The Green Bay Packers will travel to the Southwest to take on the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Divisional Round of the playoffs at the University of Phoenix Stadium this Saturday night at 6:15 pm ET on NBC.
Last Sunday the Green Bay Packers invaded Landover, Maryland to take on the NFC East champion Washington Redskins and try to advance to the divisional round of playoffs for the fifth time in six years. It didn’t start out well as Aaron Rodgers opened 1 for 8 and Green Bay fell behind 11 points in the first quarter, but after switching to the hurry-up attack in the second, the offense came alive and Rodgers looked like an NFL MVP, throwing for two touchdowns while James Starks and Eddie Lacy each ran into the end zone as the Packers completed the comeback and won the game, 35-18.
Yet, even with the victory, the Packers suffered a major blow as starting wide receiver Davante Adams injured his knee in the third quarter. It was reported to be an MCL injury and is not expected to practice this week or play this weekend.
As for other injuries, Sam Shields, who sustained a concussion against the Dallas Cowboys on December 13, returned to practice Wednesday and participated Thursday, leaving open the chance he could possibly be cleared from concussion protocol before Saturday’s game. Left tackle David Bakhtiari, who sprained his ankle and has not played since Dec. 20, was also limited in practice Wednesday and Thursday, and corner Quinten Rollins, who did not practice at all Wednesday, was limited Thursday.
For Arizona, they have starting linebacker Alex Okafor (toe) and starting defensive tackle Cory Redding (ankle) out for the rest of the postseason. Losing Redding could be a major blow to the Cardinals defense as they ranked sixth in stopping the run this season and Redding also returned a fumble 36 yards against the Packers in Week 15 for a touchdown. To compensate for the losses, the Cards signed linebacker Jason Babin and moved linebacker Gabe Martin to the active roster. However, linebacker Markus Golden (knee) is expected to start after missing the season finale against Seattle and defensive lineman/linebacker Josh Mauro (calf) is also expected to play after missing two games.
Remember it was just three week’s ago that the Packers were annihilated 38-8 by the hands of the Cardinals and will look to turn things around in this week’s rematch. Here are some other key factors for this rematch.
Packers Maligned Offensive Line vs. Cardinal’s Pass Rush
Particularly down the stretch of the season, the Packers offensive line has struggled in pass protection, yielding 46 sacks this year and has been reshuffled the past three weeks due to injuries, specifically left tackle Bakhtiari. Backup left tackle Don Barclay was overwhelmed at Arizona as the Cardinals vaunted pass rush accumulated nine sacks, including three (and a forced fumble) from Dwight Freeney. The following game against the Minnesota Vikings, Pro Bowl left guard Josh Sitton started at left tackle and Everson Griffen had two sacks. This past Sunday, JC Tretter was the starter at left tackle and while he allowed a safety early in the game, he deserves credit for settling down and not allowing another sack. Green Bay knows first-hand how dominant the Arizona pass rush can be and in order to come out on top, they need to give Rodgers time to move around and find open receivers. For Arizona, they will be looking to attack relentlessly in waves and force Rodgers to throw the ball quickly before someone is open and possibly turn the ball over.
Packers Secondary vs. Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals feature a deadly trio of wide receivers – John Brown, Michael Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald – who can all hurt you in different ways. Brown and Floyd have the speed to beat defenses over the top while Fitzgerald is usually in the slot as a possession receiver, running short to medium routes.
When the Packers first played Arizona, they did hold the Cardinals to 260 passing yards. But Brown and Fitzgerald both caught touchdown passes, Floyd used his blazing quickness to haul in 6 passes for 111 yards, and rookie running back David Johnson accumulated 127 total yards and a touchdown. It will be a Herculean task to shutdown this offensive juggernaut especially with a banged up Green Bay secondary, but would get a huge boast if Shields can play as he is a speedy, shutdown corner who could neutralize Brown or Floyd.
Yet, even without Shields, the young secondary has held up nicely and still have several corners who can keep up with Brown and Floyd such as Demarious Randall and Quinten Rollins, while slot defenders Casey Hayward and Micah Hyde will look to replicate their Week 15 performance where they held Fitzgerald to just 29 yards on four catches. For the Packers to pull an upset, it will need to play like it did against Washington’s where it held star receiver DeSean Jackson to two catches for 17 yards by not letting him run by. However, expect Carson Palmer to test this inexperienced secondary early and often as this unit has been known to give up big plays.
Packers Player Spotlight
With Adams sidelined, Jared Abbrederis will take over the No. 3 receiver position behind Randall Cobb and James Jones. With Cobb likely being shadowed by the league’s premier shutdown corner Patrick Peterson and Jones garnering much of the defense’s attention as Rodgers' go-to receiver, expect Abbrederis to get even more snaps this week and his fair share of targets. He has Rodgers' trust and is a solid route runner, who can create separation. It will be pivotal that he step up and make the most of his opportunity.
If you like explosive offense and the possibility of a shootout, then Saturday night’s rematch between the Packers and Cardinals is the one to watch. Arizona’s offense is one of the most balanced and lethal attacks as it ranks second in the NFL, averaging 289 yards in the air and 31 points a game, while the Packers offense is once again looking like the high-powered machine it was earlier this season.
If the Packers can negate the Cardinals pass rush, keep Arizona’s offensive weaponry in check and has everyone step up their game, then they have a strong possibility of pulling off an upset and returning to the NFC Championship game. However, if the Cardinals have strong performances from their receivers and another monster game from David Johnson along with solid pressure on Rodgers, then the Packers could be in trouble. With all this in mind, this writer expects this game to be much closer than last time and at the end of the day, will go with two-time MVP Aaron Rodgers and the Pack.
Packers 31, Cardinals 27