5 things you have to know about Packers

By Christopher Price on November 24, 2014 at 11:03 pm ET
Aaron Rodgers has thrown for 2,957 yards, completed 67 percent of his passes, and has 30 touchdown passes and just three picks this season. (Casey Hayward/Getty Images)

Aaron Rodgers has thrown for 2,957 yards, completed 67 percent of his passes, and has 30 touchdown passes and just three picks this season. (Casey Hayward/Getty Images)

Five things you have to know about the Packers (8-3), who will host the Patriots (9-2) Sunday at Lambeau Field in Green Bay:

Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson have a Tom Brady/ Wes Welker, circa 2007-12, thing going on.

While Tom Brady was specifically talking about their execution of the back-shoulder fade, it’s pretty much true across the board. Rodgers and Nelson have developed the same sort of relationship that Brady and Wes Welker enjoyed when Welker was with the Patriots. Nelson is eighth in the league in catches (68), fifth in targets (106) and receiving yards (1,066) and fourth in touchdown catches (nine). He’s only one of five receivers with at least 100 targets and 1,000 receiving yards, and has 18 catches for 329 yards and three touchdowns in his last three games. The 6-foot-3, 217-pounder out of Kansas State is Rodgers’ go-to guy, and will be the No. 1 priority for the Patriots Sunday when it comes to slowing Green Bay down. Rodgers also gets plenty out of the rest of his targets in the passing game, including wide receiver Randall Cobb (58 catches on 79 targets for 837 yards and a team-high 10 touchdowns), running back Eddie Lacy (29 catches on 36 targets for 335 yards and three touchdowns) and wide receiver Davante Adams (28 catches on 43 targets for 296 yards and three touchdowns)

They run the ball just enough to keep opposing defenses honest.

There’s nothing overly flashy about the way the Packers operate when it comes to their ground game — simply steady and consistent, just enough to augment Rodgers and the Green Bay passing game. As a team, they’re 18th in the NFL, averaging 107 rushing yards per game. Eddie Lacy is the lead back, having carried the ball 154 times for 672 rushing yards and six touchdowns on the year, all of which are best on the roster. (He’s coming off an impressive outing against the Vikings where he finished with 125 rushing yards.) The Packers really don’t have a traditional third-down type out of the backfield, but James Starks (nine catches on 17 targets for 48 yards) occasionally works in that role, in addition to serving as a backup to Lacy.

They occasionally struggle to stop the run.

There are plenty of teams who have done well running the ball against Green Bay. The Packers have held opponents to less than 100 yards rushing only twice in the last 18 games, dating back to last year. (In all, three teams ran for at least 150 yards against Green Bay this season, including the Saints, who had 193 rushing yards in an Oct. 26 win over the Packers in New Orleans.) Some of that is due to situational football, as the Packers have managed to make a lot of teams one-dimensional because they’ve been terrific at burying teams early — Green Bay has outscored teams 222-105 in the first half — and the big deficits have caused teams to try and throw the ball to try and get back into it.

They are really good at home.

The Packers have put together a Patriots-like stretch of dominance at Lambeau this year. They’re 5-0 at home, have averaged 44 points per game and have won their games at home by an average of 27 points per game — that includes two games where they’ve put up more than 50 points. (By way of comparison, the Patriots have averaged 36 points per game in their six games at Gillette this season.) Rodgers has been really good the entire season, but he’s been excellent at home — in his five games at Lambeau this year, Rodgers is completing 67 percent of his passes, is averaging 284.8 passing yards per game and has 18 touchdowns and no picks, to go along with a passer rating of 138.1.

They’re really good at protecting the football.

The Packers have the fewest number of giveaways in the NFL this year (eight), with just four fumbles and four picks through the first 11 games of the season. Rodgers is the only quarterback in the league with at least 300 pass attempts and three or fewer interceptions, and he comes into Sunday’s game against the Patriots not having thrown a pick in the last three games. They also do a really good job when it comes to taking the ball away with 23 takeaways (15 picks and eight fumble recoveries), second only to the 24 posted by the Texans. The Packers have at least one takeaway in every game this year, including eight in the last three games. Defensive back Casey Hayward leads Green Bay with three interceptions, and three other defensive backs — Micah Hyde, Tramon Williams and Sam Shields — have two each. It all adds up to them being plus-15 in takeaway ratio this year, best in the league and just barely ahead of second-best New England (plus-11).