NFL Nation: Green Bay Packers

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After Thursday, the Green Bay Packers will have played half their NFC North schedule, while the Minnesota Vikings have yet to play a divisional opponent.

Yet each team enters the Thursday night game with a 2-2 record and trails the division-leading Detroit Lions (3-1).

ESPN.com Vikings reporter Ben Goessling and Packers reporter Rob Demovsky break down the matchup:

Demovsky: Ben, Packers LBs Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers couldn't even name the Vikings' running backs, but they knew the damage those running backs did last week against the Falcons. What makes Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata so effective?

Goessling: Well, that's still a bit of an open-ended question. They haven't been good other than last week, when they were outstanding. But I think a lot of it is the changes the Vikings made to their running game. They were running quite a bit more out of a shotgun set, with three receivers on the field to spread the Falcons' defense out. The Vikings are also starting to mix in some read-option stuff, and while that didn't result in quarterback Teddy Bridgewater keeping the ball too much on option plays, it gave defensive ends something else to think about before pursuing the running back. McKinnon is still finding his way, in terms of learning how to read a defensive front and find his holes, but when he gets fully developed, I think he'll be a dynamic running back. He is an athletic freak and has dangerous speed in the open field. Asiata is more of the workhorse, but he's also effective as a receiving threat. It's a nice tandem for now, and they have helped the Vikings weather the absence of Adrian Peterson.

Speaking of running games, it seems that the Packers are still trying to get theirs to the point where it was at last year. Will we see more of James Starks this week, and how do you think that will help Eddie Lacy?

Demovsky: Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy tried to force-feed Lacy last week against the Bears, and it didn't help him get into a groove. In the process, McCarthy ignored Starks, who played only one snap and didn't get a single carry, which was an odd strategy since Starks has actually been productive (5.0 yards per carry) in limited reps this season. It appears McCarthy has seen the error of his ways because he vowed this week that will not happen again and said Starks should touch the ball every game. For that matter, so should DuJuan Harris, who gives the Packers a change-of-pace type of back.

It's always interesting when new coaches come into the division. When the Packers lost at Cincinnati last year, they got a taste of what a Mike Zimmer defense can do (Zimmer was the Bengals' defensive coordinator). In Zimmer's first season as Minnesota's head coach, how far away is the Vikings' defense from where he would like it to be?

Goessling: It still has a ways to go. Zimmer was talking on Tuesday about the defensive line, which has typically had the freedom to chase the quarterback, no matter the cost. Well, Zimmer wants his defensive linemen to rush as a team, not overpursuing for individual sacks while opening up a lane for the quarterback to escape, and he saw too much of that Sunday. The Vikings also need to get better depth in their secondary, and I still think they will wind up looking for a more effective counterpart for safety Harrison Smith then they have on the roster. The linebackers have some promise, especially with what Anthony Barr can do, but the Vikings have still been too easy to target in pass coverage. I think it's probably going to take another draft, and another year of Zimmer working with players on his system, but the D is definitely headed in the right direction. You already see flashes of how the Vikings could have a really good defense in the future, and Barr and Smith could be stars.

It seems the Packers, on the other hand, haven't seen the desired results from their defensive changes. What has been the problem there, and do you think they will be as vulnerable to Bridgewater on Thursday (assuming he plays) as they've been to mobile quarterbacks in the past?

Demovsky: The Packers spent all offseason talking about and working on their defensive changes. The mantra was "less scheme, more personnel," meaning they wanted to simplify the number of defensive calls they had, yet at the same time utilize their personnel better. So far, the results have been about the same, although at least the secondary looks a little better with the addition of safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. He has played more and more each week and perhaps played his best game Sunday against the Bears. But when the Packers decided to get smaller and more athletic up front on the defensive line, it rendered them ineffective against the run so far. The issue hasn't been the mobile quarterbacks but rather just about any running back they have faced.

We didn't get to see Bears defensive end (and longtime Vikings DE) Jared Allen last week in Chicago because he was inactive, but do the Vikings miss him at all? And speaking of defensive players, what impact has the rookie Barr made so far?

