Maggie’s Pre-Game Six Pack - 2023 Week 16

The 6-8 Packers, on a two-game losing streak, head to Charlotte this week to take on the 2-12 Panthers on Christmas Eve. Before we rock around the Christmas tree, let’s look at six things to keep in mind going into Sunday’s matchup. 

1. Mr. December Shines

Lost in the chaos of another embarrassing defensive performance, defensive lineman Kenny Clark quietly set a new personal career high. Clark is attributed with two solo sacks against Baker Mayfield last Sunday, bringing his total to 6.5 on the season. His previous career best, set in two separate years, is only six. That means Clark is already a half-sack above his previous high with three games left to play. Sunday was also his only multi-sack performance of the 2023 season. 

The offensive line room in Carolina, specifically at the guard spot, has been decimated by injuries all season. Brady Christensen, Chandler Zavala, Austin Corbett, and Justin McCray (who just signed with Carolina a few weeks ago) are all on injured reserve for the Panthers. Finding consistency at the guard spots has been a challenge for the Panthers, and now Nash Jensen, a rookie out of North Dakota State, is currently listed as Carolina’s starting right guard. He’s played 211 snaps on offense so far this season and has an overall grade of 40.5 from Pro Football Focus

While Jensen hasn’t played enough to earn a ranking from PFF, Cade Mays has filled in nicely with 270 snaps at left guard (he also has 71 snaps at right guard). Mays has a run blocking grade of 75.4 and an overall grade of 65.2, good for 25th out of 77 eligible guards per PFF. Left tackle Ikem Ekwonu (62.3 overall grade, ranked 52nd out of 83), center Bradley Bozeman (63.0 overall grade, ranked 18th of 39), and right tackle Taylor Moton (72.1 overall grade, ranked 26th of 83) hold down the final three spots on the line. 

Clark and the rest of the defensive front should be able to bring plenty of pressure against rookie quarterback Bryce Young who’s taken 51 sacks this season. In his 13 games played, Young has only taken two or fewer sacks twice. 

2. Jonesing to Run

Aaron Jones returned to action last week against the Buccaneers, rushing 13 times for 53 yards and averaging 4.1 yards per carry. He also added another four receptions for 16 yards through the air, giving him 69 scrimmage yards in his first game action since Nov. 19. The Packers had eclipsed 100 rushing yards in six straight weeks before posting only 60 in Week 15 against Tampa Bay. On the season, Green Bay is averaging 103 yards per game. 

Meanwhile, the Panthers are coming off perhaps their best defensive performance of the season against the Falcons. Atlanta only managed 52 yards on the ground on 31 attempts, giving them an average of 1.7 yards per carry. On the season, Carolina is giving up an average of 117 yards per game on the ground which ranks 20th in the league. 

With AJ Dillon nursing a broken thumb and having missed his first NFL game last week against the Buccaneers, it’s unclear what his status will be for Sunday, though he has been practicing this week. If Dillon is able to play through the broken finger, the running back room could be close to full strength heading into Week 16. This is a Panthers offense that ranks dead last in the NFL in rushing touchdowns, allowing 21 this season. If there’s a “get right” game for the running backs, it’s this Sunday in Charlotte. 

3. Young and Restless

The Panthers selected quarterback Bryce Young with the first overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, trading a haul to the Chicago Bears. While it’s far too early to assess Young’s long-term potential as the team’s franchise quarterback, he has seen his share of rookie struggles. 

For starters, Young has fumbled in five straight games and has nine total fumbles on the season. He’s thrown for 2,359 yards with nine touchdowns and nine interceptions through 13 games and has a completion percentage of 59.4%. His quarterback rating is 72.2 on the year, and he’s scrambled for 210 yards on the ground with his legs. 

Unsurprisingly, his two best performances of the year led to both of Carolina’s victories. Against the Falcons, Young only threw for 167 yards with no touchdowns, but he didn’t turn the ball over and had a 75% completion rate, giving him a rating of 93.6. 

