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Butler's Breakdown: Packers vs. Chargers


In my NFL career, I was never much of a scoreboard watcher.

But as a fan of the Green Bay Packers, it's hard not to be right now.

A game behind the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC North and a game behind the Seattle Seahawks in the Wild Card race, the Packers need some help over these past three weekends if they want to get into the playoffs.

Minnesota and Seattle have games remaining against two of the best teams in the NFL, the Kansas City Chiefs and the St. Louis Rams, respectively. In fact, the Seahawks play the Rams at St. Louis this weekend.

But of all the different scenarios that could get the Packers to the playoffs, one thing remains the same: the Packers must keep winning.

In what is now a three-game season, the Packers' quest moves to San Diego this weekend where the Chargers are 3-10. Many people might assume that the Chargers won't care about the game and will be a pushover for the Packers, but road losses to the Arizona Cardinals and Detroit Lions should be reminders to anyone in green and gold that no NFL team should be taken for granted.

As has been the case the past few years, the Chargers haven't won as many games as they probably expected, but they still have one of the best players in the league who can take over any game at any time.

What Ahman Green has been in the NFC this season, LaDainian Tomlinson has been in the AFC.

Not only is he one of the best runners in the league, he's one of the best receivers, too.

The Chargers offense is built around Tomlinson. He's a workhorse. He's fast, breaks tackles and has great field vision. He's going to get at least 30 touches Sunday, and he'll keep the Packers defense on its toes the entire game.

Ever since Grady Jackson and Larry Smith came to the Packers and Aaron Kampman got healthy, the defensive line has seen great improvement.

Gilbert Brown continues to play well despite that torn biceps and now he has Jackson to help share the load. With Jackson in the middle, Cletidus Hunt has been able to make more plays, too.

If Tomlinson leaves the backfield as a receiver, it's going to be up to the linebackers to stay with him.

Nick Barnett, Na'il Diggs and Hannibal Navies also have to be alert for the scrambling efforts of Doug Flutie, who at 41-years-old is still an elusive quarterback.

Flutie might not start the game this week, but if he sees any action, the Packers need to be ready for him to try and hurt them with his legs. Playing just half the season, he's the second-leading rusher on the Chargers and he loves to go with an empty backfield in the red zone, roll out and then run for the end zone.

I think with Barnett back on the field, the Packers have enough speed to track down Flutie wherever he goes. And he might not even leave the sideline.

Drew Brees hasn't started a game since early November, but he has a lot of potential and the Packers can't afford to take him lightly.

Unlike Flutie, Brees is more of a pocket passer. The Chargers would like him to be a little more mobile in the pocket and not be just a standing target.

If Brees is in the game, the Packers will attempt to bring the heat and try and flush him out. They did the same thing against Kordell Stewart last week with great effectiveness.

Brees has had some accuracy problems this season, but 6-foot-2, 240-pound receiver David Boston can make up for that.

Boston doesn't have the greatest speed in the league, but he's the biggest receiver you'll find.

Mike McKenzie and Al Harris both love to play physical bump-and-run games, but the problem is that Boston likes that, too. He loves to push off and use his body for position, so it's going to be a test of strength and will on the outside.

In a footrace however, McKenzie and Harris will keep him covered. Playing cornerback is a thankless position because fans expect defensive backs to stop every pass, but the Packers secondary has played well in recent weeks.

Obviously the key for the entire defense is to play aggressive, hard-nosed football like they did against the Bears to ensure that the Packers win the turnover war.

They need to fly to the ball and try and strip it out on tackles, and they need to get pressure on the quarterback to encourage interceptions.

The Chargers offensive line is good, but not great. That group is best at opening holes for Tomlinson, who doesn't need a whole lot of space to beat you.

The Chargers defensive line on the other hand is a physical group that reminds me a bit of the Detroit Lions line that gave the Packers trouble on Thanksgiving.

The leader of the pack is defensive end Marcellus Wiley, who has size and athleticism and is tough to contain. If the Packers can't control him, they can't control the line of scrimmage.

But the Packers offensive line will be out to prove something after two straight games with less than 100 yards rushing, so I think you'll see Green getting into the secondary again.

Just like he did against Priest Holmes, Green has to win the one-on-one battle with Tomlinson for the Packers to come away with a win.

By the end of the first quarter, I expect Jim Taylor's single-season rushing record to be a thing of the past, and after that Green will just be trying to raise the bar.

The Chargers are going to try and pressure Brett Favre to cause him to make quick throws.

Favre has been at his best this season when he's stayed calm and gone through his progressions to take what the defense gives him.

Expect the Chargers to blitz toward Green, because if Green has to stay in as a blocker, he can't be effective as a receiver.

If Favre has time to throw, the match-up I think he'll be looking for is Javon Walker lined up against Quentin Jammer.

I think Walker has the size and speed to get by Jammer, and I think Favre will try to exploit that match-up with a deep pass if he sees it.

Just like the defense has to force turnovers, the Packers can't afford to cough up the ball on the road as they did against Arizona, St. Louis and Detroit.

On special teams, Ryan Longwell is closing in on a very special record, as he's only six points away from breaking Don Hutson's career Packers scoring record (823 points). Longwell's accuracy on field goals this season has been awesome.

I think you'll also see him use his accuracy on kickoffs to the Packers' advantage this week.

Longwell doesn't have the biggest leg in the NFL, but he can shape his kicks like a PGA golfer can shape drives.

The Packers gave up a kickoff return for a touchdown last week and have given up a handful of mid-range returns in recent weeks.

This week special teams coordinator John Bonamego will have the players' attention and will see that those breakdowns aren't repeated.

The Packers do have two big blocked kicks this season (punt vs. Chicago, field goal vs. Kansas City), but the one thing the special teams is missing is a return for a touchdown.

With only three games left, time is running out for that.

Whether it comes from Antonio Chatman on punts or Najeh Davenport or Robert Ferguson on kickoffs, a scoring play from the return unit would be a huge spark for the Packers' confidence.

And in the must-win situation the Packers find themselves in right now, they need anything they can get.

*LeRoy Butler played 12 seasons for the Green Bay Packers, helping them to two Super Bowls and earning NFL All-Decade Honors for the 1990s, before retiring in July 2002. This season Butler is providing exclusive analysis to with a breakdown of the upcoming game on Saturdays and a column and Q&A session on Tuesdays.

Butler's autobiography, 'The LeRoy Butler Story ... From Wheelchair to the Lambeau Leap,' is available on his website,*

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