When the Patriots Run – Edge: Packers
The Patriots will be in for a tough challenge coming up against a Packers defense that was dominant early on, whether Mac Jones is available or not. Green Bay is stingy across the board, allowing 113 yards per game on the ground and just 302 per game overall. However, the Packers allow nearly 5 yards per carry, and that total ranks 25th in the league. The Patriots will likely look to continue using the two-headed monster of Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson, both of whom were efficient in the Ravens loss. Stevenson, in particular, enjoyed a strong afternoon, consistently hauling in extra yards with his vision and tenacity. They need to keep getting that kind of production, especially when Brian Hoyer is forced to take the reins as Jones struggles with an ankle injury. Despite the high average per carry, going up against the pack won’t be easy. De’Vondre Campbell is an active inside linebacker, playing behind nose tackle Kenny Clark, finishing Jarran Reed and Dean Lowry. The Patriots’ offensive line had an up-and-down afternoon against Baltimore, opening up a few holes at times but also suffering a few dropouts at key moments. The Patriots can’t afford many of these mishaps on the road at Lambeau Field.
If the Patriots pass – Edge: Packers
The Patriots could have a big break in this matchup after Green Bay’s standout cornerer Jaire Alexander was forced to walk out of the win over the Bucs with a groin injury. His status is uncertain until Sunday. But the Packers’ pass defense is pretty impressive and Hoyer will have his hands full anyway. Green Bay ranks seventh in the league, allowing 189.3 yards per game through the air. If Alexander is unable to leave, his snaps will be split between Rasul Douglas and Kelsean Nixon, who will join starter Eric Stokes. The pack also has a solid safety tandem in Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage and this runner-up also benefits from the solid pressure generated up front. Green Bay have just seven sacks in three games, with linebackers Rashan Gary (3) and Preston Smith (2) doing most of the damage, but the pack ranks ninth in the league in sacks per game with an 8.2 percent of quarterback time. Hoyer needs to get the ball out quickly and find ways to get the ball into the hands of his receivers and maybe look to corner Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith more. It will also be interesting to see if Bill Belichick gives Kendrick Bourne additional opportunities to make plays since the receiver was productive with his limited chances.
When the Packers Run – Edge: Packers
The Patriots’ running defense was outstanding in the first two games of the season. But neither Miami nor Pittsburgh are considered strong rushing attacks. Sunday against Baltimore was a different story, and it wasn’t just about Lamar Jackson. The Ravens were far more successful on the ground with their running backs than expected as they combined for 13 carries for 83 yards, and Jackson was exceptional with 110 yards on eight carries excluding three squats to end the game. Lawrence Guy had to leave in the second half with a shoulder injury and didn’t return. The Patriots missed his presence on the inside, but the Ravens were also successful on the ground before his departure. The guys at the front need to be ready for the Packers’ tough tandem of Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon. Jones has been outstanding so far, averaging nearly 7 yards per carry, with most of that production coming in the last two games. Dillon has been largely contained, averaging just 3.5 yards per rush, but he’s a liability and will weigh on the inside of defense. The Packers are averaging 128 yards per game, which is in ninth place, and also a healthy 4.7 per carry (10th). Sunday’s struggles shattered New England’s run defense, finishing 19th in the league in yardage (115) and 22nd in per-carry average (4.9). Based on those numbers, they can assume they’ll feed Jones and Dillon on a regular basis.
When the Packers are over – Edge: Patriots
Predicting the Patriots to come out on top in a matchup against Aaron Rodgers seems comical, but so far Rodgers hasn’t been able to find much success in life without Davante Adams. Rodgers flies an average of 229 yards per game, which would mark a career low. He’s trying to find some rhythm with an almost entirely new set of receivers that includes rookies Romeo Doubs and Christian Watson and veterans Randall Cobb and Allen Lazard. Doubs leads the team with 14 catches while Lazard is struggling with injuries and has just six. It’s certainly possible that Rodgers could suddenly find his groove and return to the form that allowed him to win each of the last two NFL MVP awards, but the Patriots secondary should be able to compete with this group. Rodgers should benefit from the return of some of his offensive line as tackles David Bahktiari and Elgton Jenkins made the lineup in Tampa after missing most of the first two weeks with knee injuries. Rodgers has been sacked eight times in three games, and the Patriots — led by Deatrich Wise — have effectively been pressuring. The combination of the Packers’ pass rush and limited weapons could allow the Patriots secondary to survive, especially if they do a better job at tight end Robert Tonyan than they did last week with Baltimore’s Mark Andrews.
Special Teams – Edge: Packer
Aside from Nick Folk’s near-perfect performance, the Patriots’ special teams were anything but special early on. Last week Myles Bryant saw a punt for the second straight game, and the Ravens Devin Duvernay returned a Jake Bailey punt 43 yards in the third quarter to set up an important touchdown. After three games, Bailey’s net average is 32.1 yards, which is lowest in the league. Meanwhile, the second leg didn’t give the Patriots much of a boost either. Green Bay’s specialists include kickers Mason Crosby and punter Pat O’Donnell, as well as Amari Rodgers, who returns both punts and kicks. Crosby hasn’t gotten much work so far, but is 8-on-8 with only two of those coming on field goals. Rodgers has a 24-yard punt return to his credit, so Cam Achord needs to get his troops in shape to avoid a repeat of last week’s fights. Overall, the Patriots’ special teams didn’t have many exciting moments.