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Let the guessing games begin

Packers know Bill Belichick will try to take away what they do best, but what will he believe that is?

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick

GREEN BAY – As is the common refrain around the NFL, six-time Super Bowl-winning head coach Bill Belichick is known for scheming to take away what opposing offenses do best.

Since that hasn't necessarily been determined yet in regard to the Packers' 2022 offense, what the Patriots' defense will focus on Sunday at Lambeau Field remains a bit of a mystery, and Aaron Rodgers is fine keeping it that way.

"I'm not going to give him any ideas," Rodgers said after Wednesday's jog-through practice about the Packers' offensive strengths. "I'm sure he'll look at what he thinks we do best and try to take away the first and second options, and then he'll have a plan B, a plan C and a plan D that I'm sure he hopes he doesn't get to."

In this case, mysteriousness cuts both ways.

Rodgers has faced a Belichick-led New England defense twice in his career, in 2014 and '18. This will be Head Coach Matt LaFleur's first encounter with Belichick in Green Bay but he helped prepare the Atlanta and Tennessee offenses to face the Patriots at his previous stops.

Both noted how an offense simply must be ready to adjust to anything on the fly, because no matter how much film on the Patriots is studied, they might deploy a scheme designed specifically for an opponent with little relation to or carry-over from other games.

"You just never know what you're gonna get," LaFleur said. "You can try to make the best educated guess, but you better be ready to adapt on gameday if they present a different look."

In that vein, analyst Larry McCarren pointed out in the website's latest "Three Things" video that last week against Baltimore, New England used 19 different defensive players in the first quarter alone.

That speaks to how the Patriots constantly vary their personnel packages and alignments to keep the opponent off-balance.

"You prepare for a lot of things, but everything could change in the game or before the game or at halftime or the third quarter or the fourth quarter," Rodgers said. "They have a lot of scheme they can to, they're very well-prepared, well-coached, and you've got to be ready for every coverage, pressure, zero, drop eight, a lot of different things."

The early strength of New England's defense, which ranks 11th in the league in total yards, would appear to be the pass rush. Defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr. has four sacks already, with linebacker Matthew Judon adding three.

Starting cornerbacks Jonathan Jones and Jalen Mills each have an interception already, too.

For the Packers, the hope is Rodgers' receiving corps will be back closer to full strength.

While Sammy Watkins (hamstring, IR) is out at least a few more weeks, rookie Christian Watson (hamstring) was back at practice on a limited basis Wednesday after missing the Tampa Bay game. Randall Cobb is now off the injury report entirely after an illness kept him out of practice all last week before he played 25 snaps against the Buccaneers.

Tight end Robert Tonyan, who tore an ACL 11 months ago, also continues to build his way back to a full workload, as his snaps have increased each week of the regular season – from 22 to 27 to 36 in Tampa.

"I'm just getting back into trusting it again," Tonyan said of his knee. "It feels great and all that, it just takes a while to feel football again."

Tonyan had six receptions on seven targets against the Buccaneers, but gained just 37 yards. Turning short receptions into longer gains is the next step, and Rodgers sees that coming pretty soon.

"I think Bobby's getting close to that feeling that he felt a few years ago where he's dangerous after the catch," said Rodgers, referring to Tonyan's 11-TD season in 2020. "He's got good moves, he can also put his head down, but I just want to see him get even more comfortable putting that foot in the ground and cutting off of it and then making some guys miss after the catch.

"I think he's getting close to that. He's feeling better. He's doing some really instinctual things out there. I think next is the last little bit of confidence."

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