Goessling: When Allen became a free agent after last season, I didn't get the sense the Vikings were terribly interested in bringing him back, largely because he wouldn't have fit in Zimmer's scheme for some of the reasons we were discussing before. Zimmer wants his defensive ends to play the run first on the way to the quarterback, and I don't think that would have fit Allen at this point in his career. Barr has been really impressive, though he still has some holes in his game, as many rookies do. Watch his sack of Matt Ryan in the fourth quarter last week; he was in man coverage on a Falcons running back, and when he saw the back was staying in to double-team Everson Griffen, Barr surged through the middle of the line and showed some elite closing speed. He's been far too vulnerable to crossing routes from tight ends and running backs, but he's also been a force against the run. The next step is for him to use his speed and size to be an asset in pass coverage, too.

It's hard to believe we've gotten this far without talking much about QB Aaron Rodgers. What's your assessment of where he's at in Year 7 as a starter, and how he feels about the Packers' direction? And, more to the point for this week's game, why has he had so much trouble with Zimmer's defenses in the past?

Demovsky: Rodgers knows this offense so well that he could call the plays himself. In fact, you wonder why McCarthy hasn't turned that over to Rodgers, especially in the no-huddle offense. The coach went into this season wanting to play fast, and one way to increase the tempo would have been to let Rodgers call the game as Peyton Manning often does. But that hasn't happened. Rodgers was so good in the preseason this year (I know, preseason is meaningless) that it has been a mild surprise that he hasn't been his usual dominant self, but he clearly hasn't found playmakers not named Jordy Nelson or Randall Cobb. In fact, Rodgers barely has gotten his other receivers, Jarrett Boykin and Davante Adams, involved at all. The same goes for the tight ends. As for matching up with Zimmer's defenses, in that game last year in Cincinnati, the Bengals were able to pressure Rodgers (sacking him four times) and forced him into two interceptions (something Rodgers almost never does).

Let's wrap things up with another quarterback question. We've heard all week that Bridgewater is likely to play, but what are the chances the Vikings are just duping everyone as they did before that playoff game at Lambeau Field two years ago?

Goessling: That's a very good question, and that playoff game has been on my mind all week, too. I still would bet on Bridgewater playing; he said he's feeling much better, and he talked this week about how he played through a sprained right ankle and a broken left wrist on a short week in college. He's a tough kid, and I think he's going to play if it's at all possible. But the Vikings haven't exactly been forthright with information on Bridgewater this week, and it's not usually Zimmer's style to withhold injury updates. I highly doubt a switch to Christian Ponder would throw the Packers off, so it's possible the Vikings really are hedging their bets, rather than trying to be tricky. As I said, though, if I had to make a prediction, I'd guess Bridgewater plays.

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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Count Josh Sitton among those not enamored with the NFL's Thursday night package.

Sitton
Two days before his Green Bay Packers play the rival Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field, the veteran guard didn't hold back when asked about the quick turnaround after the Packers' 38-17 win over the Chicago Bears on Sunday.

"It sucks, man," Sitton said Tuesday. "I hate it. Felt like crap today. Probably feel like crap on Thursday. I think it's stupid."

Sitton called the Thursday package, which airs on CBS and NFL Network, a money grab by the league.

"That's what this league is about, is about making money, which is fine," Sitton said. "I like to make money as well. But, yeah, it's tough on your body, tough on your head."

Every NFL team is playing at least one Thursday game this season. The Packers played two because they opened in the NFL's annual kickoff game against the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. But unlike this week, the Packers had a full week to prepare following their preseason finale the previous Thursday.

The Packers held a 90-minute practice on Tuesday, which is normally the player's day off.

"Tuesdays is typically the day that your body feels the worst," Sitton said. "I know for us in the offensive line room, that's what we always talk about. The second day, you always feel like crap. It's tough getting out there on the practice field today. But, like you said, everybody's got to do it. I’m glad we got it in Week 5 instead of Week 11 or 12 or whatever."

Coach Mike McCarthy said the players will take part in another practice on Wednesday. When asked whether it was going to be a half-speed, walk-through practice, Sitton said: "It better be."

Although Sitton may have been one of the few players to verbalize it, quarterback Aaron Rodgers said on his ESPN Milwaukee radio show late Tuesday afternoon that he thinks other share Sitton's viewpoint.

