to Play Better
Yes, I said it. Alex Smith outplayed Aaron Rodgers.
It may not be fair to ask a player who won the NFL's MVP award last year after throwing 45 touchdown passes against only six interceptions to "suck it up," but the fact of the matter is if the Packers can't run the ball or stop it on the other side, then they're going to need a similarly transcendent performance from the eighth-year pro.
They didn't get it against San Francisco. Yes Rodgers threw for over 300 yards and two scores, but most of those numbers came in catch-up mode, and Rodgers' quarterback rating on Sunday was south of 70 after a game where he appeared rattled and frustrated.
Unfortunately for the Packers, Rodgers seemed more intent on griping about the replacement officials than critiquing his subpar (for him) performance against San Francisco when speaking to WAUK-AM (according to Kareem Copeland of NFL.com).
"It's just frustrating when you're positive that there's either a missed call, or that the rule was not interpreted the way that it's supposed to be interpreted," Rodgers said. "There were multiple instances of that, and when you watch the film back, it's frustrating. That being said, there were just some bizarre calls on both sides."
I'll be the first to admit that the replacement officials make me crazy, but I'm not on the field, and Rodgers and the Packers had better worry more about the things they can control and less about the things they can't. Otherwise, the team could easily find themselves in a hole that's going to be awfully hard to dig out of.