NFL Week 8 matchups to watch: Will Aaron Rodgers power Packers to stunning upset of Rams?
The last time Aaron Rodgers was at the Los Angeles Coliseum, he was almost perfect.
Leading his seventh-ranked Cal team on the road against USC, Rodgers tied an NCAA record by completing his first 23 passes. He finished with 267 yards on 29-of-34 passing and nearly led the Golden Bears to an upset over the eventual national champions before stalling in the red zone on his final drive.
Back in the venue Sunday for the first time since that game, Rodgers might need comparable heroics to help the Green Bay Packers hand the Los Angeles Rams their first loss of the season.
It's not hard to spot several of the stumbling blocks ahead for the two-time MVP with the Packers facing the longest odds (nine-point underdogs) in the quarterback's career as a starter. Green Bay has yet to exceed Los Angeles' scoring average of 33.6 points in any game this season, and the team's 22nd-ranked run defense could have a tough time slowing against MVP front-runner Todd Gurley. And by dropping back on 71.4 percent of their plays, the Packers have made it clear to everyone – including opposing pass rushers – that they're content to leave the offense's well-being entirely to Rodgers.
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Yet after a bye, a new iteration of the quarterback might be on display for the first time this season. Rodgers said he hopes to lose his knee brace soon, and he sported a smaller one than the version he has traditionally worn in games since suffering the injury in the opener. That could allow him to play a more freewheeling style and liberate the offense from the slow starts that have plagued the team so far this season.
Los Angeles, meanwhile, has given up nine passing touchdowns in its last four games with cornerback Aqib Talib sidelined. Davante Adams looms as a particularly troublesome matchup for Marcus Peters and the rest of the secondary after hauling in 19 catches for 272 yards and three touchdowns in the last two games.
But the Rams boast the biggest gamebreaker in Aaron Donald, who logged four sacks last week and has eight in his last four games. Even with a solid performance, the Packers' offensive line likely won't be able to limit Donald's disruptiveness on its own. A renewed commitment to the run game via more carries for Aaron Jones, who is averaging 5.9 yards per carry and has shown himself ready for a heavier workload.
Here are four more matchups that will define Week 8 in the NFL:
Eagles QB Carson Wentz vs. Jaguars' secondary
Having both fallen to 3-4, the Eagles and Jaguars both arrive in London striving to prevent their seasons from derailing at the halfway point. Wentz has been handed few favors from a running game that mustered just 58 yards on 24 carries last week as well as an underachieving receiving corps that lacks a dynamic deep threat. But the star quarterback has had his struggles, losing four fumbles in five games and posting just an 88.7 passer rating in the fourth quarter (ranking him 23rd).
The Jaguars' defense ranks second with 6.3 yards per attempt, but the unit could be at a tipping point after allowing 90 points in a three-game losing streak. Cornerbacks A.J. Bouye and Tyler Patmon have already been ruled out, while D.J. Hayden is listed as doubtful. If a pass rush that hasn't lived up to last year's standards can't generate heat, Wentz could find opportunities against a shorthanded secondary. Tight end Zach Ertz is Wentz's favorite and likely most important target, as in three of his last four games he has recorded at least nine catches and more than 100 yards.
Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey vs. Ravens' front seven
Cam Newton and Carolina haven't been able to establish a deep connection this year, completing just three of 16 attempts that went at least 20 yards downfield. Facing a top-ranked Ravens defense that has allowed just 280.6 yards and 14.4 points per game, the Panthers might be afforded even fewer opportunities to generate big plays. That means McCaffrey might need to take a leading role in assisting Newton and providing a spark.
McCaffrey has just 15 carries in the last two weeks, and running room could be hard to come by against a deep Baltimore front. But he also is tied for second among running backs in receptions with 40 and should be frequently targeted throughout the day. The Ravens, however, have yet to allow any running back to record more than 35 receiving yards in a game so far this year, so the game could hinge on whether McCaffrey can force missed tackles in the open field.
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