Green Bay's ground game one of this weekend's key stories to watch

  • By Pat Kirwan
More Columns >
Top 10 storylines for Week 5

Here are some of the key Week 5 storylines to keep tabs on this weekend:

1. Can the Packers keep winning without a ground game?

The Green Bay Packers are 4-0 and are defying all odds. How long can a team with the worst ability to gain four or more yards on first down continue to win games? The running game only generates 54 yards a game, yet they're eighth in scoring thanks to Brett Favre. Sooner or later, the imbalance on offense will catch up with them, but not this week against the Bears. The Packers defense has allowed just 13.75 points per game during the team's eight-game winning streak, dating to last season.

2. Who will deliver this week's "Culpepper performance?"

Eliot J. Schechter / Getty Images
Daunte Culpepper was highly motivated against the Dolphins.

Kurt Warner will throw passes against the St. Louis Rams. Trent Dilfer will drop back and try to thread the needle against the Ravens. Willie McGinest should get on the field to try and sack Tom Brady. Derrick Ward wil try to run on the New York Jets.

When players return to face a former team, it is usually a big deal in the minds of those players. We saw that last week when Daunte Culpepper faced the Dolphins. From a revenge standpoint, his five-touchdown performance may not be matched this season, but there's no doubt a few guys are looking for similar results this week.

Of all of them, Warner has the best chance to put up some numbers against his former team. He is completing 70 percent of his passes and already has four touchdown passes and no interceptions in 2007. Warner will not run for a touchdown, and he will still split time with Matt Leinart, but he should deliver the final shot against his old team for the win.

3. Will Gonzalez enter the record book?

Chiefs TE Tony Gonzalez is tied with Shannon Sharpe for most career TD receptions by a tight end. And with rookie wide receiver Dwayne Bowe starting to grab the down-field attention and Eddie Kennison back on the field, this is the week Gonzalez should take over the all-time lead. The future Hall of Famer has 12 receptions in the past two games.

4. A defining moment for Detroit?

I talked with Lions head coach Rod Marinelli on Thursday, and he said his team is very physical right now. He also reminded us that his team lost 10 games last season in the final two minutes of the game. He is well aware that the Lions have never won a game in Washington (0-20), and they've never defeated Joe Gibbs (0-12).

If you believe in the common opponent theory, it's bad news for Detroit: An Eagles team that scored 56 points in a win over the Lions scored just 12 points in a loss to the Redskins. But I don't trust the common opponent theory for a number of reasons. Will the Lions step up and change the course of history for the franchise? Marinelli has them ready. Now they just have to go out and win.

5. Can Bush carry the load?

Deuce McAllister is done for the season, removing a great contributor from the Saints offense. Reggie Bush still might get a fair percentage of the I-formation run plays, and I think he will steal the show this week. Look for Bush to be a big-time runner from the backfield and an excellent receiver. He will run it up in the A-B gaps, and he will take advantage of the speed he has been blessed with. Bush should have a big day against the Panthers.

6. Will the Packers really kick to Hester?

Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images
Do the Packers dare to give Devin Hester a chance for a big return?

Kicking to the most dangerous return man in the league -- and maybe even in NFL history -- is a bad idea. Devin Hester already has a 19.9-yard average on his 12 punt returns and a combined kick/punt return average of close to 80 yards per game, along with two touchdowns. More than one head coach has told me he would never kick to the guy. Without a big day from Hester, I don't believe the Bears can generate enough points in this game.

7. Where are the workhorses?

I was surprised to see that not one running back in the NFL averages more than 23 carries per game this season. Last year, Larry Johnson averaged 26 rushes per game. I have to think a home game this weekend should get him close to the 30-carry range. I could see LaDainian Tomlinson moving closer to 30 carries also as both teams need to deliver a win. The modest approach to feeding the "bell cow" back has been a league-wide trend that is changing how the game is played. More and more, it looks like a pass-to-set-up-the-run league.

8. Long-distance shortcomings

NFL kickers have made only 4 of 14 field goal attempts from 50-plus yards this season -- a 28.5-percent success rate. Last year, NFL kickers made 40 of 81 tries from 50-plus yards, a 50-percent success rate. Right now, it looks like the 50-yard field goal is on the way out. The present pace suggests there will be 56 long-range attempts for the season -- significantly fewer than the 81 last year. Is it poor kicking? Or the fear of giving an opponent good field position if they miss?

9. Was it a good bye?

The Jaguars, Saints, Titans and Redskins are the first four teams to come off a bye week. The Saints truly needed the practice time to regroup the offense after the McAllister injury and get Bush more involved. Jeff Fisher says his team came back from the break ready to go. Time will tell which teams come out red hot and which teams fold. Not all four of these teams will win off the bye. My guess is that two teams will benefit from it.

