Packers Roundtable: Looking Ahead

Aren DowCorrespondent IOctober 30, 2008

Coming off the bye week, the Green Bay Packers face their toughest test of the season in the Tennessee Titans.

Tim Seeman, MJ Kasprzak, Aren Dow, and Zach Kruse are here to give you their thoughts on the upcoming game, the season so far, and what you can expect to come.


Did Ted Thompson make the right choice by giving Aaron Rodgers the nod over Brett Favre?

TS: Ted Thompson did make the right choice and I would be giving you the same answer even if Aaron Rodgers hadn't played as well as he has.  Management can't allow players to run the team, and that's what it would have been if Favre had been allowed to come back in August after announcing his retirement in March.  Rodgers' play has made the transition much easier than it might have been had a plan not been in place to replace Favre when he did retire.

MJ: Absolutely. For one thing, it is clear that Favre is actually less mature and more of a diva, and I believe divas are bad for team chemistry. For another, Rodgers is outplaying Favre right now in his first year as a starter, both compared to Brett as a Jet and Brett last year. How much better off will we be in long-term with Rodgers than the couple years Brett had left in him?

AD: Definitely. It has helped that Rodgers has played well so far this season to ease the transition. Rodgers clearly was the quarterback of the future and once Favre retired, that was and should have been the end of the Favre era. Brett did many great things for the Packers, but in the end it is a business no matter how much you may not want it to be.

ZK: Absolutely. And don’t get me wrong, this isn’t about Favre, because he is one of the greatest quarterbacks to play this game. Rodgers has shown that he was more then ready to assume the role of starting quarterback for this team, and statistically speaking, has had a better year then Favre so far. Thompson made the best move for the franchise, not the fans, and that took guts. I’m glad to see it pay off for one of the NFL’s premier General Managers.

Nearly at the halfway point, who has surprised in the first half, and who make a difference in the second half of the season?

TS: I think the biggest surprise is the play in the secondary.  Al Harris and Atari Bigby went down, and the Packers' pass defense seemed doomed.  Charles Woodson had a broken toe, and even though he was going to tough it out, everyone thought that he'd be limited.  But Tramon Williams and Aaron Rouse have played well in place of Harris and Bigby, and Woodson is having one of the best years of his career.  Add to that big interceptions from Nick Collins, and this unit has to be the most surprising given the circumstances.

Ryan Grant has the biggest chance to make an impact in the second half of the year. He got off to a slow start after a hamstring injury, but it seems like he's getting back into the groove he set for himself last season.  The game against Tennessee's tough run defense will show just how healthy Grant is.

MJ: To be honest, Rodgers has surprised me--I never would have thought he would be able to succeed under these circumstances this early in his career. In fact, I thought he would only be successful for another team after getting a second chance. I am also surprised at how well Tramon Williams has filled in, how well Brandon Chillar has played, and that we're more than three deep at safety.

Ryan Grant is the player who has to make the difference in the second half of the season. If we don't get some balance, we will not win eight games.

AD: Nick Collins has been a most pleasant surprise. I really wanted Aaron Rouse to challenge him for the position, but Collins has been absolutely outstanding. Collins has been a nice complement to Woodson with Bigby and Harris coming down with injuries.

You know what, I’m really rooting for Harrell. I hope this guy can show why he was a first round pick and lock down the run. If we can keep the opposing rushing game under control, this defense will be scary good.

ZK: The Packers secondary. They have played well all season long (minus about a 7 minute stretch in Detroit), and even when key players have went down, backups have come in and excelled. Tramon Williams, Aaron Rouse, and Will Blackmon have all stepped up to their respective challenges when called upon thus far. No one could have expected that out of the backups.

Who is the second half difference maker? Ryan Grant, without a doubt. We all saw what he did in the second half of last year, and his production has started to increase his last handful of games. If the Packers make the playoffs, it will because Grant had another monster second half.

Does Ryan Grant's improvement continue? Where will he end up?

TS: I think Ryan Grant will continue to improve as his legs get healthy again.  This week's game will be a good litmus test to see how far he's progressed.  What he really needs to do is work on protecting the ball; it seems he's been fumbling more this season, and that needs to stop.  I think he'll fall just short of 1,000 yards rushing this season and he'll have somewhere between four and seven touchdown runs.

MJ: Okay, I jumped the gun answering this one during the last question. But I think he will improve (I'm not sure I would say "continue" since he averaged 3.4 per carry against one of the worst rush defenses in the league), and finish with over 900 yards again this season...but in 16 games rather than 10, and probably a full yard less per carry.

AD: I think Grant’s improvement is a combination of him being healthy, and the offensive line coming together. Also, Rodgers’ play so far will help Grant as well.

Grant will rush for 1200 yards this year, guaranteed. I said you were the real deal before the season, Ryan, don’t bail on me now.

ZK: I think it will. You can’t underestimate how much the holdout, and the subsequent hamstring injury hindered his start of the season. With all that seemingly behind him, we should start seeing a lot more of the 2007 version of Grant. We’ve gotten the flashes of last season the past couple of weeks, so I’d expect Grant to continue to improve his production.


How will the Packer run defense hold up against the Titans rushing game?

TS: Chris Johnson and LenDale White are good.  They're a punishing pair of runners for a defense to stop, and Green Bay has had problems stopping bruising runners.  Marion Barber comes to mind.  However, the Colts showed last night that the two can be contained by a sub-par run defense.  The Packers have better personnel, especially at linebacker, and I think Mike McCarthy and his coaches will look at the tape and devise a plan that will limit the damage Johnson and White can do.

MJ: In a word, no. This is not a game we will win unless they make A LOT of mistakes.

AD: Before the Monday Night game, I was groaning just thinking about it. But the Titans didn’t even reach the century mark against the awful Colt run defense. The Packers also have Justin Harrell coming back, which at least will give Pickett, Cole, and Jolly more rest. I predict 150 total yards against the Pack, mostly because they won’t dare pass against our secondary.

ZK: That will be interesting to see. I’m still not sold that the run-defense is back to being a solid unit, but they are making strides each week. This will be their biggest test of the season, and if they don’t play well Sunday, the Packers could be in trouble. Titans running back Chris Johnson is a freakish athlete, and has the type of breakaway speed that could haunt (my one Halloween reference) Green Bay. Their other back, LenDale White, is a monster (maybe one more) to tackle, so the Packers will definitely have their hands full.


What or who is key to beating the undefeated Titans?

TS: The Titans running backs against the Packers run defense is the biggest thing to watch in this week's upcoming game.  Forcing the game into the hands of Kerry Collins will give the advantage to the Packers when the Titans have the ball.  It will also help if the Packers can get ahead early to force the Titans to throw

MJ: The Titans running game has to be stopped for them to be beaten. The best way we can do that is to get points up early, so we need Aaron Rodgers to have a couple big plays (Greg Jennings?) to grab a 10+ point lead and Ryan Grant to keep the Titans honest. 

AD: Getting out to an early lead; anything to keep the Titans off the ground offensively. If we force Kerry Collins to throw to ball, we have a good (or at least better) chance of winning this game.

ZK: The no-brainer response would be the run-defense, but I’m going to say Greg Jennings. He is our premier playmaker, and with the type of defense Tennessee plays, Jennings will have the opportunity to make big plays down the field. Jennings will need to make those kinds of plays Sunday for the Packers to win against the NFL’s lone unbeaten team.



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