Young’s primary target is veteran receiver Adam Thielen who has 870 yards and four touchdowns on the season. The Packers secondary, as we’re all well aware, is coming off an abysmal showing that saw Buccaneers quarterback Baker Mayfield post a perfect passer rating of 158.3. Mayfield threw for 381 yards (more than his first two games at Lambeau combined) and four touchdowns with no turnovers. 

For two weeks in a row, quarterbacks playing the Packers have won NFC Offensive Player of the Week. It’ll be up to Green Bay’s defense, regardless of who’s healthy enough to play, to ensure Young doesn’t keep the streak alive for a third straight game. 

4. Meet Me in the End Zone

The Packers are ranked 18th in the league in points for, averaging 21.4 points per game. The Panthers are ranked 29th in the league and are only putting up 14.7 points per game. In fact, Carolina’s offense has only put up over 20 points in three games all season. 

In Carolina’s two wins this year, they’ve only averaged 12 points, beating the Falcons 9-7 and the Texans 15-13. It’s an offense that’s failed to score 21 points in eight straight games. 

In Green Bay’s two consecutive losses, they’ve only managed to average 21 points on offense and have given up an average of 29 points on defense. The Panthers have failed to score 29 points all season, with their season-high coming in Week 3 against the Seahawks when Carolina put up 27. 

This should be a team the Packers can score points against, should doing the heavy lifting here. The Panthers are giving up an average of 24.9 points per game and boast the 31st ranked defense in the red zone. Opposing offenses are scoring touchdowns on 71.1% of drives. That said, the Packers are averaging exactly 50% on red zone trips, scoring touchdowns only half the time. 

5. Passing Up the Passing Game

The Panthers boast a stingy secondary that’s ranked third in the NFL in passing defense, allowing only 173 passing yards per game. Carolina’s defense also ranks first in attempts, allowing only 397 passing attempts (28.3 per game) all season.

Jordan Love spread the ball around quite a bit in Week 15, throwing to eight different receivers. We just talked about Green Bay’s success in the red zone, and the ground game might need to pave the way in this one. Defensive Coordinator Ejiro Evero (I know it stings, Packers fans) has his secondary ready to play. 

Offensively, the Packers rank right around the middle of the pack in both passing attempts and yards, but jump all the way to seventh in the NFL with 25 passing touchdowns. Both Christian Watson and Jayden Reed are on the injury report this week for Green Bay’s offense, and it would be a significant blow if Reed is unable to play. Reed now leads the team with eight total touchdowns and has 711 scrimmage yards, second on the team behind only Dillon’s 797 yards. 

Jones being back in the fold adds another wrinkle on offense if Watson and Reed can’t go, and the unit will still get contributions from Romeo Doubs, Dontayvion Wicks, Tucker Kraft, and Malik Heath. Kraft is playing 50% of offensive snaps and snagged his second career touchdown last week against the Buccaneers. While he’s made plays all over the field, it certainly doesn’t hurt to have the 6-5 target in the red zone. 

6. They Go Way Back

Packers fans may remember that the Packers and Panthers met for the first time in the 1996 NFC Championship Game, and that the Panthers were coached by former Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers at that time. The Packers, of course, would go on to win the Super Bowl that season. 

When it comes to the series, the Packers have won the last two games with the same score, 24-16, with both games taking place at Lambeau Field. Green Bay has scored 24-plus points in each of the last 10 contests between the two franchises. 

While both of the most recent games have taken place at Lambeau, Week 16 will be in Charlotte. The Packers are 2-5 on the road this season and Carolina has won its only two games when playing at home. 

Per the dope sheet, this is the first time the Packers have played games on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and New Year’s Eve in the same regular season. While the Packers did play on all three holidays one other time in franchise history, the New Year’s Eve game was a playoff game that year. 

What I’ll be drinking for the game: 

We’ll see! If you’ll be watching the game with a fun Christmas drink, let me hear about it in the comments. My aunt always makes margaritas, and my in-laws always have a themed Christmas cocktail, but I won’t be attending either gathering until after the Packers game, so I’m sure the beer of the day will be whatever I open for the final day of my MobCraft Beer Advent Calendar. Enjoy the game, and Merry Christmas to all who celebrate! 

