Category Archives: sports

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The Packers Five Biggest Needs Heading into the Offseason

The Green Bay Packers have suffered back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1990-91. That means changes are coming to Titletown. The Packers already hired their new coach in Matt LaFleur who is still in the process of putting his staff together. But the other urgent task for GM Brian Gutekunst is to improve the talent level on the roster. Here is a look at the five areas the Packers need to upgrade in order to play winning football again quickly.
1. Edge Rusher
The best NFL defenses always have a consistent pass rush. A dangerous edge rusher makes all the players around him on defense better because offenses must make adjustments to stop the dominant player. Look at the difference Khalil Mack made on an already talented Bears defense when they added him to the lineup just prior to the start of the season.
The Packers have not had a dominant edge rusher since Clay Matthews was in his prime. Matthews is likely headed elsewhere this offseason and is no longer able to get consistent pressure on opposing passers like he could several years ago. Nick Perry is often injured and may be let go this offseason as well. That leaves the Packers with Kyler Fackrell who improved in 2018 but is still inconsistent, and Reggie Gilbert who was not a factor during the regular season after enjoying a strong training camp.
The Packers still managed to record 44 sacks this season despite the lack of a dominant pass rusher. That is a testament to the imaginative schemes of defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, the push the defense got inside from Kenny Clark and Mike Daniels and occasionally good coverage downfield.
Adding a top-flight edge rusher would improve the Packers defense immensely and immediately. This should be the team’s top priority on defense this offseason.
2. Safety
The Packers traded former first-round pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to Washington at the trade deadline. Due to injuries and a lack of quality play at the position, Tramon Williams was moved from cornerback to safety and he did an adequate job during the second half of the season.
Kentrell Brice has not proven he can be a reliable starter. He is a liability in coverage and is not a very good tackler either.  Williams can start if needed, but at age 35, he is not the long-term answer either and is better suited to nickel or dime duty. Josh Jones has not shown he is the answer, especially in coverage.
The Pack needs to add a few players at this position. Poor safety play has hurt the defense over the past few seasons and unless an upgrade is made here, the defense will continue to struggle.
Pettine prefers to play the pass first. Expect the Pack to add at least two safeties via the draft and/or free agency with an emphasis on coverage ability.
3. Guard
The Packers allowed 53 sacks in 2018, tied for third worst in the league. Much of the pressure the Pack allowed came up the middle. Left guard Lane Taylor is an adequate starter when healthy although he is a better run blocker than pass protector.
Right guard was a problem area for the team all season. Justin McCray, Byron Bell and Lucas Patrick all got extensive playing time at the position, but none of them played well enough to solidify their hold on the starters spot.
The Packers need to add a starting-caliber guard via free agency and then add another interior lineman in the draft. Protecting Aaron Rodgers is vital to the Packers success and upgrading the guard position will help accomplish this goal.
4. Offensive Tackle
The Packers have an All-Pro tackle in David Bakhtiari and a very good tackle in Bryan Bulaga. But the team lacks depth at the position and Bulaga is entering his 10th season in the league and has struggled to stay healthy in recent years.
Backup Jason Spriggs has struggled every time he’s placed in the starting lineup and has not lived up to his status as a second-round draft pick. McCray  is better suited to playing inside rather than at tackle.
Green Bay needs to add developmental players here who can step in and replace Bulaga when the time comes and players who can be inserted into the lineup when injuries hit without becoming a major liability.
5. Slot Receiver
Randall Cobb is unlikely to return unless he offers the Packers a large home-town discount. None of the young receivers on the team’s roster has been a good fit in the slot. Cobb’s ability to run short patterns over the middle gave Rodgers a good intermediate target and a check down. His versatility and ability to line up in various spots also helped keep defenses honest.
The Packers need somebody to take over this role and provide Rodgers with a reliable slot target. An experienced, mid-level free agent would be a great addition at this position. A minor trade could also add a reliable slot receiver who could also help mentor the Packers young receivers as they enter their second year in the NFL.
 


