The Green Bay Packers will have the New England Patriots right where they want them on Sunday.
At Lambeau Field.
It is there that the Packers have scored at least 50 points in each of their last two home games, and it is there that they’ve netted a league-best 43.8 points per game over the course of five home games this season.
Those are numbers the 9-2 leaders of the AFC East will look to avert in Week 13.
The 8-3 leaders of the NFC North have been able to do more than score points at home; they’ve been able to put opponents away by halftime there.
Green Bay’s last four home games have seen the team total 128 points by intermission, while the 4-7 Minnesota Vikings, 3-7-1 Carolina Panthers, 5-7 Chicago Bears and 9-3 Philadelphia Eagles totaled nine combined.
New England has conceded 30 first-half points over the team’s last four games – three at home, one away – and a total of 73 points over that month-long span. Yet while the Patriots’ side hasn’t given up much, the Packers’ side hasn’t, either.
There are conflicting winds in the forecast.
“They have a good scheme; play hard, play smart, don’t give you much,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said of the Packers in his press conference Wednesday. “You really have to work for everything you get.”
Opposing defenses have worked; they’ve worked to find a vulnerability and an opportunity, slowing Green Bay with 22 sacks to date. But the Packers have remained on their feet with David Bakhtiari, Josh Sitton, Corey Linsley, T.J. Lang and Bryan Bulaga anchoring the line. And the offense has worked into the end zone from there, with control, committing a league-low eight turnovers while the Patriots have committed nine.
Much of that has started with the one who’s gotten the football first.
In his seventh year behind center for the Packers, Aaron Rodgers finds himself fifth in the NFL with 2,957 passing yards, second with 30 touchdown passes, and first among 11-game starters with just three interceptions.
Only he hasn’t thrown one at home since Week 13 of the 2012 regular season.
“Yeah, it’s phenomenal,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said of Rodgers’ campaign in his press conference earlier this week. “It’s hard to match that.”
Green Bay’s No. 12 has been hard to match. He’s been efficient in the system of head coach Mike McCarthy and coordinator Tom Clements, but he’s also been prolific on the Packers’ way to an undefeated home record and a 7-1 regular-season record since Sept. 28. Along with a quick tempo, a quick release, a quick sense of maneuverability, the quarterback has had a hand in 39 pass plays of 20-plus yards, with a dozen of those traveling 40-plus yards.
And when the ball has left his hand, it’s landed in good ones.
The 6-foot-3, 217-pound Jordy Nelson evidenced that notion over his first six seasons in Green Bay, and his seventh has been no different. The wide receiver’s 68 receptions place him eighth in the NFL. His 1,066 receiving yards place him on a short list of only six names through Week 12. And his nine touchdown grabs place him in a tie for fourth most in the league.
But it is, in many ways, a symbiotic relationship, as Randall Cobb has helped make both Rodgers and Nelson all the more impactful.
Cobb and Nelson have connected with Rodgers for 92 first downs thus far into 2014, and while the aforementioned “X” target has been the primary option, the former Kentucky Wildcat has been right there with him. Cobb’s 58 catches tie him for 15th in the NFL, and his 837 yards place him 12th.
His place down near the red zone, however, is very much his own. Despite standing in at only 5-foot-10 and 192 pounds, Cobb’s versatility stands him in second with Dez Bryant of the Dallas Cowboys with 10 receiving touchdowns this season.
Half of those have come at Lambeau.
All three touchdowns from second-round pick Davante Adams’ have come there as well.
The Fresno State Bulldog may not be a full-fledged component of Green Bay’s offense at this time – as tight ends Andrew Quarless and rookie Richard Rodgers also factor into the personnel sets – but Adams remains in the gameplan as the No. 3 receiver. He also remains 13th among rookies with 28 receptions and 296 yards.
However the Patriots opt to disperse defensive backs Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Devin McCourty will dictate where he ranks after Sunday’s 4:25 p.m. game. If Revis takes Cobb, and Browner takes Nelson with McCourty over top, it will be up to slot corners Kyle Arrington and Logan Ryan to dictate the in-between.
And that could dictate just how much Eddie Lacy is asked balance the game.
Rodgers and the Green Bay route-runners are capable of making plays with their hands and feet, but the second-year running back behind them can do the same. He just does so with contact.
The 5-foot-11, 230-pound Lacy has powered through that contact to collect 672 rushing yards and nine all-purpose touchdowns this year. He’s powered between the tackles, off the tackles and into the flats via carry and catch. And he’s coming off a 138-yard, two-touchdown performance versus the Minnesota Vikings, which earned him the nod as NFC offensive player of the week.
More momentum could be the byproduct for the Alabama back coming off a 25-attempt workload. It’s something New England’s front seven will look to contain with the likes of defensive end Rob Ninkovich, linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins, and in-the-box safety Patrick Chung at watch. Because while the inside may be closed, the outside may not be.
Lacy is willing to forge through the difference.
In the sudden yet regulated Green Bay offense, he very well could be the difference.