"I think that's usually the consensus," Rodgers said on the show. "I barely got touched last week, so I don't really have any complaints, but the guys who have contact every, single play, it's tough on their bodies. I think it's even tougher playing on Thanksgiving because then you're 10, 11 weeks into it and then you have to play a short week. This maybe a little bit easier since we're only four weeks in but every week you get into this thing you're banged up.

"Like we always say, it’s a 100-percent injury rate in this league. Everybody has injuries they deal with. It's just the severity and ability to play through them if that's possible. It's tough on the bodies, but we have a nice little break after this. Hopefully we can take care of business, get to 3-2 and have a nice relaxing weekend."

Thursday's game closes out a stretch of three straight NFC North games that began on Sept. 21 at the Detroit Lions.

"It’s been really tough," Packers veteran linebacker Julius Peppers said. "I don't know who came up with the schedule like this to put these games in a 10-day span like this, but we're getting through it."

It's actually three games in 12 days. It probably only feels like three in 10 days.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- If Green Bay Packers fans didn't like what Ryan Longwell once said about Green Bay's dining scene, they probably won't be happy when they hear what Greg Jennings likes most about his new life in Minnesota.

In a conference call Tuesday with reporters at Lambeau Field, the former Packers receiver called the educational system in Minnesota "a step up" for his family, which includes his wife and four children. Jennings, whose Vikings visit the Packers on Thursday night, did say there are "great educational systems" in Green Bay, as well.

[+] EnlargeGreg Jennings
Benny Sieu/USA TODAY SportsGreg Jennings makes his second trip to Lambeau Field Thursday night as a member of the Vikings.
"We're excited to be here, and not just because of what football affords and presents but because of everything else that comes with it," Jennings said.

Jennings made several references to his spirituality during the 15-minute conference call, and during his tenure with the Packers, he made his religious beliefs well known. His father is a pastor in his hometown of Kalamazoo, Michigan, and his mother is a missionary, according to his biography on the Vikings' website.

While in Green Bay, Jennings' children attended the private Wisconsin International School, which closed its doors and filed for bankruptcy in July, more than a year after Jennings left town.

Nearly a decade ago, Longwell irked Packers fans on his way out of town. When the kicker signed with the Vikings in 2006, he told reporters: “Every town in America has an Applebee's restaurant. In Green Bay, Applebee's was about as fancy as you got. When my wife, Sarah, and I would get a baby sitter, a nice date night was Applebee's. In Minnesota, I'm sure there will be plenty of options before Applebee's comes into the rotation."

Jennings, a two-time Pro Bowl receiver during his seven-year career in Green Bay, was booed by Packers fans in his return to Lambeau Field last season, his first with the Vikings.

"It's important for fans to understand who I am and what I represent,” Jennings said. “And I don’t think that No. 1, I don’t hate or dislike anybody, so I would hope and my desire would be that no one hates or dislikes me, but that’s just not the society we live in.

“You know, I'm a faith guy, man. So my faith, family and my career. If I continue to humble myself and show perfect love, man, it eliminates a lot of things. And that's all I can show, and control obviously, is what I do. I can't control or concern myself with what others may say or think or feel. Everyone has a right to their own opinion."

The Film Don't Lie: Packers

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
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A weekly look at what the Green Bay Packers must fix:

It's not just that the Packers allowed the Chicago Bears to rush for 235 yards on Sunday at Soldier Field, but it's how it happened.

Nearly two-thirds of that came before the Packers even laid a hand on anyone. The Bears gained 147 of those yards before contact, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

A review of the film showed gaping holes for Matt Forte and Ka'Deem Carey. But perhaps the most egregious of all the run defense breakdowns came on a play by quarterback Jay Cutler. On fourth-and-1 in the first quarter, he fumbled the snap. He then picked it up off the turf and ran right through the middle of the Packers' defense for 15 yards.

It's no wonder the Packers found themselves ranked dead last in the NFL in rushing defense.

And the Minnesota Vikings must be salivating at the thought of running against the Packers on Thursday night at Lambeau Field. Only the Vikings ran for more yards on the ground in Week 4 than the Bears did. They put up 241 in a victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

Defensive coordinator Dom Capers played rookie Mike Pennel for 22 snaps on Sunday. It was the first playing time for the undrafted rookie. Considering he's their biggest defensive lineman, perhaps more snaps are in order to try to clog up the middle.