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Kareem Hunt Incident Shows NFL Still Doesn't Know How to Address Issues of Domestic Violence

The Kareem Hunt incident shows that when it comes to domestic violence, the NFL still doesn’t get it.
Sure, Hunt was placed on the Commissioner Exempt list Friday afternoon after TMZ released a video of the Chiefs star running back shoving and kicking a 19-year-old woman in a Cleveland hotel. On Friday night, the Chiefs announced that they were parting ways with Hunt as a result of the incident.
But here’s the problem: the assault took place back in February, more than nine months ago. It was widely reported at the time. The NFL knew about it and so did the Chiefs.
Keep in mind, each NFL team has its own employees who are hired to investigate incidents like this and to do background checks on potential draft picks and players. Many of these investigators are former law enforcement officers who are paid to get to the bottom of these types of incidents. But for whatever reason, the league and the team failed to address this issue adequately when they first learned about it.
League policy states that even if a player is never convicted of a crime or even charged with a crime, the NFL can conduct its own investigation and suspend a player for “conduct detrimental to the game.”
For example, Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott was suspended by the league despite never being convicted of any crime. But the league’s investigation found the evidence against Elliott was credible and he was suspended.
In the Hunt case, the league and the Chiefs failed to take adequate action until the TMZ video was released. Only when the situation became a public relations nightmare for the NFL did the commissioner’s office decide to address Hunt’s decision to physically attack a woman.
Hunt is a very talented football player. He is presently fifth in the entire league with 824 rushing yards and has another 378 receiving yards. He’s third in the league with 14 touchdowns and was a shoo-in to make the Pro Bowl. Hunt is a catalyst for one of the league’s best offenses in Kansas City. He is a star.
But if Hunt was a fringe player instead of a star, he almost certainly would have been released back in February. But the league and the Chiefs swept the incident under the rug until the video became public and forced the league to act.
The NFL needs to demonstrate that it is serious about the issue of domestic because it is the right thing to do, not because people may get offended seeing a player who attacked a woman making on the field making millions of dollars. The league needs to understand the seriousness of domestic violence and that the victims of such incidents can be anybody’s mother, sister, wife, friend or daughter. If TMZ obtained the video, the league could have done the same thing and taken a proactive stance on the issue of domestic violence.
After the league flubbed the Ray Rice suspension back in 2014, the hope was they would handle future incidents in a more proactive way. Unfortunately, the Hunt incident demonstrates the NFL hasn’t learned its lesson.


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Breaking Down Five Keys for the Packers in Minnesota

