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NFL Preview - Green Bay (7-0) at San Diego (4-3)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said hearing kind words about his unbeaten team beats the alternative, but believes there's still more work to be done.
Getting the Packers to 8-0 for the first time in nearly 50 years is on top of McCarthy's list as Green Bay pays a visit to the floundering San Diego Chargers Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium.
The Packers had some time to rest during their recent bye week, but McCarthy made it feel like training camp when the players returned Monday with an all- pads practice at the team's facility in cool temperatures. Whether McCarthy was trying to send a message with a full-blown padded practice, tight end Jermichael Finley believes it was a wake-up call for the whole team.
"No doubt he was trying to send a message," Finley said. "He didn't want anybody coming in being lazy, flat-footed. He put those pads on us ASAP and woke us up at the beginning of the week."
Green Bay is atop practically every NFL power poll at 7-0 and hasn't won its first eight games of the season since the Vince Lombardi-guided 1962 squad started 10-0 and eventually beat the New York Giants in that year's NFL Championship, as Super Bowls were obviously non-existent then and the now- coveted trophy had yet to be named after the Packers' legendary head coach.
McCarthy won't have his name etched on anything just yet, but he is 4-1 out of the bye week with the Packers, who have won 13 in a row (including the postseason) dating back to last year.. The Packers have also won seven in a row away from Lambeau Field over that span.
With a victory this Sunday, the Packers would become just the third defending Super Bowl champion, joining the 1990 49ers and 1998 Broncos, to start the following season 8-0.
McCarthy added the Packers have "more to offer as a football team" and will face eight opponents currently with a winning record over the last nine games of the regular season. The Chargers come first, and McCarthy and Company had a chance to scout their Week 9 opponent in a 23-20 overtime loss at Kansas City on Monday.
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is off to a mediocre start and turnovers have been killing him. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, meanwhile, is on another level right now and is first in the NFL in completion percentage (71.5), passer rating (125.7) and touchdown throws (20). He is also second overall with 2,372 passing yards and an average of 338.9 per game.
"He's hot right now," Finley said of Rodgers. "I tell everybody we are blessed to have a guy like that taking the snap and having the ball on every play."
San Diego may not want Rivers handling the snap, though the three-time Pro Bowl selection is still regarded as one of the top quarterbacks in the league despite his recent struggles. The Chargers were ready to set themselves up for a potential game-winning field goal against the Chiefs until Rivers fumbled the exchange from center and Chiefs linebacker Andy Studebaker escaped a scrum with the ball. Kansas City then later won it on a Ryan Succop field goal in overtime, sending San Diego to a 4-3 record and a three-way tie with the Chiefs and Raiders atop the AFC West standings.
Chargers head coach Norv Turner was in disbelief after the game.
"The game had a lot of swing to it," Turner said. "That's a very unusual way to not win a game. If someone gave me different scenarios before the game of the way it would end, that certainly would not have been in the discussion."
Rivers threw two interceptions for the second straight week -- both San Diego losses -- and has been picked off 11 times this season. He also has fumbled four times in the past three games, losing two, and has three lost fumbles on the year. Rivers was also sacked three times on Monday and 17 times overall for a San Diego bunch mired in a two-game slide following a three-game winning streak.
The Chargers' next three games are against formidable foes in Green Bay, Oakland and Chicago.
San Diego did play tough defense in Monday's loss, with safety Eric Weddle picking off Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel twice and the unit forcing a pair of fumbles and recovering both in addition to holding one of the toughest ground attacks in check, much to the delight of Turner.
"I'm not happy about anything, but like I said, defensively we went through a long stretch of the game where they didn't allow many first downs," Turner said. "The guys did a great job stopping [the Chiefs]."
Now the Chargers get to face a Green Bay offense rated first in points per game (32.9), third in passing yards (323.4 ypg) and fourth in total yards (423.3 ypg). They haven't faced a potent offense like that since a Week 2 loss at New England in which the Patriots compiled 504 yards behind quarterback Tom Brady, who passed for 423 yards and three touchdowns with no turnovers in a 35-21 outcome. Rivers passed for 378 yards with two scores that day, but was also picked off twice.
Green Bay has taken eight of nine all-time meetings with San Diego and has topped the Chargers five consecutive times, most recently a 31-24 win at Lambeau Field in 2007. The Packers are 5-0 against San Diego at Qualcomm Stadium during the regular season as well, which includes victories there in both 1999 (31-3) and 2003 (38-21). The Chargers' only triumph over Green Bay took place at Lambeau Field on Oct. 7, 1984, a 34-28 verdict.
The Packers have lost once at Qualcomm Stadium in a postseason setting, falling to Denver by a 31-24 score in Super Bowl XXXII on Jan. 25, 1998.
Turner has only faced Green Bay once before as a head coach, with his Chargers losing to the Pack in that aforementioned 2007 matchup. That game also served as McCarthy's only previous encounter with both San Diego and Turner during his tenure as the Packers' head coach.
Turner succeeded McCarthy as the offensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers when the latter took his present position in Green Bay prior to the 2006 season.
