1. Okay, first things first... How do you stop Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense?
Blow out Jordy Nelson's ACL? I know that sounds glib, but when Nelson is healthy there has been little that can be done to stop this unit. And he will be healthy - Mike McCarthy confirmed that he is full-go for practice and game action this week despite not playing in the preseason and practicing for just the last few weeks. His return should give the Packers back their weapon to beat coverage in the secondary when they use their max-protect play-action packages on offense. Furthermore, a rejuvenated Eddie Lacy should be able to put pressure on defenses on the ground, and if defenses revert back to a cover-2 or cover-3 shell against the Packers with seven in the box, Lacy looks poised to make them pay.
Perhaps the best way to attack this offense is to get penetration on the interior of the line, especially if you can do it without bringing extra rushers. The team just inexplicably released eight-year veteran and three-time Pro Bowl guard Josh Sitton at final cuts, and will replace him with fourth-year player Lane Taylor. Taylor has been a decent player as a Packer, but there is no question that this is a step back for the line - especially in pass protection, where Sitton was practically unbeatable. I expect teams to try to attack Taylor and center JC Tretter (who is in his first year as a full-time starter) early and often with creative pressure packages in order to try to pressure Rodgers.
2. Are there any weak links in the Packers defense? If you're the Jaguars offensive coordinator, what's standing out to you?
There are two areas of concern - inside linebacker and the defensive line. The Packers kept just three inside linebackers on the 53, a surprisingly low number for a 3-4 team. Compounding matters is the fact that none of these players has more than one year of NFL experience, as the projected starters are a pair of fourth-round picks from last season (Jake Ryan, who started seven games last year) and this spring (Stanford's Blake Martinez). I expect teams to test them in coverage against running backs and tight ends as well as in the run game.
On the line, depth is a major concern. First-round pick Kenny Clark was expected to be a plug-and-play starter in the role of the departed B.J. Raji at nose tackle. However, back issues have kept him limited in the second half of camp and he was not playing much with the ones early on anyway. Starting tackle Letroy Guion has also been limited by injury lately, leaving no fully healthy option on the nose with Mike Pennel suspended for the first four games. However, the Packers do tend to use just two down linemen on about 75% of their defensive snaps, and there are a variety of different players (including outside linebackers Julius Peppers and Datone Jones) who can contribute as interior rushers in the nickel and dime packages.
All in all, I expect that this defense can be run on, and until the line gets healthy and the linebackers gel a bit better, I expect to see some big days for opposing running backs.
3. It's forecast to be a high of 91 degrees on Sunday. I've seen some chatter about this being one of the hottest games the Packers have played in the past few years. Do Packers fans buy into that or is the temperature at kickoff overblown?
I think there is some validity to the concern about the temperatures, but that it will affect both teams. Personally, I believe that in these kinds of games, conditioning and depth become your biggest assets, and the Packers appear to have very good depth at most positions - particularly at pass rush, in the secondary, and at wide receiver. Green Bay should feel comfortable (or as comfortable as a team facing Allen Robinson can be) rotating four cornerbacks into the game as well as four to five outside linebackers. They also have five receivers who should be able to contribute on Sunday, ensuring that each player is as effective as possible when they are out on the field.
It was a pretty warm summer in Green Bay as well, and with many hot outdoor practices behind them, hopefully the team will be as prepared as possible for the hot Jacksonville weather.
4. Is there a Jaguars player on either side of the ball that you say, "If the Packers don't stop him, we're in trouble"? (You don't get to say Allen Robinson.)
Well, great, now I have to think about this. Given the turmoil on the Packers' offensive line, I'm going with Malik Jackson. I am concerned that he could start abusing Taylor early and often and put Aaron Rodgers on the ground with regularity. If so, that will disrupt the Packers' offensive rhythm and make the unit far less effective. All told, I have more faith in the ability of the Packers' tackles to hold up well against Dante Fowler and Jared Odrick than I do in the interior against Jackson.
5. What's your prediction for Sunday? Do the Jaguars stand a chance, or is this going to be an easy one for the Packers?
By no means do I expect this to be an easy game - I think the Packers will emerge victorious, but it will be a hard-fought and close win. I am a believer in Jacksonville's offense, and I see this being a high-scoring, back-and-forth game for three quarters. Where the Packers have an advantage in my eyes is in pass defense, as the pass rush and secondary are major strengths. I expect to see Green Bay force a timely turnover or two in the fourth quarter to help seal a one-possession game.