Packers vs. Jaguars: 5 Matchups That Will Decide Week 8 Clash
Depending on which website you use, the Packers are in the range of 12.5- to 16-point favorites over the Jaguars Sunday. Prior to Week 8, the biggest line of this season had been the New England Patriots as 13.5-point favorites over the Arizona Cardinals in Week 2.
Of course, the Cardinals sprung the upset on the road. Could the Jaguars do the same to the Packers at Lambeau Field in Week 8?
Here's five matchups that will decide whether the Packers get to 5-3 or the Jaguars pull off the upset of the 2012 season:
Packers OLB Clay Matthews vs. Jaguars LT Eugene Monroe
Running back Maurice Jones-Drew (414 yards rushing) is out Sunday with a foot sprain, so Monroe becomes one of the Jaguars' lone bright spots offensively. In 2012, the 6'5", 316-pound left tackle has allowed just two sacks, one quarterback hit and seven hurries over 221 pass-blocking snaps, according to Pro Football Focus.
Facing him on most snaps Sunday will be Clay Matthews, who has an NFC-high nine sacks and 34 total pressure plays this season. In terms of talent-on-talent matchups in this game, there's nothing better than Matthews vs. Monroe on the offense's left side.
Another aspect to watch here is whether defensive coordinator Dom Capers moves Matthews around the formation to avoid Monroe and attack the other weak links in the offensive line. Right tackle Cameron Bradfield, a former undrafted free agent, would need a ton of help against Matthews.
Packers CB Casey Hayward vs. Jaguars WR Cecil Shorts
Expect Tramon Williams to cover 2012 first-round pick Justin Blackmon on most downs, leaving Hayward to see a lot of Shorts outside.
A second-year receiver out of Mount Union, Shorts has been the Jaguars only reliable deep option this season. He comes into Week 8 leading the team in yards (284), yards per catch (23.4), touchdown receptions (three), 20-yard catches (five) and first downs (nine). Jacksonville will need him to make a couple of plays vertically to loosen up a defense that likely won't respect the Jaguars' ability to stretch the field.
Hayward will have something to say about that Sunday.
A 2012 second-round pick, Hayward has arguably been the best rookie defensive back this season. His four interceptions lead the NFL, and with over 236 defensive snaps, Hayward grades out as PFF's No. 2 overall cornerback. Opposing passers have just a 23.4 rating when throwing against the rookie in 2012.
If Hayward keeps Shorts in check, the Jaguars offense will look even more compact than it already is. Shorts need to hit a couple of big plays to open up a secondary that is without Charles Woodson (clavicle) and Sam Shields (shin).
Packers RB Alex Green vs. Jaguars LB Paul Posluszny
If there was ever a game in which the Packers were going to break their streak of games without a 100-yard rusher, it may be Sunday. Believe it or not, Green Bay hasn't had a running back go over 100 yards in one game since Brandon Jackson did it back in 2010 against the Washington Redskins.
Posluszny, the Jaguars' leading tackler, will be tasked with ensuring the Packers can't compliment their MVP quarterback with an effective ground game led by second-year back Alex Green.
The recipient of 42 carries over the last two games, Green should get another extended crack as the Packers' leading running back Sunday. He'll face a Jacksonville defense that is ranked 29th in the NFL against the run (147.3 yards/game).
If we are to assume that the Packers hold a lead (or a big lead) for most of Sunday, then we can also expect Green to receive a chunk of carries, especially late. And while 100 rushing yards is nothing more than an arbitrary number, reaching that goal Sunday would be a confidence boost for both Green and play-caller Mike McCarthy as the days get colder in Green Bay.
Packers QB Aaron Rodgers vs. Jaguars Defensive Coordinator Mel Tucker
Few defensive coordinators have probably slept less than Tucker this week, whose defense has struggled to reach the passer in 2012 and now has to combat arguably the hottest quarterback in the NFL.
Tucker will certainly know that defenses earlier this season had success against Rodgers and the Packers offense by rushing four. The problem, however, is that getting pressure has been an issue for Tucker's defense, who have just five total sacks this season (last in the NFL).
While bringing blitzes hasn't been the blueprint for beating Rodgers, Tucker may not have any other choice Sunday. Rushing four will likely mean a slow, methodical death for Tucker's undermanned and out-gunned defense. He'll need to get creative to get to Rodgers Sunday.
Packers Coach Mike McCarthy vs. Outside Factors
Who wins this Week 8 matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Jacksonville Jaguars?
For two straight games, McCarthy's Packers rode a wave of criticism to get back-to-back season-saving wins. Now, McCarthy must get his team ready for a game that many are expecting Green Bay to run away with.
He'll also have to do it with a number of injuries to key contributors.
The Packers have already ruled out cornerback/safety Charles Woodson (clavicle), receiver Greg Jennings (groin), cornerback Sam Shields (shin), linebacker Nick Perry (knee) and fullback John Kuhn (hamstring) for Sunday. Receiver Jordy Nelson (hamstring) is questionable and may not play. Other players, such as tight end Jermichael Finley (shoulder) and nose tackle B.J. Raji (ankle), are dealing with previous nicks.
Are the conditions right for another surprising upset?
A focused Packers team, even with all the injuries, should not lose to Jacksonville at Lambeau Field. It will be on McCarthy, whose teams have lost games in which they were double-digit favorites (at Tampa Bay, 2009; at Kansas City, 2011), to have the Packers prepared to bury an inferior opponent at home.
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