WHEN THE PACKERS HAVE THE BALL
Rodgers (2,372 passing yards, 20 TD, 3 INT) has thrown one interception in his last three games and has passed for more than 300 yards in all but one contest this season. That was a 297-yard passing effort in a Week 3 win at Chicago. He threw three touchdown passes in a 33-27 win at Minnesota before the bye week and has 12 scoring strikes in the past four games for the Packers, who have converted 48.8 percent of their third-down chances as well. An early candidate for the MVP award, Rodgers is averaging a league-best 9.9 yards per pass attempt. His worst rating of the season was a 111.4 mark against the Bears, a mark several quarterbacks at this level would enjoy reaching. The Packers would like to cut down on their penalties and sacks, as the offense has amassed 24 of the 38 penalties on the team this season and the offensive line has allowed 16 sacks in the first seven games after giving up 38 a year ago. The Packers are on pace to match that again if something is not fixed up front. Wide receiver Greg Jennings (42 receptions, 677 yards, 5 TD) is hoping his right hand is healed after injuring it against Minnesota, though he's considered probable to play. Running backs James Starks (374 rushing yards, 1 TD) and Ryan Grant (229 rushing yards) have complimented the team's potent pass attack, but Green Bay is 24th in rushing.
San Diego knows it could be bombarded by Rodgers' throws on Sunday, but has the fourth-best pass defense in the league, allowing 185.9 yards per week through the air. Kansas City had just 247 net yards passing in its Monday night win and Weddle (41 tackles) led the Chargers with a pair of interceptions to give a team-leading five on the season. The Packers aren't that dominant in running the football, though it wouldn't be a surprise to see them try to set Starks and Grant in motion right away. The Chargers' 3-4 scheme isn't predicated in stopping the rush, as evidenced by its 17th-rated run defense. San Diego did hold the Chiefs to 94 yards rushing, however, with linebacker Donald Butler (49 tackles, sack) leading the way with eight tackles on Monday. He is tied with veteran linebacker Takeo Spikes (49 tackles, sack) for the team lead in stops. Outside linebackers Shaun Phillips (24 tackles) and Antwan Barnes (7 tackles) have a team-best three sacks apiece and will try to apply pressure on Rodgers before he has enough time in the pocket to let loose. Fellow outside linebacker Travis LaBoy (15 tackles, 1 sack) hasn't provided much of a pass rush so far this season, but a big game from him could make San Diego's job on defense a bit easier. LaBoy, though, forced a fumble in the loss to the Chiefs.
WHEN THE CHARGERS HAVE THE BALL
The Chargers produced 447 yards of offense at Kansas City and still managed to fumble away a chance to win. Rivers (2,084 passing yards, 7 TD, 11 INT) threw for more than 300 yards for the fourth time this season, but he's been putting the Chargers behind the eight ball with too many turnovers. San Diego's still in first place in the AFC West, but will have to protect the ball more often if it has any intentions on making a push towards the playoffs. The Chargers scored just 14 offensive points against the Jets two games ago and did not record a touchdown until midway through the fourth quarter Monday in Kansas City. Malcom Floyd (19 receptions, 1 TD) led the receivers with 107 yards on five receptions against the Chiefs with top target Vincent Jackson (27 receptions, 472 yards, 3 TD) held in check, as he finished with 49 yards on three receptions. Tight end Antonio Gates (17 receptions, 1 TD) appeared in his second straight game since missing four straight because of a foot problem and is expected to play again this week. All three targets will be key to any chance of success the Chargers may create this weekend against a struggling Green Bay secondary. With leading rusher Ryan Mathews (509 rushing yards, 3 TD) doubtful with a calf injury and reserve Curtis Brinkley (43 rushing yards, 1 TD) sustaining a concussion last week, San Diego hopes Mike Tolbert (163 rushing yards, 3 TD) can return from a strained hamstring and pace the ground attack.
Green Bay tops the NFL in takeaways thanks to a league-leading 13 interceptions, five of which have been recorded by cornerback Charles Woodson. (26 tackles, 1 sack). The veteran is having a strong season for a Packers team rated just 31st in pass defense, allowing 288.9 yards per game. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers feels the unit can get better and said it's not where he wants it to be. He'll have to have a tight scheme to handle a Chargers offense that likes to throw the football quite often. A few defenders are banged up for Green Bay such as cornerback Tramon Williams (21 tackles), who is bothered by a shoulder injury, while nickel back Sam Shields (23 tackles, 2 INT) did not play against the Vikings because of a concussion but is expected to return this week. Linebacker Clay Matthews (22 tackles, 3 sacks) used the bye week to rest and is hoping to get his sack count up after registering 13 1/2 a season ago. The Packers are 28th in yards allowed (391.0 ypg) and 10th in rush defense, but were toasted by Vikings running back Adrian Peterson to the tune of 175 yards and a score on 24 carries before the break. Though San Diego's running backs shouldn't be as much trouble, the Packers have permitted 550 rushing yards in the last four games.
KEYS TO THE GAME
San Diego coming out on top on Sunday all depends on how Rivers and the offensive line perform. Rivers' blunders the past few weeks have been well- documented, and the offensive line needs to create space for both the quarterback and the ground game.
Remember that the Packers' pass defense is in its current state in the rankings mainly because opposing teams are playing from behind, and running the football while down doesn't help the cause, especially in the fourth quarter. If Green Bay can race out to a comfortable lead, Rivers will pad his stats but may not leave the field happy.
Green Bay has a lot of pressure riding on this game, as it would like to remain the only team in the NFL with an unblemished mark. A loss by the defending Super Bowl champions will not have much of an impact on the NFC standings, but it would show the Packers aren't invincible.
There were plenty of odd turnouts during the Halloween weekend, and the tricks will carry over into the first month of November. The Chargers should be on a five-game winning streak and seated cozily atop the AFC West, but instead blew chances of prevailing against the Jets and Chiefs. Rivers came up short in both sequences, and nothing but a win over the league's best team can bring him back in good spirits with the fans and beat writers. San Diego has the luxury of playing in its own backyard, but it will be a fight to the finish for a Chargers team in dire need of a win.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Chargers 26, Packers 21
11/03 17:06:49 ET
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