Ok, the offense woke up last week against the Washington Redskins in the NFL’s opening Wild Card weekend. The defense played well again and the special teams remained solid as always. But, the Green Bay Packers aren’t facing the 9-7 Redskins again this weekend. They are facing the 14-2 Arizona Cardinals, the number two seed in the NFC. They are facing a team that dismantled them only a few short weeks ago….but, this is a different time and this is a different team. Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy have seemed to put some alleged differences behind them (for now) and have been all smiles for the last week and a half. I don’t see another 38-8 drubbing on Saturday night in the desert, and I am here to break it all down and tell you exactly why.
Green Bay Offense vs. Arizona Defense
Is the Packers offense back? I don’t know. I think they did some good things last week and it all started when the Packers created a tempo that the Redskins could not keep up with. The offensive line was giving Rodgers time to create and protected him very well, after the first quarter safety. This not only allowed the receivers time to get open, but the Packers were able to take some shots down the field, thus stretching the field. I saw this game live and in person and it looked like a different team to me.
The 1-2 punch of Eddie Lacy and James Starks created havoc, especially in the second half. The quick hitting Starks and the powerful Lacy kept the Redskins on their heels for most of the game and Randall Cobb even had a handful of carries that the Redskins didn’t seem prepared for. The only issue I see for this weekend is who is going to step up on the outside with Davante Adams out (knee). He hasn’t played exceptionally well this year, but has made strides the last two weeks and came up with some big catches on the perimeter last Sunday. With Adams out, will the Packers be able to work the outside and if so, who will step up? That remains the only question.
The Cardinals are playing without two starters on defense and signed linebacker Jason Babin this week. Head Coach Bruce Arians said he expects Babin to play a role on Saturday night. Even while missing a few starters, Arizona is loaded up front and has playmakers on all three levels. Led by all-pro corner Patrick Peterson, the secondary will make it hard for the Green Bay receivers to get open, which means the offensive line will have to protect and give Aaron Rodgers time to find someone open down field.
Green Bay Defense vs. Arizona Offense
The one bright spot that has been consistent for most of the year has been this defense. With corner Sam Shields missing the last four games (concussion), Dom Capers has put his trust in two rookies to line up on the outside. Randall and Rollins have been very good and looked extremely solid against a potent Redskins receiving group. With Rollins also battling injury, first year man Gunter stepped in and really played well in the second half and was credited with a couple of passes defended. It looks like his number may be called on again this weekend and I fully expect him to play well. Gunter has the size to match up with the Cardinals receivers and with HaHa Clinton-Dix and Morgan Burnett both playing lights out on the back end, I think this is one of the best back-ends in football.
The Packers pass rush has been spotty at times this year, but showed up in Washington and sacked Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins eight times. Clay Matthews was all over the field and Mike Neal and Nick Perry both were solid getting to the quarterback. If the Packers can get the same type of play from the front seven this week, along with the solid play of that secondary, I think they will be able to slow down the Arizona passing attack.
Arizona is loaded with playmakers and the one player the Packers will key in on is rookie running back David Johnson. Quarterback Carson Palmer was able to find Johnson on numerous occasions in the passing game, with linebacker Jake Ryan unable to keep up. The Packers must be able to stop Johnson and wide receiver Michael Floyd if they have any chance of winning. Floyd torched the Packers in the middle of the field to the tune of 6 catches for 111 yards.
I can’t help but to think back to the Divisional Round in 2010, where the Packers went on the road to play a 14-2 Atlanta Falcons team, in which they were given no chance of winning on the road. Not only did the Packers win, they won decisively. They had a ton of confidence and Rodgers had one of the best playoff performances in NFL playoff history. I see a lot of similarity in this game Saturday night. No one is giving the Packers a chance to win and Aaron Rodgers said it best, “the pressure is all on Arizona.” Couple that with Rodgers getting his swag back and Carson Palmer never winning a playoff game, I would say the Packers have a great shot at pulling off the upset. In fact, I think they will — in grand fashion.
Go Pack Go!
Packers 34 Cardinals 17