Redskins vs. Packers conversation: Starting 0-2 a near death sentence

Jordy Nelson, Aaron Rodgers

Jordy Nelson and Aaron Rodgers lead the Packers’ dynamic passing game. (Ben Margot/Associated Press)

openingkicklogoBill Huber is the publisher of PackerReport and PackerReport.com, he writes for Fox Sports Wisconsin and like Pierre Garcon, London Fletcher and yours truly, he’s a former Division III football player. So like many people in Wisconsin, he eats, sleeps and breathes the game, and that starts with their beloved Packers. Bill took a few minutes out of game week to shoot the breeze back and forth with me about how Washington and Green Bay match up.

Keith: With both the Redskins and Packers coming off opening-weekend losses, is there any palpable sense of fear in Wisconsin that the season might start 0-2, or is this a game – because it’s at home, because the Redskins are no 49ers – that Green Bay feels pretty comfortable about winning?

Bill: Yeah, there’s a sense of fear. Like just about every other fan base, I suppose, the glass is always half empty rather than half full. I can understand it, in a way. Dual-threat quarterback Colin Kaepernick just carved up the Packers’ defense like a Thanksgiving turkey. Who’s up next? Dual-threat quarterback Robert Griffin III, the reigning Rookie of the Year.

The difference between 1-1 and 0-2 is much, much more than just a game in the standings. Over the last four seasons, 30 teams started the season 0-2. Not a single one of them made the playoffs. Heck, not a one of them even finished better than .500. It’s not a death sentence — the Giants in 2007 started 0-2 and won the Super Bowl — but it’s pretty close. When you look at the power teams in the NFC, 0-2 is a deep, deep hole.
Who avoids that hole? I’d guess it boils down to which version of the Redskins shows up. During that second-half rally on Monday night, was that Washington getting into a groove or was it the Eagles relaxing a bit with a 26-point cushion?

Keith: A bit of both, for certain. The likelihood of the Redskins coming out and fumbling the ball around like they did against the Eagles is pretty close to zero, and some of Robert Griffin III’s 329 yards passing came after the Eagles stopped running delayed blitzes and double A-gap blitzes and were just trying to sneak out of FedEx Field with a win. But I think there’s a mood around the Redskins that suggests they got out of Monday’s game before they were ever really in it, and they didn’t get to show the full breadth of their offense. The late rally built some confidence, and if you think about it, this is a team that won seven straight games to close the 2012 regular season without Fred Davis, Roy Helu Jr., Jordan Reed or a healthy Pierre Garcon. So the offense has the potential to be really good, but it’s got to get into a rhythm earlier in Sunday’s game.

Speaking of “which version shows up?,” is this the 2011 Packers defense, or did they just look shaky last week because the 49ers are pretty darn good?

Bill: To quote the great Keith McMillan, I’ll go with, “A bit of both, for certain.” Let’s go back to the 2012 playoff game at San Francisco. Colin Kaepernick ran for 188 yards, Frank Gore added 119 and the Niners rumbled for 323. For the entire offseason and through training camp, the players were criticized as soft and the coaching staff was criticized as ill-prepared. So, even in defeat, I think the Packers made a statement. The 49ers had no running game whatsoever. The Packers’ defensive line took it to a Niners front wall featuring three Pro Bowlers. The coaching staff, like every coaching staff in the league, put a focus in taking away the option game, so that was a success.

Unfortunately for the Packers, Kaepernick is perhaps the most dangerous player in the league. He beat them in the playoff game with his legs and in Week 1 with his arm. A player without a 300-yard game to his credit threw for 412. Man-to-man, zone, double teams, none of it made a difference against Anquan Boldin. Vernon Davis, who I think is the best tight end in the game, had a big day, too.

Obviously, Griffin has that same type of ability. But does he have an Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis at his disposal to make the Packers pay if their overriding focus is stopping the run?

