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10 to Watch: Rodgers, tough Packers D provide another big test for Pats

Here are the 10 key players to watch as the Patriots travel to Green Bay to take on the Packers.

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The Patriots will travel to Green Bay on Sunday for the first time since 2014 to take on Aaron Rodgers and the 2-1 Packers. New England is expected to be shorthanded at quarterback, with veteran Brian Hoyer likely to get the start at quarterback as Mac Jones recovers from a reported high ankle sprain suffered during the final play of last week's loss to the Ravens.

Rodgers and the Packers are off to a solid start as their offense incorporates some new pieces to help offset the loss of outstanding receiver Davante Adams. They haven't been scoring a lot of points (27th) but they've been able to secure two wins, including last week's 14-12 victory over the Bucs.

Defensively, the Packers have one of the top units in the league, ranking sixth in both yards and points while also boasting the top third-down unit in the NFL. They've played a big role in the Packers' solid start despite some significant turnover on offense and have talent and experience at all three levels.

Here are the 10 things to watch as the Patriots try to get their second win of the season in the league's most historic stadium!

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) hands the ball off to RB Aaron Jones (33)
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) hands the ball off to RB Aaron Jones (33)

Aaron Rodgers and developing passing attack

Rodgers is adjusting to life without Davante Adams, throwing just four touchdowns to two interceptions entering the game. Still, Rodgers is completing 72.3% of his passes and has some budding young stars in rookies Romeo Doubs and Christian Watson, while keeping veteran Randall Cobb as a trusted outlet. The Patriots secondary will be put to the test by Rodgers just like their front seven was put to the test against Lamar Jackson. With Jalen Mills battling a hamstring issue, it could thrust some of the Patriots young corners like Jack and Marcus Jones into more sizable roles as they look to match the passing threats that the Packers now have. If the Pats can figure out a way to confound Rodgers, or at least hold him under 20 points for the third time in four games, they should have a chance to win.

Aaron Jones and a potent ground game

The best player on the Packers offense through three games has been running back Aaron Jones, who is averaging 6.8 yards-per-carry despite seeing fewer touches than AJ Dillon, who has been held to 3.5 yards-per-carry. The duo provides a nice complementary balance in the Packers backfield, with Jones providing the explosiveness and Dillon providing the size and strength. Together, they'll test a Patriots run defense that had a lot of problems with the Ravens' unique ground attack. Can they bounce back against a more conventional, yet still problematic, attack like the Packers? Lawrence Guy's health bears monitoring, he's been outstanding up front this season and he, Davon Godchaux and Carl Davis are likely to play significant roles.

Romeo Doubs and the new-look receiver group

The rookie receiver out of Nevada is already leading the team in receptions with 14 on 16 targets for 137 yards. They're not overwhelming numbers but things should continue to trend upwards as he gets more familiar playing with an all-time great quarterback. Part of the Patriots problem is that the Packers don't have a true number one receiver to key on, with vets like Cobb and Allen Lazard chipping in. The running backs have 17 catches between them as well, as everyone is a threat when Rodgers drops back to pass. Watson, who missed last week with injury, and Doubs have bright futures and can't be allowed any breakout games.

Kenny Clark and the disruptive Packers D-line

Clark has been a major problem for opposing blockers this season, as the 2016 first-rounder has posted five QB hits and two sacks through three games. Clark is PFF's top-rated defender with a stellar 85.6 defensive grade with a 91.0 pass rush grade. Patriots rookie guard Cole Strange should see plenty of Clark inside. But Clark is far from the only threat along the defensive line, with rookie first-rounder Devonte Wyatt seeing limited snaps but still delivering production, while Jarran Ree and Dean Lowery have also been disruptive. The Patriots offensive line will have their work cut out for them as they try to protect Hoyer and open up running lanes.

Rashaan Gary and a talented LB group

Another of six defensive starters that were selected in the first round, Gary is a stout edge player who looks like he'd also be a good fit in the Patriots defensive system. He's recorded a sack in each of the first three games, to go with six hurries, while also chipping in eight total stops. Gary combines with Preston Smith on the edges while De'Vondre Campbell and another rookie first-rounder Quay Walker handle the inside, as Green Bay plays plenty of a base 3-4 defense that the Patriots should expect to see a lot of. Gary can't be allowed to blow up too many plays, he's a force.

Brian Hoyer steps in

The Patriots are expected to start a back-up quarterback for the first time since Hoyer's last start in 2020 when he was thrust into service in replacement of Cam Newton. Hoyer has been in the league since 2009 and played in multiple offenses, and he looked solid in limited reps this summer in the Patriots' rejiggered offense. The 2020 game was a unique case with little time for preparation but this week Hoyer should get a full share of starters reps along with a gameplan being put into place specifically for him. Can the vet get a much-needed win in one of the toughest environments in football?

Rhamondre Stevenson building momentum

Stevenson was one of the bright spots coming out of the loss to the Ravens, as the second-year back posted 73 yards on 12 carries. He looked sudden and powerful, building on the potential that he showed in 2021 as a rookie when he rushed for 606 yards and five touchdowns. The Packers run defense ranks 18th in yards allowed but sixth in rushing touchdowns, while their DVOA comes in at a surprising 32nd overall, influenced by 180 rushing yards allowed to the Bears in Week 2. Stevenson and Damien Harris will play critical roles in helping overcome the loss of Mac Jones. On paper, the number one DVOA rushing team is going against the worst DVOA rushing defense, but things rarely play out that simply. Still, it's a good place to start.

WR Kendrick Bourne
WR Kendrick Bourne

Kendrick Bourne, the missing element?

The drum beats continue to for Bourne to be more involved in the Patriots offense. In limited snaps he's been productive and provided a complementary threat to the breakout receivers of the last two weeks -- Nelson Agholor and DeVante Parker. With Jakobi Meyers' health still in question, opportunities could remain for Bourne and LJ Humphrey, but will the Patriots offensive attack take to the air or ground? Hoyer's comfortability is the wild card. Which receivers might he have some chemistry with? Maybe it's Bourne and maybe that's what's needed for him to really get involved.

Devin McCourty vs. a smart offensive attack

Going against a cerebral, experienced quarterback like Rodgers, the Patriots will need the back end of their defense to all be on the same page. Any miscommunications that lead to breakdowns will be quickly and efficiently exposed by Rodgers and the creative playcalling of head coach Matt LaFleur. Devin McCourty continues to be a key piece on defense, not just for communication but in matchups as well. With Kyle Dugger still battling an injury, McCourty's importance is even more on display alongside Adrian Phillips and Jabril Peppers. The secondary will need to be locked in for 60 minutes, and if they can produce some turnovers they might help flip the script.

Davon Godchaux holding his ground

With Lawrence Guy's health in question, Godchaux will be one of the key pieces up front charged with stopping Jones and Dillon on the ground. Godchaux has had an excellent season after signing an extension during the summer. His play through three games shows why the Patriots wanted to retain him long-term. Green Bay's attack is more conventional and it should give the defensive linemen more of a chance to make impact plays behind the line of scrimmage. If Guy can't go, look for an increased role for Carl Davis, while rookie Sam Roberts could be in line to make his debut.

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