The Green Bay Packers (5-1) will attempt to win a sixth game in a row when the Washington Football Team (2-4) arrives at Lambeau Field on Sunday for a Week 7 showdown.
Washington won the NFC East last season but is 2-4 through six games. Ron Rivera’s team is playing a backup quarterback and has arguably the most disappointing defense in football so far this season.
Here are five things to watch and a prediction for Sunday’s battle with Washington:
Another starter out, another big test
(AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
A prevailing theme of the Packers’ five-game win streak? Surviving along the offensive line with key players out while facing talented defensive lines. Sunday’s visit from Washington fits the theme well. The Packers will be without starting center Josh Myers, who is dealing with a knee injury, so expect Lucas Patrick to replace him at center for the third time in three games. Patrick and the rest of the offensive line must play well because Washington – with four first-round picks up front on defense – might have the most talented and disruptive defensive line in football. Edge rushers Chase Young and Montez Sweat and interior linemen Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne and Matt Ioannidis can create all kinds of problems. Together, the five have 98 total pressures and 55 stops in 2021, per Pro Football Focus. Washington’s defense ranks 32nd in the NFL in points allowed, but the Packers can’t overlook this group. Through six games, Washington has the second-best pass-rushing grade at PFF.
(AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
Last week, the Packers just needed to hold up along the offensive line so that Aaron Rodgers and the passing game could attack a weakened coverage group for the Bears. The same simple idea applies this week. Washington might have the second-best pass-rush through six games, but the defense also ranks 31st in coverage grade. The Football Team has given up 16 touchdown passes and a passer rating of 109.8 so far this season, and six different players have given up at least two touchdown passes. Starting corners William Jackson and Kendall Fuller are good players, but they’ve been picked on at times in 2021, and the defense’s three-most used safeties (Landon Collins, Bobby McCain, Kamren Curl) have allowed seven total touchdown passes. If the Packers keep Washington’s pass-rush in check, the offense should move the football consistently and score points. Maybe a lot of points. Washington has given up 30 or more points in three straight games. It’s hard to envision the visitors winning the game without a massive win at the line of scrimmage.
Playmakers for Washington
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Washington is starting a backup quarterback after losing veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick in Week 1, but the offense still has a few playmakers worth watching on Sunday. Running back Antonio Gibson is fighting through a shin injury but can be dynamic as both a runner and receiver, Terry McLaurin is a terrific all-around receiver coming off a 1,100-yard season in 2020, and J.D. McKissic is a playmaker out of the backfield as a receiver (21 catches). Washington might need big games from all three to score enough points to beat the Packers at Lambeau Field. Limiting big plays will be key. The Packers must force Taylor Heinicke to engineer long drives to score points.
Pass rush about to face a brick wall?
Mike De Sisti/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
The Packers are without Za’Darius Smith (injured reserve) and probably won’t have Preston Smith, who is nursing an oblique injury. It’s a tough week to be down pass-rushers because Washington’s offensive line has been terrific protecting the passer this season. The group ranks first in pass-blocking grade at PFF and third in pass-block win rate at ESPN. The Packers signed veteran Whitney Mercilus, who could make his debut on Sunday if he gets up to speed in time. He could be a designated pass-rusher. If Mercilus can’t go, the Packers will need Rashan Gary, Kenny Clark, Jonathan Garvin, Dean Lowry and Kingsley Keke to provide the pass-rushing pressure on Sunday. It will be a challenge against a good offensive line.
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The Packers have nine takeaways since Week 1 and at least one takeaway in each of the last five games. Sunday might be an opportunity to get a few more. Quarterback Taylor Heinicke already has six interceptions and 10 total “turnover worthy plays,” the third-most so far this season at PFF. He’s willing to hold the ball, extend a play and even force the ball downfield if he thinks he can find a big play. Keep in mind, the Packers are 5-0 when winning the turnover battle this season, and 24-0 overall in the regular season since hiring Matt LaFleur. A takeaway or two could make this a comfortable home win for the Packers.
Prediction: Packers 31, Washington 17 (4-2)
It’s odd to see a team protect the passer well but still struggle to score points and pressure the opposing quarterback but still struggle to prevent points. Washington’s ability to win at the line of scrimmage provides upset potential in this matchup, but this is still a struggling football team with a turnover-prone quarterback and a defense ranked last in the NFL in points allowed. If the Packers can keep the Washington defensive line from taking over the game, a relatively straightforward path to a win exists for the home. The guess here is that the Packers survive again up front on offense and get a couple of turnovers, allowing Matt LaFleur’s team to coast to a sixth consecutive win. The Packers can’t possibly lose wearing their new beautiful throwback uniforms, right?