10. Where are the sack masters?

I will flip the channels constantly on Sunday hoping to see some real pass rush from Carolina's Julius Peppers, Baltimore's Terrell Suggs and the Rams' Leonard Little. These three players had 33.5 sacks between them last year and don't have one recorded sack in 2007. I would add Warren Sapp to the observation list after he led all defensive tackles with 10 sacks in 2006, but he's on a bye. Their respective teams need these players to generate the sacks they are getting paid to deliver.

Playbook breaks down Week 5
The Chargers -- owners of the best record in the NFL last season -- have faltered this fall with a 1-3 start and are in jeopardy of having their season spiral out of control. Can San Diego turn it around? Chargers Playbook

Browns vs. Patriots
The Patriots' strong offensive line against the Browns' struggling run defense seems like a recipe for disaster for Cleveland.

Buccaneers vs. Colts
The Buccaneers' defense has improved this season, but is it enough to keep Peyton Manning in check?

Jets vs. Giants
While the Giants sacked Donovan McNabb 12 times, the Jets fell to 1-3 with a loss to the lowly Bills. Will this be a lopsided affair?
Matchups to watch
Patriots QB Tom Brady vs. Browns QB Derek Anderson: If we told you before the season that this game would feature a matchup of two of the league's top passers, you'd certainly say we were half crazy. But because Anderson has played surprisingly well for Cleveland, this could be a trap game for New England.

Cowboys LT Flozell Adams vs. Bills DE Aaron Schobel: It's no secret the Bills need to stop Tony Romo, who is averaging 288 passing yards per game with 11 touchdown passes in four games. Buffalo needs Schobel to get pressure on Romo in order to do this.

Packers QB Brett Favre vs. Bears defense: For the Packers to win, Favre needs a big night. Green Bay is last in the league in rushing, averaging 54.3 yards per game.

Lions vs. history: We usually say it's all about the matchups, but sometimes history trumps the matchups. Dating all the way back to a 31-7 loss in 1939, the Lions have never beaten the Redskins in Washington.
More matchups to watch
Start 'Em & Sit 'Em
» Start of the week:
Edgerrin James: James has had a solid start to his second season with Arizona, and his success should continue this week in St. Louis. The Rams rank an atrocious 29th in the NFL against the run.

» QB to start:
Tony Romo: Romo has been the most productive player in all of fantasy football after four weeks, and it's hard not to love his matchup on Monday Night Football in Buffalo.

» QB to sit:
Derek Anderson With a contest on the road against New England on the slate, Anderson is far from an attractive option despite his solid numbers.
More Start 'Em & Sit 'Em | More Fantasy
Injury Report
» Marvin Harrison, WR, Colts: Knee, did not practice, questionable
» Joseph Addai, RB, Colts: Chest, did not practice, questionable
» Lance Briggs, LB, Bears: Hamstring, did not practice, questionable
» Andre Johnson, WR, Texans: Knee, did not practice, out
» Jerome Mathis, WR, Texans: Fibula, did not practice, out
» Javon Walker, WR, Broncos: Knee, did not practice, doubtful
» Travis Henry, RB, Broncos: Knee, limited practice, questionable
» Vernon Davis, TE, 49ers: Knee, out
» Alex Smith, QB, 49ers: Right shoulder, out
» Steven Jackson, RB, Rams: Groin, out
» Hines Ward, WR, Steelers: Knee, out
» Vonnie Holiday, DE, Dolphins: Ankle, out
» Plaxico Burress, WR, Giants: Ankle, did not practice, questionable
More Injuries
Week 5 games
Jacksonville at Kansas City, 1 p.m. (CBS)
Cleveland at New England, 1 p.m. (CBS)
Carolina at New Orleans, 1 p.m. (FOX)
N.Y. Jets at N.Y. Giants, 1 p.m. (CBS)
Seattle at Pittsburgh, 1 p.m. (FOX)
Atlanta at Tennessee, 1 p.m. (FOX)
Detroit at Washington, 1 p.m. (FOX)
Miami at Houston, 1 p.m. (CBS)
Arizona at St. Louis, 1 p.m. (FOX)
Tampa Bay at Indianapolis, 4:05 p.m. (FOX)
San Diego at Denver, 4:15 p.m. (CBS)
Baltimore at San Francisco, 4:15 p.m. (CBS)
Chicago at Green Bay, 8:15 p.m. (NBC)
Dallas at Buffalo, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Bye week: Cincinnati, Minnesota, Oakland, Philadelphia.
» Complete schedule


The previous element was an advertisement.

NFL Shop