Keith: I kind of set you up for that answer, huh? Griffin, Fred Davis and Pierre Garcon compare to Kaepernick, Davis and Boldin, not exactly, but in terms of potential impact. I think the Redskins have more guys they can spread it around to even if Alfred Morris doesn’t bounce back from probably his worst game as a pro. All five of their wide receivers play and can do damage, and Washington is still figuring out what it has with the four tight ends who are active on game day. Honestly, I don’t think they got into their true offense on Monday because they got so far behind. Everything really still hinges on Griffin, whether his throws are off target and his scrambles limited, or whether he makes the Packers defense pick its poison in the way Kaepernick did.

Another thought though is that the Redskins don’t necessarily need the running game to work, they just need the Packers to respect it. So much of what Washington does well involves play action later in the game off the same run looks they show early in the game, so if the Packers are selling out to stop the run, Kyle Shanahan might have Green Bay right where he wants it.

Speaking of the run, will Eddie Lacy be effective enough this early in his career to be someone the Redskins should worry about?

Bill: In the long run, Lacy has the potential to change everything on an offense that has revolved around Aaron Rodgers the past few seasons. Lacy ran for 1,322 yards at Alabama last season against a bunch of eight-in-the-box defenses. With defenses lining up mainly in nickel against the Packers, he’ll almost never see eight-in-the-box with Green Bay. With Lacy, the Packers finally have a back capable of making defenses pay for their Rodgers-centric approach to playing defense. Not only is he big enough to run through tackles, but he can beat defenders with an outstanding spin move. He showed his open-field running skills on a 31-yard screen. If he can provide any kind of running game, it would open up a play-action passing game that essentially disappeared last season, when defenses essentially laughed at the play-action fakes.

Lacy got off to a rough start against San Francisco, with a first-half fumble and subsequent benching. He had a strong second half, though, with nine carries for 37 yards and a touchdown against a really good defense. On the Packers’ go-ahead touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, a long pass put the ball on the Niners’ 13-yard line. Lacy got the ball on three of the next four plays to score the touchdown. So, as you said about Washington’s running game, the Packers just need defenses to respect the running game.

One more thing about the running game is it should help take some of the starch out of the pass rush, since defenses just can’t attack Rodgers at will. That’s key: Rodgers was sacked 51 times last year, and this year’s offense features the most inexperienced offensive tackles in the league with rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari and second-year right tackle Don Barclay. I’m guessing that’s where the Redskins would want to attack with their outside linebackers.

Keith: And the Redskins have a pretty dangerous pair in Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo, although Orakpo had a pretty quiet opener. The biggest concern on defense is at safety, where the Redskins started a rookie and a cornerback against the Eagles. I’m halfway through my second rewatch of the game, and Baccari Rambo and E.J. Biggers did come up and make some big tackles. But nobody remembers you for doing what they expect you to do, they remember the missed tackles. If Brandon Meriweather really can go this week, it would have a residual effect in that Biggers would be available to help at corner. The secondary, in theory, would have a guy who knows how to get lined up and take the prime tackling angles, but he’s appeared in one half of the past 18 games, playoffs included, so what exactly the Redskins would get from him is up in the air. No better way to get re-acclimated to NFL game action than facing Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Randall Cobb. And possibly Jermichael Finley.

Bill, I appreciate your time and hope Redskins fans do too. Somebody’s going to get relief on Sunday, and the other team and its fans have a rough week ahead.

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From around the Web

● We might not be allowed to use all-22 screengrabs, but that doesn’t mean analysis using them doesn’t exist. Check out UKRedskin’s breakdown of Jordan Reed, plus a few others from Monday’s game at Hogs Haven.

● ESPN’s John Keim discusses the openings shown by the Eagles’ blitzes on Monday and the Redskins’ reactions to more blitzing.

● The Packers’ team Web site looks ahead to facing RGIII by asking if Rodgers or Griffin is the future of the NFL. As if there could only be one.

What’s ahead:

● The Redskins practice at 11:50 a.m. on Friday.

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