This week, they go up against one of the most improved teams in the St. Louis Rams who find themselves at 3-3 under new head coach Jeff Fisher.
It’s a game the Packers should win, but they have struggled in most of their “should win” games this season as they have lost to the Seattle Seahawks and Indianapolis Colts but have soundly defeated the Chicago Bears and the aforementioned Texans.
If the Packers want to prove they are the NFL powerhouse most expected them to be, then they need to win games they are supposed to win and win them soundly.
The Packers look to get above .500 against the Rams, so what are the keys to victory for the Packers in this week’s game?
1. Protect Rodgers
The Packers have struggled in keeping quarterback Aaron Rodgers upright this year, though they fared pretty well against the vaunted Texans defense a week ago.
Rodgers was able to move around freely in the pocket and the offensive line held up against a solid passing defense as the reigning NFL MVP shredded the Texans for a franchise record-tying six touchdown passes.
The Rams may not be as powerful as the Texans on defense, but they have shown promise on that side of the football. The Packers will need to keep an eye on defensive end Chris Long, who has four sacks on the year.
If the Packers can contain him and allow Rodgers freedom to move in the pocket, then the Packers should be able to keep their quarterback off the turf.
2. Run Alex Green
Many thought the Packers running game would struggle with the loss of running back Cedric Benson to a Lisfranc injury, but second-year running back Alex Green held his own against the Texans and should be able to build on that against the Rams.
The Packers also have James Starks healthy once again, but coach Mike McCarthy will ride the hot hand when he has one. If Green can get off to a fast start, that should only open up things more for Rodgers and the passing game, which finally roared to life last week.
3. Utilize Randall Cobb
The Packers may have found their own version of Percy Harvin in the second-year wide receiver from Kentucky, and they should continue to find new ways to build on Randall Cobb’s speed and versatility.
Cobb has done everything from lining up as a traditional receiver to taking pitches from Rodgers. A screen pass to Cobb is a nearly fail-safe play as his speed and elusiveness are usually enough to get a decent gain.
Throw in his talents on special teams, and Cobb adds one more dimension to a team that already had a plethora of offensive weapons.
4. Exploit Cortland Finnegan’s aggressiveness
Cortland Finnegan has earned a reputation as one of the hardest-hitting cornerbacks in the NFL. He’s also displayed an uncanny ability to get into players’ heads. By receiving multiple fines for his assertive play, Finnegan has shown he is not afraid to lay out a player.
Polamalu was coming at receivers so fast that a corner route by a receiver didn’t allow Polamalu to adjust in time and resulted in some key completions for the Packers.
The same goes with Finnegan. A quick adjustment by the Packers should throw Finnegan off just enough that the Packers can avoid falling victim to his bruising hits.
5. Spread the ball around
In addition to using Cobb, Rodgers needs to utilize all the weapons he has on offense. With James Jones the latest Packers receiver to experience a breakout season so far in 2012, Rodgers should be able to find one receiver facing favorable coverage.
The Rams, while improved on defense, do not currently have the horses to run with the Packers receiving corps. Even with Greg Jennings still out with a groin injury, the Packers are still loaded with Jordy Nelson, Cobb, Jones and Donald Driver.
While Driver hasn’t seen the field nearly as much in past seasons, he has shown that he can still make plays when he has to.
The Packers should be able to spread the ball around enough to keep the Rams guessing.
6. Hit Sam Bradford
Sam Bradford has been sacked at least once in every single game this season and has suffered three or more in half of the Rams’ games this season. When he is under constant pressure, Bradford has a tendency to force balls and create opportunities to turn the ball over.
The Packers linebackers are currently ailing with Desmond Bishop and DJ Smith out for the season and rookie Nick Perry suffering an injury against the Texans that will make him hard pressed to play against the Rams on Sunday.
The Packers still have Clay Matthews, who currently sits second in the NFL with eight sacks, and AJ Hawk, who is having the best season of his seven-year NFL career. Rookie defensive end Jerel Worthy also has shown promise as a pass rusher.
Charles Woodson also could be brought in to pressure Bradford on a safety blitz, and the Packers should be able to get enough from linebacker Erik Walden, who will replace Perry.
7. Shut down Steven Jackson
With the Rams’ best receiver in Danny Amendola likely out with a shoulder injury, the Rams will turn to a heavy dose of running back Steven Jackson.
Fisher likes having a good running back, and while Jackson may not be the explosive runner he used to be, he can still pound defenses enough that they can open things up for Bradford to find some targets in the passing game.
Packers defensive tackle BJ Raji is ailing with an ankle injury and was limited this week in practice. Even if Raji can’t go, C.J. Wilson performed well against the Texans and helped shut down running back Arian Foster in the Packers’ victory.
If Wilson can shut down Foster, he in theory should be able to handle Jackson, although the Rams running back is a bigger back than the Texans star.
8. Stay aggressive on defense
There remains a solid chance the Packers will jump out to a big lead against the Rams much like they did against the Texans.
When this occurs, Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers has a tendency to switch to what many consider a very soft zone defense and it’s one many opponents have exposed to get themselves back into the contest early. Look at what the Colts did in their comeback win.
If the Packers fly out to an early lead, then the defense needs to remain aggressive. Capers has to keep his foot on the throat of the Rams for much longer than just the first half if the Packers want to beat the Rams in a stress-free manner.
9. Watch the penalties
Although they have been better lately, the Packers have a tendency to rack up penalty yardage in streaks. If the game does not go their way early, they need to keep their composure and not give the Rams free yardage.
The Rams are playing much smarter football under Fisher, and the Packers are capable of doing the same. Stay focused at the line of scrimmage and don’t get too chippy after the whistle is blown.
10. Get out of the game healthy
Injuries are piling up for the Packers at a pace that is approaching 2010 levels when the team placed 15 players on injured reserve.
While some of the injuries so far this season have not been worthy of injured reserve, the Packers need to get through a game without any players leaving the field on a cart.
Thankfully, general manager Ted Thompson has built one of the deepest rosters in the NFL. It’s still not an ideal situation to be in, and the Packers are getting very thin at linebacker and running back with backup Brandon Saine lost for the year after the Texans game.
Game prediction: Packers 35, Rams 17
While improved, the Rams are not yet able to keep up with a team like the Packers. The offense should continue to click for Green Bay and the defense is able to overcome injuries as the Packers get above .500 for the first time in 2012.