The Green Bay Packers head to Minnesota to visit the Vikings in a Week 12 divisional showdown. These two rivals have met 115 times during the regular season in a series that started in 1961. The Packers hold a 59-52-3 advantage in this series with the two teams playing to a 29-29 tie in Week 2. Minnesota is 5-4-1 on the season while the Packers are 4-5-1. The loser of this game will be all but eliminated from the NFC playoff picture while the winner puts themselves in the thick of the hunt.
Here is a look at they key matchups and situations that will determine who wins this NFC North battle Sunday night.
1. Run the Football and Keep Running the Football
This remains a recurring problem for the Packers. Last Thursday, the Packers ran the ball enough in the first half and even got the ball to Aaron Jones through the air. In the second half, the Packers only gave Jones five touches and the offense faltered.
The Minnesota defense is a solid one and ranks a strong fifth in the league with only 94.8-yards rushing allowed per game.
But even if Jones isn’t consistently gaining five or six yards per carry, the Packers cannot afford to abandon the running game. They need to keep the Vikings defense honest and off-balance. In addition, if the running game is slowed down, they can also get Jones the ball via screens and swing passes. Jones is one of the offense’s most dangerous playmakers and they need to find ways to get him the ball.
2. Contain the Vikings Receivers
Green Bay’s secondary is hurting but the Packers cannot permit Minnesota’s talented duo of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs to beat them. Thielen already has 85 catches and 1,013 yards on the season while Diggs isn’t too far behind with 71 receptions for 713 yards. The duo also has 12 touchdowns between them.
CB Kevin King has missed significant time with a hamstring injury and may not be ready for Sunday night. Safety Kentrell Brice missed the game in Seattle with an ankle injury but the Packers are hopeful he will return in Minnesota. Bashaud Breeland and Raven Greene were also hurt in the Seahawks game. Neither player has practiced this week. Breeland is listed as questionable while Greene is officially doubtful.
Regardless of who is available, the Packers secondary will need to step up and slow down the Minnesota wide receivers. Green Bay will need Jaire Alexander, Tramon Williams and reserves like Josh Jones, Tony Brown and Ibraheim Campbell to play well whenever they get on to the field. If they don’t, the game will become a track meet which wouldn’t bode well for the Packers.
3. Keep Danielle Hunter Off Rodgers
Minnesota has compiled 32 sacks this season, but DE Danielle Hunter has 11.5 of them including at least one sack in eight of Minnesota’s 10 games this season. The Packers must find a way to slow down Hunter and with it the Vikings pass rush.
Mike McCarthy prefers to allow his tackles to block edge rushers one-on-one which means that the job will fall primarily on Bryan Bulaga.
Hunter likes to line up wide and create advantageous angles for himself coming from the outside. His speed will provide a challenge for Bulaga who has been playing through nagging injuries all season.
If Bulaga struggles, the Packers will likely play more two TE formations and use one of them to chip Hunter and slow him down. Aaron Rodgers needs time to throw so this aspect of the game will be critical.
4. Davante Adams vs Xavier Rhodes
Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison are out while Jimmy Graham has a broken thumb but may try to play. That means Rodgers will be without two of his top three wide receivers and his first-string tight end will either be out or be compromised. So, the only experienced and reliable receiver Rodgers will have is Davante Adams.
Adams is by far the Packers most dangerous receiver and the one Rodgers feels most comfortable passing to. He needs just 47 yards to reach the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his NFL career.
How important is Adams to the Green Bay offense? The Fresno State alum has 72 catches in 10 games while no other Packers receiver has even half as many receptions.
The Vikings will almost certainly match up their best cover corner, Xavier Rhodes on Adams. Don’t be surprised if Minnesota’s defense also gives Rhodes safety help on many plays. If the Vikings can take away Adams, they can force Rodgers to throw to receivers he lacks confidence in. Adams will have to have a big day for the Pack to be successful and at least one other receiver needs to step up and provide Rodgers with a reliable alternative.
5. Get Aaron Rodgers and the Offense in Rhythm
All season we’ve seen the Packers offense struggle to gain any kind of rhythm. There are multiple reasons for this, but time is running out for the Packers to fix it.
Aaron Rodgers has been holding onto the football for too long. That’s in part because he doesn’t fully trust his younger receivers and in part because of a reluctance to find his check down receivers when longer passes aren’t available.
The Packers also aren’t getting plays off on time. They’ve wasted too many timeouts to prevent delay of game penalties and aren’t using the no-huddle offense enough that was so effective for the team in recent seasons. The Packers used to dictate the tempo of the game when they had the ball but they’ve struggle to do that this season.
Rodgers and the offense need to be more consistent and regain their rhythm which is a tall task against a Vikings defense ranked fifth overall in the league against the run and sixth against the pass.
Prediction:
The Packers are 0-5 on the road this season and that must end immediately if they hope to salvage their season.
The Pack should have won the first meeting between these two teams, but it will be tougher to win in Minnesota. The banged-up defense will mean Rodgers will have to have a great game for the Packers to win. He’s certainly capable, but he hasn’t put together a great all-around game all season.
Somehow, the Packers will find another way to fall just short.
Vikings 34, Packers 31


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Packers Road to Third Straight Championship Started Against Rams