Packers' run defense bottoms out

September, 29, 2014
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- No one had to tell the Green Bay Packers where their run defense was ranked after Sunday's win over the Chicago Bears.

"I'm aware what the numbers are," coach Mike McCarthy said Monday. "Nobody likes it."

The Packers' run defense went from bad (27th in the league) before Sunday to the worst.

[+] EnlargeMatt Forte
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesFacing the Green Bay Packers' last-place rush defense was a pick-me-up for a previously struggling Chicago Bears rushing attack.
After giving up 235 yards rushing -- the third-highest total since Dom Capers took over as defensive coordinator in 2009 -- the Packers found themselves dead last in the league, allowing an inexcusable 176.0 yards per game, through Sunday's Week 4 games.

Lest you thought the Bears were a rushing juggernaut, you should know this: Before Sunday, they ranked 32nd in the league in rushing yards per game.

"Give Chicago credit, offensively they did some really good things," McCarthy said. "They played well. They're a good offense. But giving up that much yardage, there's no excuse for that. We understand that. But there are things we can definitely work on and improve on."

There's not much time to do it this week. The Packers will hold only one practice, on Tuesday, during an abbreviated week in advance of Thursday's game against the Minnesota Vikings, who, by the way, rushed for 241 yards in a win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

When Capers was hired following the 2008 season, his directive was to fix a run defense that finished 26th in the NFL that year. The next season, Capers' unit led the league in rushing defense. Since then, they have not finished a season ranked better than 14th in that all-important category.

"I think fundamentally, since day one of my football career, my coaches have always said, 'Stop the run,'" Packers safety Micah Hyde said Monday. "That's just something you have to do in football because if you getting ran all over, then you can get [gashed] throwing it. So you stop the run, you can switch things up from there and make it a one-dimensional game, and that's always easier on a defense. That's just what we try to do. We weren't successful yesterday. That's evident, but we can build off the positive things."

You can question the Packers' decision to eschew two of their bulky defensive linemen -- Ryan Pickett, who was out of football until he signed last week with the Houston Texans, and the still unsigned Johnny Jolly -- or blame part of the problem on the injury to nose tackle B.J. Raji (who is on injured reserve), but McCarthy and several players insisted on Monday that they still have the right kind of personnel to stop the run.

"We've done it before," defensive tackle Mike Daniels said.

Not this year.

In order so far, the Packers' opponents have put up rushing yardage of 207 (Seahawks), 146 (Jets), 115 (Lions) and 235 (Bears).

"I don't think anybody disagrees with our approach," McCarthy said. "We're utilizing our players, we're playing to our players' strengths. Everything we've adjusted is in the best interest of our players."

Capers tried something new against the Bears, using 6-foot-4, 332-pound rookie Mike Pennel (the team's biggest defensive linemen) for the first time. The rookie was credited with two tackles.

"We're just growing together," Pennel said. "We're learning. The vets are keeping us on our technique and everything. A lot of people hitting us with a lot of different things. We just have to trust in our coaching and we'll get better at it."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers had Clay Matthews on a limited snap count in Sunday’s game at the Chicago Bears.

Matthews
And it would have been that way even if the Packers did not have a Thursday game against the Minnesota Vikings to follow this week.

"I'm not saving players for anyone," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Monday. "That's not the way we operate."

But the fact Matthews came out of the victory over the Bears without any lingering issues from the groin injury that limited him to 52 of the 78 defensive plays worked out well for this week.

Although the Packers did not practice on Monday, they still had to submit an official injury report for Thursday's game against the Vikings. Here's the full report:

Here’s the full injury report*:
*Participation levels were estimates because the Packers did not practice.
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CHICAGO -- He told you, the Green Bay Packers fan who was freaking out over another 1-2 start to a season, to R-E-L-A-X last week.

And he told you, the Packers fan who was wondering what was wrong with him and their suddenly low-powered offense, that they were "going to be OK."

But how would he, the one in charge of it all, react?

On a critical early-season Sunday at Soldier Field, quarterback Aaron Rodgers' version of relaxation was this: On the Packers' first three possessions, there was little lounging. He expeditiously put together touchdown drives of 81, 63 and 61 yards. The first one took all of 2 minutes, 22 seconds. The second, 3 minutes, 47 seconds. The third, 2 minutes, 47 seconds.

