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Green Bay Packers to grind out close win against Washington Redskins

The Green Bay Packers must control the line of scrimmage if they hope to defeat the Washington Redskins in Week 2.

The Green Bay Packers must control the line of scrimmage if they hope to defeat the Washington Redskins in Week 2.

After a disappointing defeat at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers (1-0) last week, the Green Bay Packers (0-1) throw open the gates to welcome the Washington Redskins (0-1) for their 2013 home opener. Kickoff for the contest is set for 12 p.m. CT at Lambeau Field, with the action to be broadcast on FOX Sports and DirecTV channel 707.

This Green Bay team is a hard one to figure out. They have some amazing talent at a few positions and gaping holes at others. Combined with the peculiar mental and schematic inflexibility sometimes displayed by head coach Mike McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers, this makes them difficult to predict.

Year after year, the Packers have an odd tendency to play toe to toe with great teams but to let poor teams hang around uncomfortably long. It’s never quite clear if they are a mediocre team that somehow plays above its talent level when it needs to — or a great team that simply lacks the instincts and discipline to put a stake in the bottom dwellers of the league.

For their part, Washington remains something of an enigma as well. They stumbled to a 3-6 record last year, then mounted an impressive seven-game win streak after the bye to finish 10-6 atop the NFC East. In his rookie campaign, quarterback Robert Griffin III assembled over 4,000 yards of offense — 3,529 yards and 22 touchdowns through the air, 839 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground — but sustained a severe knee injury that knocked him out of the playoffs.

Last week, in his first game back, Griffin looked tentative and uncertain about the stability of his knee, showing an unwillingness to plant his foot and step into any of his throws. Yet he was able to take advantage of soft defense in the second half to lead a comeback and bring the Redskins within six points.

Sapped secondary

The injury-depleted Packers secondary was shredded by 49ers receiver Anquan Boldin for 208 yards and a touchdown on 16 receptions. Tight end Vernon Davis chipped in another 98 yards and two touchdowns on six receptions, while the remaining receiving targets all averaged well over 10 yards per reception. After a stinging embarrassment in the 2012 playoffs, in which quarterback Colin Kaepernick set an NFL record for most rushing yards by a quarterback in a single game, Dom Capers sold out to stop the run — with the result that Boldin was left on an island the entire game.

This week, the same defensive backs must contend with third-year receiver Leonard Hankerson, who assembled five receptions for 80 yards and two touchdowns against the Eagles. Washington had three other wideouts with at least 50 yards, including Pierre Garcon, who went for 64 yards on seven catches.

Safety Morgan Burnett and cornerbacks Casey Hayward and Jarrett Bush are all inactive today with hamstring injuries. Griffin does not seem to be a rushing threat at this time, and Washington only accumulated 50 yards on 13 carries from its running backs last week, so Capers must figure out how to cover these receivers with the ragtag crew of defensive backs he has at his disposal. If they can’t lock down the passing game, Washington will hang around and make things nerve wracking in the fourth quarter.

Offensive line

Guard Josh Sitton was listed as Questionable most of the week after his back flared up on the flight home from San Francisco, but he is active and will suit up today. He struggled last week, being flagged three times and receiving a harsh -3.9 grade in run blocking from ProFootballFocus.

Rookie left tackle David Bahktiari (two sacks, two hurries) and left guard T.J. Lang (one sack, one hit, one hurry) were similarly ineffective in pass blocking. In fact, center Evan Dietrich-Smith was the only lineman to earn an overall positive mark, highlighted by his +1.1 grade in pass blocking.

Not surprisingly, rookie running back Eddie Lacy was less than effective, finishing with just 14 yards on 41 carries for a miserable 2.9 yards per carry. On the bright side, he did score a touchdown.

If the Packers hope to keep their troubled secondary fresh in this game, they are going to have to figure out how to sustain some long drives, which will mean letting Lacy grind out the yards on the ground. The quick scoring strikes are exciting to watch and great for morale, but they leave the defense exhausted when it matters the most. Green Bay cannot afford to give Robert Griffin III the luxury of playing against a winded secondary in the waning moments of the game.

Discipline

It’s undeniable that the best-disciplined teams tend to win the most games in this league. Probably more team in the league is more implacably disciplined on the field Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots, and they have won more games than any other team in the past ten years. By contrast, the Detroit Lions under Jim Schwartz are notorious for their lack of mental and emotional control, and they have struggled to amass winning seasons.

Against the 49ers, the Packers allowed their emotions to get the better of them, which unnecessarily gave San Francisco opportunities to press the advantage. Linebacker Clay Matthews III in particular made it clear both before and during the game that he was determined to put a licking on Colin Kaepernick, and it cost the team in the red zone when he hit the quarterback out of bounds on a third down.

Although it didn’t show up in the penalty column, another offender was tight end Jermichael Finley, who once again demonstrated his lack of focus on the easy, routine plays. His biggest mistake was letting a perfect pass bounce off his hands into the waiting arms of linebacker Ryan Kerrigan. It’s great that Finley can complete the acrobatic catches that make the highlight reels, but if he wants to follow through on his stated determination to become one of the leading receivers on this team, he needs to keep his eyes on the ball with every pass, not just the ones that make him look spectacular.

Prediction

If the Packers weren’t scrambling to assemble defensive backs out of straw and gingerbread this week, it would be hard to imagine the Redskins hanging with them for four quarters. But given how thin Green Bay is in the secondary right now, the reality is that Washington is probably going to hang around and keep this game frustratingly close. The team that wins this game will be the one that can best control the clock in the second half. A couple of lightning drives engineered by Aaron Rodgers in the first and second quarter will be the difference.

Final score: Green Bay Packers 27, Washington Redskins 24

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