The Packers road to their third straight championship in 1967 started with a playoff game against the Los Angeles Rams at Milwaukee County Stadium. Vince Lombardi’s Packers entered the game with a 9-4-1 record and had dropped their last two contests after clinching their division title. Meanwhile, the Rams, coached by Hall of Famer George Allen, finished the season with an 11-1-2 record and were on a 10-game winning streak.
The Rams were led by quarterback Roman Gabriel and a fierce defense headed by one of the greatest defensive lines of all time. Merlin Olsen, Lamar Lundy, Roger Brown and Deacon Jones were dubbed “The Fearsome Foursome” and spent the season decimating opposing quarterbacks. The Rams were a powerhouse and led the league with the most points scored (398 in 14 games) and the fewest points allowed (196).
The 1967 Packers were an aging group of veterans hoping to win an unprecedented third straight championship despite an injury-plagued season. Bart Starr was banged up for most of the season. While he missed only two games, he played through some tough injuries and threw only nine touchdown passes and an uncharacteristic 17 interceptions.
Both Hall of Fame running backs Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung left the team before the season started and injuries decimated the position over the course of the campaign. Both Elijah Pitts and Jim Grabowski missed almost half the season. The Pack was forced to rely on backups like Ben Wilson, rookie Travis Williams and newly signed journeyman Chuck Mercein to compliment Donny Anderson at the position.
Few people expected the Packers to beat the Rams. In fact, a fan poll in the Green Bay Press-Gazette during the week leading up to the game showed that most local fans had picked the visitors to end the Packers title defense. It angered a proud group of veterans. “They had picked us to lose,” linebacker Dave Robinson recalled. “These were out local people. Our slogan in our meeting was ‘How can they expect to be a lion in the lion’s den?’”
Lombardi also found a dramatic way to motivate his players. Before the game, he gave one of his most famous pregame speeches. Hall of Fame guard Jerry Kramer remembered it well. “He gave us this wonderful speech of St. Paul’s epistle, about when all the runners are running the race, only one can win, and we run, not just to be in the race, but we run to win. That got us pumped up pretty good.”
Despite the inspiration, it was the Rams who got off to an early lead. The Packers turned the ball over and Gabriel made it 7-0 Los Angeles on a 29-yard touchdown pass to Bernie Casey.
The Rams put together another drive and tried a field goal, but Robinson blocked the kick and the game’s momentum turned.
Rookie RB Travis Williams was pressed into a starting role due to injury. He was nicknamed “The Roadrunner” for his speed and like many of Lombardi’s veterans, he came through with a pair of touchdowns. The first was a 46-yard dash in the second quarter that tied the game at 7-7.
Kramer recalled the play. “I remember blocking Merlin Olsen and he was starting to slip away to the outside in pursuit and I look outside, and Travis was about even with us, but near the sideline running towards the end zone. And I knew the play was over. He’s gone.”
Starr found wide receiver Carroll Dale for a 17-yard touchdown to give the Pack a 14-7 halftime lead. Dale finished the game with six catches for 109 yards while Starr was an impressive 17-of-23 for 222 yards and a touchdown. Williams led all rushers with 88 yards on 18 carries and a pair of scores.
Defensively, the proud veteran Packers defenders harassed Gabriel for the rest of the contest. They sacked the Rams quarterback five times including 3.5 by future Hall of Famer Henry Jordan.
In the second half, the Packers scored twice more. Mercein ran one in from six yards out in the third quarter to give the Packers a 21-7 lead and Williams scored the final touchdown of the game in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach for the Rams.
Lombardi was thrilled with his club’s performance. “We were magnificent today,” he said after the game. “We rose to the occasion. A lot of people said the Packers were dead, but we still have a great nucleus.”
One week later, that nucleus played the biggest game in the franchise’s history when they defeated the Dallas Cowboys in the “Ice Bowl.” But none of that would have happened if Lombardi and his wily veterans hadn’t played better than anybody thought they could to defeat an outstanding Rams team against all odds.
In his book, “Instant Replay,” Kramer summed up what the win over the Rams meant to him at the time.
“I was misty-eyed myself I felt so good. I felt so proud, proud of myself and proud of my teammates and proud of my coaches. I felt like I was part of something special. I guess it’s the way a group of scientists feel when they make a big breakthrough, though, of course, we aren’t that important. It’s a feeling of being together, completely together, a singleness of purpose, accomplishing something that is very difficult to accomplish, accomplishing something that a lot of people thought you couldn’t accomplish. It sent a beautiful shiver up my back.”
 