"That's how we want to play," Rodgers said after Sunday's 38-17 victory.

If there's such a thing as fast-paced relaxation, this was it.

The Packers scored on their first six drives: touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, field goal, touchdown, touchdown. It would have been seven-for-seven if not for a blocked field goal in the fourth quarter.

A week after a loss to the Detroit Lions that featured his second-lowest passing yardage total (162) in a game he started and finished, Rodgers threw for 302 yards and four touchdowns on 22-of-28 passing. His efficiency and production were such that his passer rating of 151.2 fell short of only one other performance in his career, a 155.4 mark in a win over the Browns in 2009.

"Well, I just know it's a long season, so there's always going to be mini-freakouts along the way," Rodgers said. "You just got to stick together, stay the course. [Coach Mike McCarthy] talked about trusting the process this week. I just wanted to remind everybody that it's a long season and at some point we were going to get this thing figured out."

This one was different from the beginning. After relying so heavily on their three-receiver set this season, McCarthy opened with two tight ends for a change, and Rodgers went to one of them, rookie Richard Rodgers, on their first two plays after the Bears chewed up the first eight minutes and 30 seconds with their methodical scoring drive. Richard Rodgers' second catch, a 43-yarder on a deep throw, set up Eddie Lacy's first rushing touchdown of the season, which was about all the Packers got from their running game.

There were other hints of offensive variety, too. Lacy lined up split out as a receiver on two different plays, although he didn't get the ball on either of them. But this game was about precision and production in a timely manner. Forget about time-of-possession football (the Bears had it for 36 minutes, 22 seconds compared to the 23:38 for the Packers), it was time for the Packers to get up and go.

Rodgers still relied heavily on Jordy Nelson (10 catches for 108 yards and two touchdowns) and Randall Cobb (seven catches for 113 yards and two touchdowns) despite help sprinkled in from Richard Rodgers (two catches for 52 yards) and fellow rookie Davante Adams (two catches for 18 yards).

"I think that we knew what we were capable of," Cobb said. "We know what we're capable of as an offense."

Who knows whether it was a product of a Bears defense that came into the game ranked 23rd in yards allowed and was missing three starters (and that doesn't include cornerback Charles Tillman, who is on injured reserve). But at least until Thursday's game against the Minnesota Vikings, Rodgers gave you, the Packers fan who was in full panic mode, a reason to relax.

"There's a time and a place to get a little angry and do what you need to do," Nelson said. "But then there's a time -- like he said -- to relax and just know we didn't perform the way we were supposed to, and just move on and work at it and have a better showing on Sunday like we did."

The day the punters rested in Chicago

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
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CHICAGO -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Green Bay Packers' 38-17 win over the Chicago Bears on Sunday at Soldier Field:

An easy day for Masthay: Other than his holding duties on extra points and field goals, Packers punter Tim Masthay was not needed. The Packers never had to punt. Neither did the Bears, making it just the second game in NFL regular-season history without a punt. The other was a 1992 game between the Bills and 49ers -- a fact that left Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers surprised. In fact, Rodgers overheard a conversation between reporters with Masthay and Packers kicker Mason Crosby, and was quite curious about it. "You don't go into a game thinking you're not going to punt -- or the other team isn't as well -- and you're going to win by 21," Rodgers said. "But we had a good plan, we were aggressive early and guys made a lot of plays."

Peppers
Peppers' return: There was a smattering of boos for Julius Peppers in his first game back at Soldier Field as a member of the Packers, and he said he didn't care. Likewise, he said this game carried no extra emotion despite the fact that he played here for four years. But that's Peppers, who doesn't say much. Rodgers knew differently. "I think we all knew it meant something to him to come back," Rodgers said.

Near perfection: How much better could Rodgers have played on Sunday? When asked about his quarterback's 22-of-28 passing performance for 302 yards and four touchdowns, receiver Jordy Nelson joked: "Not very good. He missed six passes, so he needs to get better."

No injuries: The Packers did not announce any injuries after the game. Defensive end Josh Boyd left the game in the first half with a knee injury but returned.

Rapid Reaction: Green Bay Packers

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
4:00
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CHICAGO -- A few thoughts on the Green Bay Packers' 38-17 win over the Chicago Bears Sunday at Soldier Field.