 

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Maggie Loney is a writer for Cheesehead TV and podcaster for the Pack-A-Day Podcast and Pack's What She Said. Find her on Twitter at @MaggieJLoney.

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Comments (9)

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Coldworld's picture

December 22, 2023 at 01:21 pm

Carolina’s offense has been impotent all season. Since their D isn’t great, that’s why they have the record they do. There is less talent on that O than on the Giants roster. It would take a meltdown on D of even greater proportions to give Carolina a chance if our O can exceed 20 points.

The panthers have only scored above 20 three times, only one of which (24 versus the Lions) was not achieved late in massive blowout losses. They have averaged 11 points a game for their last 3 games.

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Ima Payne's picture

December 22, 2023 at 02:36 pm

Who knows what packer team will show up. The Panthers looked like a team finally starting to turn it around some and looked tough last week. Oh, they are young too with a new rookie Qb. Lets hope the list of injured or so called I think I'm injured and not going to play guys (Campbell) isnt a long one.
If LeFleur has already lost the locker room it could be a very long one. As in "dont give a shit anymore" has arrived.

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Lphill's picture

December 22, 2023 at 02:40 pm

Panthers will score a season high this week and Young will have his best game why are we kidding ourselves at this point ?

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Qoojo's picture

December 22, 2023 at 03:01 pm

I remember the NFC championship game well. I forgot that it was the first time the two teams played.

Kind of a difficult game to predict due to packers D. I think the packers offense should score in the 20s. If the panthers score in the 20s, JB needs to be fired on the spot.

Per #5, it's a bit confusing how team doing so poorly has the lowest average pass attempts and 3rd lowest pass yards. But their offense is so pathetic that teams do not need to do much. The turnovers are at -6 for them so i guess they turn the ball over with a short field with 9 INTs and 8 lost fumbles.

I guess the key to the game for packers is do not turn the ball over. Panthers should self-destruct. Keep running the ball and have balance on offense.

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jlc1's picture

December 22, 2023 at 03:17 pm

Suggesting that the Pack Dline is going to have its way against this Oline......well wasn't that supposed to happen a couple of weeks ago? No, this team is never a sure thing except playing 10 yards off on 3rd and short.

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LeotisHarris's picture

December 22, 2023 at 07:49 pm

Okay, so which one of you goobers has the interwebz skillz to create this masterpiece?

https://www.firejoebarry.com/

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Qoojo's picture

December 23, 2023 at 11:36 am

Dan's video showing first 3rd and 4.

- 4 packers defenders covering 2 WRs on one side
- 2 DBs covering 3 WRs on other side, and one of those DBs is running backwards to cover deep. So essentially 1 on 3, and defender is between two guys kind of zone, so 0 on 3.

Kind of funny that someone registered and bought that website. The website is registered to "Squarespace Inc." which is a NYC company that some user used to buy the domain name.

"firejoebarry" was created Sept 18th, 2023.

The user might live in TX from:

"Mailing Address: REDACTED FOR PRIVACY, REDACTED FOR PRIVACY, TX, REDACTED FOR PRIVACY, US"

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LeotisHarris's picture

December 24, 2023 at 08:50 am

"The user might live in TX from:

"Mailing Address: REDACTED FOR PRIVACY, REDACTED FOR PRIVACY, TX, REDACTED FOR PRIVACY, US"

Hats off to your investigative skills, Qoojo! Now, let's see, from Texas, Hmmm. What poster here is consistently defending the D? Could it be a coincidence that Leatherhead lives in Texas? I think not! Classic Psyops while hiding in plain sight.

You are so busted, Leatherhead!

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Bitternotsour's picture

December 24, 2023 at 11:00 am

it would be irresponsible NOT to speculate. Either that, or Mike McCarthy's wife has some free time on her hands...

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