 


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Breaking Down Five Keys for the Packers vs the Los Angeles Rams

The Green Bay Packers return from the bye week and head to Los Angeles to take on the Rams. Los Angeles is the only unbeaten team in the league with a 7-0-0 record while the Packers are 3-2-1. The Rams defeated the San Francisco 49ers 39-10 last week to end a three-game road trip with a perfect record.
These two teams first met in 1937 when the Rams played in Cleveland. The Packers and Rams are dead even in 92 regular-season meetings with each team winning 45 games and two contests ending in a tie. Green Bay has won each of the last five games between these two teams with the last meeting coming in 2015 when the Pack defeated the then St. Louis Rams 24-10 at Lambeau Field.
Here is a look at the key matchups and situations that will determine whether the Packers can end the Rams perfect season and improve Mike McCarthy’s 9-3 record after a bye week:
1. Slow Down Todd Gurley
Todd Gurley leads the NFL in rushing yards and is the biggest weapon in the Rams offensive arsenal. Los Angeles is one of the few teams in the league today that still uses the run to set up the pass rather than the other way around. They are first in the NFL in rushing yards per game.
If the Packers can’t contain or slow down Gurley, they cannot win this game. The 49ers ran the ball very well against the Pack two weeks ago for three quarters before the Green Bay defense clamped down on the rushing attack and made their late comeback.
Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark will be the keys to slow down Gurley. If they do their jobs well, Blake Martinez makes tackles at or near the line of scrimmage rather than 5-7 yards downfield. The Packers will need to win the battle at the line of scrimmage and stay in their lanes to prevent Gurley and the other Rams runners from getting to the outside on rushing plays and jet sweeps. This will require discipline that the Green Bay defense hasn’t shown consistently this season.
Jared Goff is one of the best play action passers in the game. If the Packers neutralize the rushing attack or take a big lead, they can reduce the effectiveness of the play action pass.
2. Run the Football
One way to slow down the explosive Rams offense is to keep them off the field as much as possible. During the bye week, the Packers were self-scouting and one of the issues raised was that the team hasn’t run the ball as often as they could have.
The Rams defense is stronger against the pass than they are against the run. Their rushing defense is ranked 12th in the league in yards-per game but because most teams have been trailing the Rams this season, teams have not been running late in games against them. The Rams are 26th in the league in yards allowed per attempt with a 4.7-yard average.
The Packers will need the middle of their offensive line to move the ball on the Rams defensive tackle duo of Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh. They are one of the best defensive tackle duos in the league.
Aaron Jones should get more carries, but all three running backs should have their share of rushing attempts. Ty Montgomery’s speed and receiving ability should play a role in creating some mismatches on outside rushes and short passes that are an extension of the running game.
The Packers will need to hold on to the ball and keep the Rams offense off the field as much as possible. Running the ball more often will be a key component of this strategy.
3. Win the Turnover Battle
The Rams are fourth in the league with a plus-six turnover differential through seven games. The Packers are a plus-one through six contests. The Rams have an explosive offense and a very good defense. That doesn’t leave a large margin for error.
The Packers must win the turnover battle to have a chance to win this game. Give the Rams a short field and the game will be over quickly. Give their offense extra chances with the ball and the Green Bay offense will have to be almost perfect to stay even.
The momentum of a game often changes due to key turnovers. Green Bay will need some of these big plays to have a chance to pull off the upset.
4. Aaron Rodgers Must Shine Especially in the Red Zone
If you look at the statistics, the Packers have the second-best passing offense in the league. But while Green Bay moves the ball well, they don’t always convert the yards into touchdowns. The Packers score a touchdown only 50 percent of the time through their first six games when they get the ball inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. Against an explosive offense like the Rams, the Pack cannot afford to answer LA touchdowns with field goals.
This is the game where Jimmy Graham must become the red zone weapon the Packers expected him to be. Davante Adams is always a Rodgers favorite in the red zone. No matter how the Packers get the ball into the end zone, they need to find ways to do it or they will fall behind quickly against the Rams. If that happens, stopping Gurley and running the football, two of the first three keys to this game, will become extremely difficult for the Pack.
5. Don’t Give Up Big Plays
The Rams offense is very good at creating big plays and gaining big chunks of yardage quickly. Gurley leads the NFL in rushes of 10 yards or more with 19. Altogether, seven Los Angeles players have runs of 10 yards or more this season.
Jared Goff throws the ball downfield very well. The Packers safeties have been victimized too often this season due to poor reads, angles and decision making.
The Rams offense is designed to force DBs to make quick decisions deep downfield and the Packers must make the right read nearly all the time. Even without Cooper Kupp, the Rams have plenty of dangerous receivers. Long pass plays whether to Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks or Gurley, can deflate the Packers, change the momentum and be a big difference maker in this game.
Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine loves to confuse opposing quarterbacks with disguised blitzes from unexpected places. The matchup between Pettine and Rams head coach Sean McVay, one of the most innovative offensive coaches in the league, will be an interesting one to watch.
Prediction:
There is no doubt the Packers can win this game, but there is also no way they can do it without playing better football than they did in any of the first six games of the season.
The Rams offense has so many weapons and an innovative and aggressive system that is designed to exploit the weaknesses in the Packers secondary.
The Packers offense will need to not just gain yards but score lots of points and the defense will have to make just enough big plays to pull off the upset.
Right now, the Packers haven’t proven they have that kind of game in them. The feeling here is Rodgers plays well and keeps it close, but the Rams find a way to win at home.
Rams 38, Packers 28


