#5 Green Bay Packers @ #2 Arizona Cardinals
University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona
Saturday, January 16th at 7:15 p.m. CT (NBC)
Three weeks ago, Arizona delivered a devastating blow to Green Bay’s season, dominating them in every football sense imaginable by a score of 38-8. The Packers were the ones sent packing and officially lost any shot at the #2 seed in the NFC. A morally deflating loss such as that should put any team down and out for good, right?
Well, maybe not so much.
Before the Wild Card game against Washington, many (myself, included) doubted whether the Packers would be able to reverse their poor playing trend in the second half of the season and win a playoff game. Even if they won, round two at Arizona sounded like the last thing fans wanted to see given the most recent matchup. Aaron Rodgers and company, however, see a second shot at Arizona with nothing to lose and everything to gain.
“The pressure’s all going to be on them,” the two-time MVP stated. “They’re the Super Bowl favorites.”
With seemingly no expectations to win, or even compete, Green Bay has the perfect shot at redemption. A short-term memory and a snowballing confidence from last week gives Green Bay, in some sense, the edge headed into this Saturday night showdown.
Out: TE Andrew Quarless, WR Davante Adams
Questionable: CB Quentin Rollins, CB Sam Shields
Probable: T David Bakhtiari, DE Datone Jones, TE Richard Rodgers, G Josh Sitton
The good news is Packers expect to have left tackle David Bakhtiari back for the first time since Week 15. Bakhtiari, who protects Rodgers blind side, missed the Week 16 matchup against Arizona where the offensive line allowed a total of nine sacks. His return will provide much needed help against a terrorizing Cardinals front line.
The unknown news is Sam Shields has yet to clear concussion protocol, making this the fifth week his status is uncertain for the game. Cornerback depth takes another hit with rookie Quentin Rollins questionable for the game. Green Bay’s defense needs all the help it can get on the outside against the prolific wide receiving corps of Arizona.
The bad news comes from the Davante Adams camp, as his injury will keep him out for Saturday’s game. Without Adams, Rodgers will need either Jared Abbrederis and/or Jeff Janis to emerge in Adams’ place.
Keys to Victory
Green Bay’s Turnovers
To advance to the conference championship next week, Green Bay will need to play their cleanest game of the season on Saturday. Arizona has too much talent on their roster to leave any room for error and the Packers know that as well as anyone. The Week 16 matchup saw the Cardinals run away with the win in the blink of an eye. Arizona scored more points on defense than Green Bay scored the entire game thanks to four Packers turnovers in the first three quarters.
Arizona ranked 4th in turnover margin during the regular season so protecting the football must be the number one priority. Giving Carson Palmer and the second ranked scoring offense any more opportunities to put points on the board spells another blowout loss. Protecting the ball will be very reliant upon the play of the offensive line, who should be at full strength. A clean pocket for Rodgers and running lanes for Eddie Lacy will keep any defense on their heels.
Balance Tempo and Efficiency
The offense hit its stride last week, putting up their second-highest point total of the season. That success was predicated by the up-pace tempo, which produced free plays by catching Washington for twelve men and offsides penalties. Arizona is a much more disciplined team, though, committing the third-fewest penalties during the regular season. As successful as the up-tempo offense was, there is a lot of risk that comes with pushing the pace – shorter breaks for the defense and more possessions for the opposing offense means trouble.
In order for the Packers offense to be successful, they must find the right balance of speed and efficiency. The best chance Green Bay has to win this game is by controlling the time of possession, but they must not abandoned what worked. The Packers offense needs to find the right mix of fast-paced and controlled just as they did last week. This balanced speed put up five straight scoring possessions and effectively negated any chance for Washington to come back.
Let Carson Palmer sit on the sidelines and become a spectator. Take away possessions from Arizona by eating clock and moving the ball in chunks. If this becomes a shootout, the advantage goes to the Cardinals. They have too many weapons on the offensive side for Green Bay to go toe to toe hurling the ball downfield. A methodical, possessive game plan on offense gives Aaron Rodgers and his offense the best chance to keep pace with the Cardinals scoring attack.
Pressure on Palmer
Arizona’s offense presents all kinds of matchup problems for any defense. How do you slow down David Johnson? How do you take away Palmer’s safety net, Larry Fitzgerald? How do you keep up with John Brown, JJ Nelson, and Michael Floyd downfield? Dom Capers hopes to find success against this team that few have had. The key will start up front; force Palmer into snap decisions that give your beaten-up secondary a chance to win battles against one of the best receiving cores in the NFL.
Arizona gave up the fourth-fewest sacks during the season (27) and while Green Bay’s defense tied for seventh-most sacks (43), the defense will need to put Arizona in unfavorable third down situations or Palmer and company will not get off the field. Sacks are the best way to do that. The Cardinals were third-best at converting third downs (47%), so Green Bay must be ready to see an aggressive offense no matter what the down and distance, but that means plenty of opportunities to make plays on the ball.
Casey Hayward and Micah Hyde missed a few interceptions last week that cannot be missed this week. The secondary must take advantage of any opportunity they have to catch the ball. Green Bay’s best chance of keeping points off the board is by taking the ball away meaning both the pass rush and secondary must work together as a cohesive unit to slow down such a lethal offense.
The 2015 Green Bay Packers are the most confusing team I have ever seen. This game has one of two outcomes: a Cardinals blowout win or the Packers squeezing out a field goal win. I can see one happening just as much as the other. As much as I talked myself out of picking Green Bay while writing this piece, I’m going with the Packers.
Nothing about this season says the same Packers team will show up two weeks in a row. But I’m taking the odds. I bet against Aaron Rodgers last week, I’m not doing it again. Remember that 2009 Wild Card game between these two? A shootout for the ages went into overtime and Arizona narrowly escaped with a 51-45 win. I see another big scoring game, with a slightly different outcome. Write your legacy, #12.
Packers 32, Cardinals 29
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images