As the Green Bay Packers head towards the 2017 season, there should be several games circled by both fans and players as anticipated battles among the NFC’s best. The Packers have a tough road to begin their season. Several key matchups will play huge factors in determining how the Packers look at the halfway point. Here is a look at several of Green Bay’s early-season challenges and the players that will hope to make an impact in each game.
Green Bay Packers: Intriguing Early Season Matchups
Kevin King vs. Julio Jones
Green Bay at Atlanta: Week Two
The main priority for the Green Bay Packers this off-season has been to solve an inept pass defense that ranked last in the league in yards allowed and yards per attempt. The shellacking Green Bay took in the NFC Championship game against the Atlanta Falcons spurred general manager Ted Thompson to double down on defensive backs in the 2017 NFL Draft. With his first pick Thompson brought in the 6’3” Kevin King from the University of Washington to match up with premier receivers on the boundary. That includes receivers such as Julio Jones who posted 180 yards and two touchdowns in the playoff rout.
King has the size and athleticism to match up with Jones on paper. Although Mike McCarthy may want to bring him along slowly to begin his career, King will be needed in the game against Atlanta. Not only will Green Bay be looking to start the season fast, but the Falcons will be playing their first game in the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium and should be looking to shake their perceived Super Bowl hangover. Jones and quarterback Matt Ryan will hope to shred the Packers defense yet again. King might still be raw but he is the only cornerback on the Packers roster that has yet to be dominated by Jones. Green Bay should get a good early look at their 2017 second round pick and how he fares against perhaps the best wide receiver in the NFL.
Jordy Nelson vs. Xavier Rhodes
Green Bay at Minnesota: Week Six
The last time the Packers and Vikings met was in week 15 of last season. Jordy Nelson had one of the best games of his career as he posted seven catches for over 100 yards and two touchdowns in the first half alone. Controversy surrounding the members of the Vikings secondary ensued as a report came out that the players deviated from head coach Mike Zimmer‘s instructions. Xavier Rhodes was supposed to shadow Nelson wherever he lined up on the field. Instead, the secondary remained in its base alignments throughout the first half with much of Nelson’s production coming against cornerback Terence Newman. The Packers and Vikings face each other for the first time week six in Minnesota. Rhodes will undoubtedly be asked to cover Nelson throughout much of the contest to avoid further turmoil in the locker room.
Once Zimmer realized the team’s issue during last year’s meeting, he quickly corrected the mistake in the second half. After a dominant first half, Nelson was held to just two catches after Rhodes took over coverage duties. Rhodes has proven to be one of the best young cornerbacks in the game. He is one of the NFL’s most well-rounded defensive backs, physical enough to impact run defense with impressive man coverage. Nelson has proven time and again that he is the top presence in the Packers passing game. 2017 will be his second season removed from a torn ACL during the 2015 preseason. Coaches believe Nelson is in for another huge campaign. The Vikings should be a strong contender in the NFC North this season so the first meeting between these two teams should be pivotal in determining where each team stacks up at mid-season.
Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark vs. Cowboys Offensive Line
Green Bay at Dallas: Week Five
The rematch of the NFC Divisional round will feature two of the NFL’s most dominant offenses. With Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott entering year two of their respective careers, the young players will dominate much of the spotlight for this affair. The true strength of this Cowboys team does not lie with their dynamic group of skill positions but in their dominant offensive line. Although guard Ronald Leary left for the Denver Broncos and right tackle Doug Free hastily retired this off-season, the Cowboys still retain stars Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin to go along with budding mauler La’el Collins. This unit is feared by every defensive line in the NFL. Green Bay will be fielding a new rotation along the defensive line this year with Mike Daniels and second-year player Kenny Clark playing pivotal roles.
With the Packers utilizing more sub-packages with each year, Daniels and Clark should see the field the most. Daniels enters his seventh season with the Packers and has proven to be one of the most consistent 3-4 ends in the game. He is equally disruptive against the run and pass, utilizing quickness and relentlessness to wreak havoc in the backfield. Daniels has overtaken linebacker Clay Matthews as the best player on Green Bay’s defense, but the Packers must get impact from other contributors along the defensive front.
Enter the 21-year-old Kenny Clark, looking to make a big jump in his second NFL season. Clark didn’t make much of an impact until late in his rookie season, but he has the athleticism, size, and versatility to become a core player for the Packers. He was receiving the second-most snaps behind Mike Daniels in the playoff games against the Giants and Cowboys. A strong training camp could be all Clark needs to define a role for himself in the lineup. Clark missed time last off-season while finishing up his final semester at UCLA. The extra snaps with the first team have paid off as Clark has received praise from coach McCarthy.