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Patriots’ keys to victory over the Packers

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When: Sunday, 8:20 p.m.

Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough

TV, radio: NBC, WBZ-FM 98.5

When the Packers run

Jamaal Williams leads a running back corps thinned by the trade of Ty Montgomery. Williams (6 feet, 213 pounds) is a good-sized back who runs with power and balance. He’s a no-nonsense, north-south pounder who can break tackles by flashing a good stiff-arm and churning his legs through defenders. Williams isn’t overly elusive but he is a tough tackle and does a nice job of avoiding direct blows. He isn’t the patient type; he will clang into his own blockers and sometimes get caught up in traffic when waiting for a clear lane would have been a better strategy. Aaron Jones (5-9, 208) has excellent quickness and surprising strength, allowing him to run outside or between the tackles. If he slips cleanly through a crease at the line, he will accelerate and break off some chunk runs. Tra Carson (5-11, 228) was promoted from the practice squad this week and provides big-body depth. Center Corey Linsley is a solid tactician who can generate space by taking good angles and using leverage. He’ll struggle against bigger, stronger defenders, and New England has a couple of those in Danny Shelton and Malcom Brown. Green Bay guards Lane Taylor and Justin McCray are scrappy but limited athletically. They’ll need to stack and shed and get blocks at the second level and obstruct New England linebackers Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, and Elandon Roberts from shooting gaps and landing hits in the backfield.

EDGE: Patriots


Rushing yards per game

Green Bay offense: 104.0 (21st)

New England defense: 105.5 (14th)

Second-year back Jamaal Williams is averaging 3.7 yards per carry.jeff haynes/AP

When the Packers pass

As long as Aaron Rodgers is at the controls, the Packers’ preferred method of travel always will be through the air. Rodgers is one of the top signal callers the league has ever seen, blending just about the perfect mix of physical skills, intellect, and mental toughness for the job. He has been in the same system (one he mastered long ago) for eons and never appears rattled. His arm talent is second to none. Rodgers is proficient on deep balls (his Hail Marys get answered!), intermediate zips, and soft dump-offs. He is able to change arm angles and velocity seamlessly and can throw off his front or back foot, allowing him to fit his passes into any window. He might be the best ever at leading his receivers and putting them in the best position to make yards after the catch. He’s not mobile in the traditional sense but his escapability is undeniable and extraordinarily frustrating for defenders. Rodgers has the athleticism and footwork to both stretch the pocket and extend plays. He is a master at getting everyone involved, but this year he has three special targets. Davante Adams has a splendid blend of size and athleticism. He tracks the ball well, plucks it in stride, and accelerates after the catch. Randall Cobb has initial quickness, deep speed, and specializes in weaving through traffic after the catch. Tight end Jimmy Graham is a large target with long arms and good speed and athleticism.


EDGE: Packers

Passing yards per game

Green Bay offense: 308.1 (fifth)

New England defense: 277.3 (22d)

Aaron Rodgers has a passer rating of 100.4 this season.denis poroy/AP

When the Patriots run

Despite the health challenges that have caused instability in the backfield, the Patriots have been able to maintain a decent rushing attack through the first half of the season thanks to the contributions of many. If Sony Michel (knee) can answer the bell, he gives this offense balance. Michel is a tough inside runner whose patience is improving. He has good shiftiness and balance and deceptive power. James White has excellent quickness and the nifty ability to change speeds and freeze defenders. Kenjon Barner is a one-cut-and-go guy. If he gets a clean lane, he can make a move and leave defenders in the dust. Cordarrelle Patterson has shown flashes that he can handle some backfield work. He has excellent size and strength but his upright running style leaves him susceptible to big hits. Center David Andrews is smart and tenacious. He’ll have his hands full — and will need some help from his friends — as he swaps paint with relentless nose tackle Kenny Clark. Green Bay’s behemoth in the middle (he’s 6-3, 314 pounds) has rare speed and athleticism for his size. He pushes upfield quickly, and his active hands make it tough for blockers to lock on. He makes a ton of tackles but also creates space for his teammates to make a ton, too. Middle linebacker Blake Martinez has superb instincts and recognition skills. He moves well laterally, fights off blocks effectively, and explodes into opponents.


EDGE: Packers

Rushing yards per game

New England offense: 115.3 (13th)

Green Bay defense: 119.1 (22d)

Cordarrelle Patterson (left) has 74 yards on 17 carries.adrian kraus/AP

When the Patriots pass

Julian Edelman has injected adrenaline into this offense since jumping back into the lineup in Week 5. The shifty slot receiver quickly reestablished his connection with Tom Brady and cemented his status as one of the top clutch performers in the game. In just four games, Edelman has 25 catches (third on the team) for 251 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He has made a career out of finding soft spots in the defense, and for the last 10 seasons Brady has made it a habit of finding him. Edelman’s quick feet and Brady’s quick release make this a tough combination to defend. It’ll be needed against the Packers, who can bring the heat up the middle (hello, Kenny Clark and Mike Daniels) and off the edges with Clay Matthews and Nick Perry. Matthews plays as if his lengthy locks are on fire. He has excellent instincts and takes direct downhill angles to the ball. Perry has terrific speed and strength and can swiftly swat away those blocking his path to the quarterback. Brady is brilliant at finding his weapons, and he has no shortage. Josh Gordon is a big deep threat who has gained Brady’s trust in record time. Chris Hogan’s speed and crisp route running make him effective on crossers. James White (55 catches) has developed into a most reliable safety valve. Green Bay’s secondary is in a state of flux (safety Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix was traded Tuesday) but has playmakers in corners Jaire Alexander and Kevin King.


EDGE: Patriots

Passing yards per game

New England offense: 266.6 (13th)

Green Bay defense: 221.7 (fifth)


The formidable Kenny Clark has four sacks this season.stacy revere/Getty

Packers’ key player: Tramon Williams

The veteran cornerback is shifting to safety this week to replace the traded Ha-Ha Clinton Dix. The decision to move Williams, who has some experience at the position, also allows the Packers to shift flashy corner Jaire Alexander to the perimeter full time.

How he beats you: With smoothness and savvy. Williams is a fluid athlete with good mirror skills and recovery speed. After a dozen years, his recognitions skills are top-notch. He’s covered every route and seen every scheme.

How to shut him down: By challenging him. How quickly can he adapt to his new assignments and responsibilities? Throw everything — and everyone — at him, and see whether he can handle covering center field and supporting the run.

Packers’ keys to victory

1. Green acres: Spread Davante Adams out far and wide. As Bill Belichick said, “Everything’s a problem,” when it comes to Adams. He fights for every ball and is elusive after the catch.

2. Green monster: Clay Matthews must be a force — but not too forceful (watch those roughing-the-passer calls). He has excellent instincts and a high-revving engine.

3. Green mountains: Giant tackles David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga must keep the Patriots out of Aaron Rodgers’s face. The QB can’t continue to take the punishment he’s absorbed and be effective.

Patriots’ keys to victory

1. Red alert: Tom Brady & Co. must cash in when they get to the red zone. This game could turn into a track meet, and settling for field goals just won’t work against Aaron Rodgers.

2. Red hat: Identifying and picking up Green Bay’s multiple blitz packages is imperative to give Brady time to run through his reads and his receivers the time to get free.

3. Red Sox: It’ll take a championship effort to rattle Rodgers. Pressure needs to come from everywhere to take away his time and space. Play through the whistle, because this guy sure does.

PREDICTION: Patriots 37, Packers 34

Jim McBride can be reached at james.mcbride@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globejimmcbride.