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Packers Hope Young Receivers Are Ready for the Big Time

Each of the Green Bay Packers top three receivers missed practice Thursday, leaving the Pack dangerously thin at the position heading into Sunday’s divisional showdown at Detroit. Green Bay’s depth may be tested this weekend as one or more of the team’s three rookie draft choices may be pressed into major roles for the first time in their young NFL careers.
Randall Cobb sat out last week’s game with a hamstring injury. He did not participate in practice on either Wednesday or Thursday as the Packers prepared for their game against the Lions.
Geronimo Allison left the Bills game after suffering a blow to the head and was placed in the league’s concussion protocol. Allison has yet to practice this week and will be unable to do so until a doctor clears him for action.
The Packers top receiver, Davante Adams, was limited in practice Wednesday, but apparently suffered a calf injury during practice and did not participate at all on Thursday. Adams presently leads the team 28 catches and three touchdowns through four games.
The Green and Gold presently have six active receivers on their roster. The remaining three wideouts are all rookies drafted this year by new GM Brian Gutekunst: J’Mon Moore, Equanimeous St. Brown and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. None of the three have been extremely productive over the first four games. Valdes-Scantling is the only rookie wideout to make a catch during a regular season game. He has two receptions for 41 yards including a 38-yard grab against the Bills last Sunday.
Rookie wide receivers rarely make a huge impact on offense. The jump from college game plans to the more complex playbooks of the NFL is a large one. During training camp, quarterback Aaron Rodgers voiced his frustration with the work ethic and progress of his young wideouts, complaining to the press that their effort during one drill was “piss poor.”
That was back in early August. Two months later seems like forever in NFL terms. Now the three rookies may go from being criticized in practice to playing very significant roles in an important game against a division rival.
The young receivers feel they are equal to the challenge. “I think we’ve grown a lot,” Valdes-Scantling said. “We’re still learning. We’re still growing, but from that day to now, there’s been a lot of progress made, a lot of plays have been made, a lot of trust has been earned. I think that’s something we had to do over time.”
Cobb acknowledged the progress the trio has made but explained that playing in a regular season game is a big jump from practice. “They haven’t had much of an opportunity early in the season,” Cobb said. “Those opportunities are going to come and it’s all about just them being ready for them. I think they’re progressing, but it’s easy to say that in practice. When you get in games, it’s a different situation.”
The Lions pass defense currently ranks second in the league in yards allowed per game. Darrius Slay is their top cover corner.  He was expected to match up with Adams, but if the Pack is without their number one wideout, Detroit will gain a big advantage.
In addition to the rookie receivers, head coach Mike McCarthy will almost certainly have to be creative when it comes to play calling if Rodgers doesn’t have Adams, Cobb or Geronimo to throw to. The Packers franchise quarterback will almost certainly focus more on tight end Jimmy Graham and former receiver Ty Montgomery if he is without one or more of his most reliable targets. It will be a challenge for the entire offense, not just the inexperience receivers.
For now, Moore, Valdes-Scantling and St. Brown are busy preparing for their biggest role yet during an NFL game. It is the chance they’ve been waiting for and the Packers hope it might be the next step in three productive careers.


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