What it means: Another 1-2 start turned into another bounce-back victory that, at least for the moment, should bring a sense of calm to the team. It was the third straight season the Packers followed a 1-2 start with a victory. Perhaps it was simply the product of playing the Bears' shaky defense, but quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the offense could not be stopped. On their first six possessions, they recorded five touchdowns and a field goal. Tim Masthay never punted, and the only time they did not score was when Mason Crosby had a field goal blocked in the fourth quarter.

Stock watch: Rodgers went over the 25,000 career passing yardage mark in the first half. He did so in his 98th career game, making him the fourth fastest to reach that mark in NFL history. But more importantly, Rodgers looked like, well, Rodgers again after his substandard performance in last week's loss to the Lions, when he threw for just 162 yards. Needing 106 yards to get to 25,000, he threw for 302 yards in the game.

Good block: The best defensive play of the first half might have been when safety Micah Hyde blocked the goal-line camera angle on the final play of the second quarter. Hyde unintentionally shielded the camera that the officials used to determine whether Bears tight end Martellus Bennett had crossed the plane after he caught a second-and-goal pass with time running out in the second quarter. The officials ruled Ha Ha Clinton-Dix had stopped Bennett just short of the goal line and couldn't reverse the call because Hyde blocked the view. Since the Bears had no timeouts left, they could not stop the clock to attempt a field goal, and the Packers took a 21-17 lead into halftime.

Game ball: This game was all about Rodgers, who needed a bounce-back performance. He did all of that and more. And his best throw of the game didn't even count. He had a 34-yard touchdown pass to Davante Adams in the third quarter wiped out by holding penalty. Nevertheless, it was indicative of how just locked in he was. With pressure in his face, Rodgers still fired a bullet to Adams in the end zone. For the game, Rodgers completed 22 of 28 passes for 302 yards and four touchdowns.

What's next: The Packers' third straight NFC North game will be a quick turnaround. The Minnesota Vikings come to Lambeau Field for a Thursday night game.
CHICAGO -- The Green Bay Packers have not gotten much production from their No. 3 receiver so far this season, so perhaps it isn't a huge issue that Jarrett Boykin won't play Sunday against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.

He was declared inactive after sustaining a groin injury in practice last week. He had already been listed on the injury with a knee injury.

Boykin has only two catches for 17 yards this season while splitting time with rookie Davante Adams (seven catches for 61 yards). The Packers have used their three-receiver set more than any other personnel group this season.

But Boykin being declared inactive has opened the door for another rookie receiver, Jeff Janis, to get his first shot. The seventh-round pick from Saginaw Valley State was declared active for the first time Sunday.

There were no other surprises on the Packers' inactive list, which featured just six players because they remain one short on their 53-man roster.

Here's the full list of Packers inactives:
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It had to be a relief to defense coordinator Dom Capers that the groin injury Clay Matthews suffered last week apparently won’t keep the Green Bay Packers linebacker out of Sunday's game at Chicago.

Especially when you consider Matthews' run of success against the Bears.

The four-time Pro Bowl linebacker has more sacks against the rival Bears than any other team he has faced (see accompanying chart). Though it's not a surprise that his highest output would come against a divisional foe given the volume of games, Matthews is on nearly a sack-per-game pace against Chicago. That dwarfs his output against non-division foes.

So it's no wonder Matthews is looking forward to Sunday’s game at Soldier Field.

"They're fun games to play, and I think more so just talking from the fan aspect of it, the fans hate you," Matthews said Friday after the team announced he was listed as probable for Sunday's game. "That's something to thrive on when you play on the road. It's always fun to play opposing stadiums, but at the same time get a victory, because that makes it more fun."

Matthews was denied that opportunity against the Bears last season. In fact, he missed both games against Chicago. The first meeting against the Bears came a week before he returned from his broken thumb and the second came a week after he re-broke it.

"It'll be good to get out there again, kind of put my foot back into that whole Packers-Bears rivalry and just make an impact, really," Matthews said. "I'm looking forward to it."

Matthews has missed 11 regular-season games in his first five NFL seasons, and seven have been NFC North games. In addition to both games against the Bears last season, he has missed two against Minnesota (one each in 2012 and 2013) and three against the Lions (one in 2011 and two in 2012).

