The biggest challenge the New England Patriots defense will face this season already came in week six when the Kansas City Chiefs’ high-flying offense visited Gillette Stadium. However, the Green Bay Packers’ — despite some inconsistency so far this season — cannot be underestimated either and will pose one of the bigger hurdles for the unit to clear this season. In order to do it, the group needs to find a way to accomplish the following three goals.
Force Aaron Rodgers to go to his depth targets
Almost half of the 286 passes Green Bay’s quarterbacks have attempted so far this season were thrown to wide receiver Davante Adams and tight end Jimmy Graham. The duo ranks one and two in most major receiving categories on the Packers offense and naturally should be treated as such: New England needs to find a way to slow the two down and by extension force quarterback Aaron Rodgers to look elsewhere.
How can they do that? Having a shutdown cornerback helps, and Stephon Gilmore is just that. He should spend the majority of the night guarding Adams, who leads Green Bay with 52 catches for 690 yards and six touchdowns. While the 25-year old obviously is a tough matchup for any defensive back, Gilmore has shown time and again this year that he is up to the challenge of taking away physically imposing wideouts.
Meanwhile, strong safety Patrick Chung should be used on Graham. Like Gilmore, the veteran has had success against elite tight ends this year — think the Kansas City Chiefs’ Travis Kelce — which makes him a logical defender to guard the big tight end tonight. Taking away Graham and Adams should, in turn, take Rodgers a bit out of his comfort zone and force depth players to win their matchups.
Set the edge well
The Patriots defense has faced plenty of mobile quarterbacks in 2018 — from Deshaun Watson to Patrick Mahomes to Mitchell Trubisky — but it has not always been able to properly contain them. Tonight will mark the next chance for Brian Flores’ unit to match up against a highly athletic passer in Aaron Rodgers, and keeping him in the pocket to limit the damage he can do with his feet has to be imperative.
First and foremost, the edge defenders cannot be too aggressive. This is exactly what happened against Trubisky in week seven and it allowed the Chicago Bears’ quarterback to burn the group for 81 yards on six carries. Rodgers, who has 18 carries for 116 yards so far this season, is a similar threat when allowed to break the pocket and pushing too far upfield from the edge could be fatal.
Contain should therefore be high up on New England’s list of defensive priorities. This, of course, does not just hold true when it comes to the quarterback but also to limiting Green Bay’s ground game. While Ty Montgomery is no longer part of the equation due to him getting traded to Baltimore, Aaron Jones and his 6.2 yards per carry cannot be allowed to get to the outside as well.
Don’t hand out extra chances
Green Bay’s offense may not be the most efficient in the league this season, but that does not mean it is not a dangerous unit to play against. Consequently, the Patriots need to bring their A-game not just when it comes to execution but also when it comes to mentality: the unit cannot allow its opponent to get extra chances through penalties or cheap third down conversions.
This, of course, holds true against every offense in the NFL but it is even more important against an offensive powerhouse like the Packers. If the Patriots defense can play a sound game and not commit avoidable errors, it would go a long way to supporting the offense to keep up in what could very well turn out to be a shootout.