FOXBOROUGH — The Packers don’t need their defense to be superb. With Aaron Rodgers — one of the greatest quarterbacks of his generation — leading Green Bay’s offense, the defense merely needs to keep the team in the game.
It’s been tough sledding in that regard of late. Green Bay has dropped two of its last three, allowing 31, 30, and 29 points to Detroit, San Francisco, and the Los Angeles Rams. The Packers were able overcome a fourth-quarter deficit and outlast the 49ers because of Rodgers’s brilliance, but the righthanded slinger won’t be able to rescue them every week.
Yet holding the high-powered Rams to fewer than 30 points was an encouraging sign.
The blue print Green Bay deployed against the Rams could prove useful in disrupting Tom Brady’s rhythm when New England hosts the Packers Sunday night.
Despite ranking in the bottom half of the NFL in points and yards allowed per game, the Green Bay defense has been one of the best in football at generating quarterback pressure, often in creative, disguisable ways. The Packers are tied for third in the NFL with 3.3 sacks per game.
“They kind of show things and then sometimes they’ll do what they’re showing and sometimes they won’t,” said Patriots right tackle LaAdrian Waddle. “They’re going to give us different looks and they’re going to change it up on us.”
Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine has a handful of players who excel at penetrating into the backfield on dropbacks. Of course, there’s linebacker Clay Matthews, the six-time Pro Bowl selection with the flowing blond locks. Less heralded but arguably as impactful are nose tackle Kenny Clark, defensive end Mike Daniels, and outside linebacker Nick Perry.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick explained Friday that preparing for certain looks Green Bay utilized in the past isn’t always a fruitful exercise.
“They do a good job mixing it up,” said Belichick. “Certainly, if you’re not picking it up, they’re going to keep blitzing you. If you can’t handle it, then Coach Pettine will just keep firing them in there. They give you a lot of different looks.”
“There’s a lot of different combinations that they use to pressure, and the ones that we’re working on this week, we may not even see those. We might see something else or could be different guys, different players in different spots, so it’s not quite the same identification that you had on film from another game, and sometimes that’s confusing.”
The Packers’ tireless pass rush has a positive effect on the rest of the defense. Per NFL Next Gen Stats, the Packers rank ninth in the league in opposing open-receiver percentage (41.4).
Left guard Joe Thuney thinks the Patriots’ offense will be fine if it follows one of Belichick’s favorite rules: communicate.
“I think the most important thing is everyone has to be on the same page,” said Thuney. “Everyone’s got to be communicating, seeing the game through the same set of eyes, understanding the play that we call and what we’re trying to do on it, and then ultimately executing it. It’s going to require a lot of communication.”
Run to remember
The Patriots and Packers last met at Gillette Stadium on Dec. 19, 2010, in what may as well be called “The Dan Connolly Game.” New England won, 31-27, in part because Connolly — a 313-pounder — returned a kickoff 71 yards to inside the Green Bay 5-yard line.
It still stands as the longest kickoff return by an offensive lineman.
“We were saying, like, it’s a really good run,” said Thuney. “Makes a nice cut and just goes right off the seam of the blocks. He looks like he’s done it before. Pretty cool play.”
Thuney wasn’t the only New England lineman appreciative of the technique used by Connolly.
“That’s amazing,” said Waddle. “The guy made some cuts, he got a couple good blocks. Dan made a hell of a run. Awesome play. Honestly, I just wish he scored. Other than that, that’s an epic play. One of the greatest returns in history.”
For Ted Karras, who is slated to start in place of right guard Shaq Mason on Sunday, Connolly’s runback further established New England’s dominance.
“I was watching it live,” recalled Karras. “I was in high school and I just remember thinking, ‘The Patriots are good everywhere.’ ”
Offensive lineman James Ferentz was added to the 53-man roster off the practice squad on Saturday.
The Patriots Foundation, in conjunction with the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors hosted 25 military families Saturday for a dinner with owner Robert Kraft. As part of the NFL’s Salute to Service campaign, on Sunday the Patriots will honor those who have sacrificed their lives in the line of duty.