Good news for Packers' Clay Matthews

September, 26, 2014
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Clay Matthews has progressed as he had hoped since leaving Sunday's loss at Detroit with a groin strain.

 After he took part in practice on a limited basis on Wednesday and Thursday, the Green Bay Packers on Friday listed their star linebacker as probable for Sunday's game at the Chicago Bears.

That came a day after Matthews said: "I'll be out there."

There's still one hurdle for Matthews to clear before kickoff. Under coach Mike McCarthy’s new schedule, the Packers hold a light practice on Saturdays before Sunday games. The Packers did not practice on Friday but estimated that Matthews' participation level would have been limited if they would have practiced.

"Yeah, so far, so good," McCarthy said Friday. "The medical review, the report today was good on Clay. We still have 48 hours, so we're confident that he'll be ready to go. But like I said, he's still working through it."

Perhaps the biggest injury concern is to No. 3 receiver Jarrett Boykin, who had previously been on the injury report with a knee injury. However, the team added groin to the list of his ailments so he's questionable.

That could open the door for rookie Jeff Janis to get his first shot. The seventh-round pick has been inactive the first three games.

Here's the full injury report:

Questionable
WR Jarrett Boykin (knee, groin)
LB Brad Jones (quadriceps)

Probable
RT Bryan Bulaga (knee)
CB Davon House (knee)
OLB Clay Matthews (groin)
OLB Nick Perry (wrist)

Rodgers' QB coach loved R-E-L-A-X line

September, 25, 2014
Sep 25
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – Regardless of how Aaron Rodgers' R-E-L-A-X message has played in public, it went over well in the Green Bay Packers' quarterbacks room.

That's what quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt said Thursday.

Rodgers
Rodgers
"I like it," Van Pelt said. "That's kind of the feeling of the room. We're three games in. We haven't set the world on fire yet. Offensively, we're used to doing that. We know it's in there. It's in our blood. It's just a matter of having that breakout game."

While the Packers' 1-2 start is not unusual -- it's the third straight season it has happened -- the fact that Rodgers has not performed at his usual MVP-like level is uncharacteristic.

Coming off Sunday's 19-7 loss to the Lions, Rodgers ranks 17th in total QBR (65.8), tied for 25th in completion percentage (62.7) and 23rd in yards per attempt (6.8). His career passer rating of 104.6 is the best all-time, yet so far this season it's just 95.1. He has not finished under 101.2 since his first season as a starter (2008).

"I think we'll feel better if we put a good performance out on Sunday [against the Bears]," Van Pelt said. "I think things will turn for us a little. But nobody's down, nobody's disappointed. We're frustrated that we didn't have the success that we thought we would have up in Detroit, but that's football. It's a long season. We've been in this spot now all three years that I've been here. I've seen what can happen when this thing gets going, and that's fully what we expect."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The play itself has little or no relevance to Sunday's game at Soldier Field, except for the fact that Julius Peppers joked that he's on the other side of the Green Bay Packers-Chicago Bears rivalry because of it.

And even Peppers couldn't say that with a straight face.

Rodgers
Rodgers
Peppers
But nonetheless, his near sack of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers -- with the emphasis on near -- in last year's regular-season finale was his final play in a Bears uniform. If not for fullback John Kuhn's desperation cut block of Peppers, which gave Rodgers the time necessary to heave the 48-yard, game-winning touchdown pass to Randall Cobb, so much would have been different.

The Bears, and not the Packers, would have been NFC North champs.

"We joked about it," Peppers said of Kuhn and his block. "He actually cost me my job. He got me released. I guess it turned out pretty good."

The Bears indeed cut Peppers two months later but not because he couldn't avoid Kuhn’s block. Rather, they did not think he was worth the $13.9 million they would have had to pay him, something Peppers surely knows was more important than one play.

"If I would've made the play, I probably wouldn't be here now," Peppers said standing in front of his locker at Lambeau Field with a sizeable grin on his face. "It's kind of like one of those things like at the time it was the worst thing that could've happened. But now it's like the best thing that could've happened."

