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Packers-Patriots matchup of the day

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Dan Arkush

darkush@pfwmedia.com
Executive editor

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By Dan Arkush

Here’s a look at a key matchup heading into the Week 15 game between the Packers and Patriots in Foxborough this Sunday night:

Packers RB corps vs. Patriots LB corps

Green Bay’s ground game left a great deal to be desired for the second time in three games last week in the loss to Detroit. Take away the scrambles by QBs Aaron Rodgers and Matt Flynn (combined five carries for 35 yards), and the Packers’ RBs managed a mere 31 yards on 15 carries against Detroit. The week before, though, with rookie James Starks leading the way in an impressive pro debut, the Packers’ running game delivered a very solid 136-yard effort against a Niners 3-4 defense that is normally better against the run than New England’s 3-4. Especially if, as expected, Flynn starts under center in place of Rodgers, the Packers’ ground game will need a similar effort in order to pull off an upset and move the chains in a sustained manner to reduce the New England offense’s time on the field.

Starks, Brandon Jackson, Dimitri Nance and John Kuhn all saw action at halfback against Detroit, with Kuhn also playing five snaps at fullback. A likely scenario could have Starks doing a lot of the heavy lifting on the ground and Jackson and Nance being used as much as receivers out of the backfield as ballcarriers.

The Patriots’ top run-defending linebacker is former first-round pick Jerod Mayo, who enters this game with a league-leading 148 tackles and is on pace for a whopping 182. A hard hitter who makes all the calls for the Pats’ defense, Mayo is a young defensive star in the making.

Next in line to stop Green Bay’s backs is fellow ILB Gary Guyton, who has stepped in admirably for the suspended Brandon Spikes. Guyton is more athletic than Spikes but is not nearly as physical.

The Patriots rotate five outside ’backers, with second-round rookie Jermaine Cunningham and energetic journeyman Rob Ninkovich starting in the team’s base defense.

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