The Green Bay Packers look to remain perfect as they travel to take on the San Diego Chargers in a Week 9 matchup, returning to action following their bye week. Hoping to remain the league's sole unbeaten team, the Packers will attempt to improve to 8-0. The Chargers look to build on their disappointing 4-3 record.
A few weeks ago, many thought this was one of the tougher tests remaining on the Packers schedule. With the Chargers having lost two straight, this discussion has quieted. While Aaron Rodgers has taken a stronghold as the league's top quarterback, Philip Rivers' play has been far from elite this season.
This game will prove to be quite important to both teams as the Packers look to hold their ground in the NFC and NFC North races, and the Chargers look to do the same in the AFC West.
Here are five important things to look for as you watch the Packers take on the Chargers.
While sacks have been at a premium this year for Clay Matthews, quarterback pressures have not. Against the Chargers, Matthews should see plenty of pressure and sacks. In their Monday Night Football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Chargers' offensive line was destroyed by Tamba Hali as he was constantly in Philip Rivers' face and recorded two sacks.
Suffering through a quad injury for much of the early season, Matthews was finally able to get some much-needed rest during the bye week. He has been a participant in the Packers' two padded practices this week and should be close to 100 percent against the Chargers.
The re-addition of Frank Zombo opposite Matthews at times should help to take pressure off Matthews. Look for a breakout game, numbers-wise, from Matthews. He should be in the Chargers backfield all day creating problems for Rivers.
While the Packers are averaging just under 100 yards per game with 99.9 yards, the Packers' running backs could be in for more success against a Chargers defense that is giving up 117.7 yards per game. James Starks and Ryan Grant should see running lanes all day.
The Chargers did a good job shutting down the Chiefs' tattered rushing attack, allowing 2.9 yards per carry, but running lanes were open at times with the Chiefs picking up six first downs rushing.
While Starks and Grant have shared time in the backfield, Starks has gotten a significantly higher number of touches. This should continue against the Chargers, as Starks' physical style of running will work to punish the Chargers' front seven.
A solid day on the ground should help to open things up for Aaron Rodgers, making it easier on a guy who is already playing out of his mind.
Looking at the statistics from the first eight weeks, Aaron Rodgers is not only dominating the NFL this season, but also the record books. Rodgers is on pace for one of the best years a quarterback has ever had. With that said, he has to play an off game at some point, right?
While this could be it for Rodgers as he battles the fourth-ranked Chargers pass defense giving up 185.9 yards per game, Rodgers should still have plenty of opportunities. The numbers may be down for Rodgers this week, but a down week this season for Rodgers would be a solid outing for any other quarterback.
With that said, look for Rodgers to have a solid day, but fail to exceed the expectations he has set for himself. This is not to say Rodgers will have a bad performance, it will just not rank as one of his best of this 2011 season.
The number one priority on defense coming out of the bye for the Packers has to be limiting the amount of big plays that they give up. Throughout the first seven games, big plays have killed the Packers and allowed teams to hang around way longer than they should.
If the Packers defense can limit big plays, they become that much more dominant and unbeatable. Preventing big plays should provide them with even more opportunities to create takeaways, something that has been the saving grace to this point.
With such talent at the corner position, the Packers dare opposing quarterbacks to throw the ball their way. Leading the league in interceptions with five, Charles Woodson has been the ring-leader of the turnover circus.
Against the Chiefs last week, the Chargers turned the ball over four times on two of Rivers' interceptions, a Ryan Mathews fumble and the much-talked about Rivers fumble near the end of regulation.
Coming into this matchup, the Packers and the Chargers are headed in opposite directions. The Packers are looking to maintain their perfect record as they cruise through their schedule. Meanwhile, the Chargers are looking to get back on the winning track following two losses.
The Packers are well rested following their bye week, and enter with the confidence associated with being the league's top dog. Extra time for preparation should allow the Packers with a solid game plan as they look to knock off the cooled Chargers.
Coming off a heated, heart-breaking loss to their division rivals, the Chargers need a win to keep pace in the suddenly crowded AFC West race. Rivers will be looking for redemption for his costly fumble late in the game.
With the two teams entering the game with much different paths, the attitudes of the teams coming out of the tunnels will be huge. Are the Chargers going to be fired up enough to upset the Packers?