Peppers made only a negligible impact on the Packers' first two games of the season but put together what they hope was a breakout performance in Sunday's loss to the Lions. Peppers recorded his first sack as a Packer -- and the 120th of his 13-year NFL career -- and in the process stripped quarterback Matthew Stafford and recovered the fumble. He also was credited with two quarterback hits and three hurries by ProFootballFocus.com to double his season totals in each category.

"He's definitely been everything I thought he would be," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "And I think he's getting more and more comfortable."

But how comfortable will it be for Peppers on Sunday, when he returns to Soldier Field as the visitor? He insisted, as he has done repeatedly since coming to the Packers, that he holds no ill will toward the Bears.

"It was never hard feelings, never hard feelings," he said. "It's the business. People change teams all the time. People might not go from Green Bay to Chicago or from Chicago to Green Bay all the time, but people change teams all the time. It's nothing really extraordinary about this situation."

In fact, he said his return to Chicago will be nothing like when he went back to Carolina in 2010 as a member of the Bears after playing his first eight seasons with the Panthers.

"Carolina is home," Peppers said. "So that was the main thing; it was home. Chicago wasn't really home. It was more of a place ... it wasn't home. So, that's the difference."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- They call it "Zebra" -- the Green Bay Packers' offensive package that includes three receivers plus a tight end and a running back -- and it's just one of a multitude of personnel groups in Mike McCarthy's playbook.

But the way the coach has called plays this season, you might think it's one of the only ones.

With McCarthy committed to running a no-huddle or muddle-huddle offense this season, it has changed the Packers from an offense that once threw myriad formations at an opponent to one that has relied almost exclusively on one package for the majority of its plays.

Just how heavily have the Packers relied on "Zebra" this season? So far, they have used it on 138 of their 176 offensive plays, or 78.4 percent, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Dating to 2010, McCarthy's reliance on that package has increased each season from just 35.6 percent of the time in 2010, to 45.5 percent in 2011 (when the Packers' offense was as multiple and as productive as ever) and on and on (see accompanying chart).

It has been a sacrifice McCarthy has been willing to make in order to run the no-huddle, where substitutions offset the very purpose of the plan.

"We get the best players on the field, and that's usually in our three-receiver set," Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said Wednesday.

As the Packers' offense has struggled out of the gate, ranking 27th in points and 28th in yards, anything is fair game to be reassessed. But it does not sound like McCarthy is ready to make any significant changes -- either in personnel or scheme -- heading into Sunday’s game at the Chicago Bears.

"Our offense really isn't where we would like it to be," McCarthy said. "Whether we're in no-huddle or whether we’re in what we call standard huddle, mechanically what we’re doing I'm comfortable with."

It's likely one of the reasons the Packers have yet to even activate rookie receiver Jeff Janis and have not played tight end Brandon Bostick on offense despite having him in uniform the past two weeks. There simply aren't enough packages to justify using them.

"You can also make the argument: What is your best personnel?" McCarthy said. "How much more do you want to take your third receiver off the field and bring a second tight end? Or are you just going to play with one back? Or bring a fullback on? Those are things that are all part of the conversation and really as your roster develops, where we are in our program, particularly with our quarterback, this is clearly the way we’re structured is the best utilization of our players."

The problem is, outside of receiver Jordy Nelson (who is second in the NFL in receiving yards with 351) the production has been scarce. Other than Nelson (who is averaging 15.3 yards per catch), the Packers don't have another receiver at better than 9.0 yards per catch, which is where Randall Cobb sits with his 14 receptions.

Cobb's lack of production is perhaps the most surprising, given how involved he has been in the offense the past two seasons.

"Well, I think we're close," Rodgers said. "We've had a couple opportunities. We both haven't hit on those. But I have a ton of confidence in him, you know we train together in the offseason, you know we have a lot of conversation during the week. I have a ton of confidence in Randall, and we're going to start making some big plays."

What the Packers need -- and what the whole point of the no-huddle was supposed to be -- is to run more plays. Officially, they ran just 51 against the Lions, a long way short of their goal of 75 offensive snaps per game.

"We had 50-some-odd plays last week," Rodgers said. "We're hoping for 70-plus, so we're definitely underachieving in the no-huddle. Situationally, we haven't been that bad. I think we're 47 percent on third downs, which is decent. That's going to finish in the top 10 for sure. But we're just not finishing off enough drives with points."

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