Packers at Cardinals: Gameday Preview - 2021 Week 8

The Packers have the second longest win streak in the league. Now they turn around on a short week to face the team with the longest win streak in the league. They also have some injuries.

The last time these teams met was 2018, when the 2-9 Cardinals embarrassed the 13.5 point favorite Packers at Lambeau Field to drop them to 4-7-1. This loss, a totally uninspired effort in all phases, led to the firing of head coach Mike McCarthy, marking the only time in franchise history that a head coach was fired during a season.

I don't expect that to happen this week.

Their most recent meeting prior to that was the 2015 playoffs, when an injury-ravaged Packers team traveled to Arizona with less than 7 days of rest after beating Washington by double digits.

That scenario feels a little more familiar.

 

WHEN THE CARDINALS HAVE THE BALL

The Cardinals offense is scary. They've put up more than 30 points in 6 of their 7 victories and average 400 yards per game.

Quarterback Kyler Murray is an early MVP candidate, starting running back Chase Edmunds is averaging almost 6 yards per carry, and they have three wide receivers (De'Andre Hopkins, AJ Green, and Christian Kirk) who each have over 400 yards receiving. Last week, they added 3-time Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz in a trade with the Eagles. In his first game with the team, he caught the longest touchdown of his career.

This offense is hot.

But they aren't unbeatable.

The 49ers found a way to hold them to a mere 17 points. The Packers may want to check that film for some pointers.

The big thing that jumps out is that San Francisco held the Cardinals to under 3.5 yards per carry, which forced their offense into some poor situations. They were able to pressure Kyler Murray with 4 rushers, but only came away with 2 sacks. One of the important factors was that they didn't allow Murray to run out of the pocket. He ended the game with 7 carries for a total of 1 yard. The 49ers harassed him, but the also made him stay in the pocket and throw under duress instead of scrambling out to pick up yards.

In many ways, it's reminiscent of how the Packes have historically found success against Russell Wilson (a similar type of quarterback as Murray) by keeping him in the pocket.

Another key to that game was that the 49ers held the Cardinals to 3 of 10 conversions on 3rd down. That was the only game this year where the Cadinals had double digit 3rd down situations and converted less than half of them.

San Francisco also made things easier on their defense by winning time of possession with a strong run game that got 152 yards off 28 carries.

So the 49ers key to slowing the Cardinals offense was to keep the ball away from them, stop the run game, bring pressure with four rushers, keep the quarterback in the pocket, and get stops on 3rd down.

In other words: play good defense.

These are the basic ingredients to any good defensive game plan.

Obvious. So what does this mean?

It means the Cardinals have a really good offense and there is not "one weird trick" to slowing them down. DeAndre Hopkins didn't practice this week and is questionable with a hamstring injury, but the Cardinals are not going to be stopped because one player is ailing. The only way to stop them is to outplay them - you can't scheme your way to stopping a highly-balanced and highly-explosive offense. 

Missing half of the defense to injury won't help, but the Packers have seen guys like Rasul Douglas and Jon Garvin step up while Rashan Gary and Eric Stokes develop into stars in their own right. With Kenny Clark and De'Vondre Campbell playing like bullies in the middle, the Packers have a chance.

They just can't make any mistakes.

 

WHEN THE PACKERS HAVE THE BALL

The big news here is that Davante Adams will miss the game. He's the best receiver in the game and the weapon the Packers offense revolves around.

Allen Lazard will also miss the game. He's been getting more looks the last couple of weeks, but the Packers won't be able to count on him tonight.

The Packers are also still missing MVS. His ability to stretch coverage has been sorely missed and the offense has been different without him.

Last week, Bob Tonyan finally got some targets. As one of the few healthy options in the passing game, he figures to see more this week. Randall Cobb has settled into his old security blanket roleand his heir, Amari Rodgers should get a chance to shine this week.

Cardinals linebacker Markus Golden is having a career year with 6 sacks so far. JJ Watt will miss the game with a potential season-ending injury. Even though he's past his prime, he is an impact player. His loss, however, will be more than offset by sack-master Chandler Jones, who returns to the lineup for Arizona after some time on the Covid list. He's one of the top pass rushers in the league, and he and Golden will be a tough duo to block.

Aaron Rodgers has looked a step slow in some scramble drills lately. Age has not been kind to his quickness and escapability. The Packers will need to be ready on the hot routes to deal with this tough pass rush.

A good run game can make things easier, but the Cardinals may make that difficult. 

Arizona used high 1st round picks on inside linebackers the last two years. Isaiah Simmons and Zaven Collins  are the linebacker pair that made De'Vondre Campbell expendable. Yeah, I'm glad we got Campbell, but Simmons and Collins do not let runners get very far. Both are big, fast, athletic freaks who run all over the place. Collins has been eased in as a rookie, but has flashed speed in playing roughly half the snaps. Simmons rarely leaves the field and shows up everywhere.  Aaron Jones may have a hard time finding cutback lanes with these guys in the gaps. The Packers may want to us AJ Dillon to try to beat them up a little before giving Jones his carries or use Jones as a receiver like they did against Kansas City a couple years ago to try to wear them out a little. 

Whatever the Packers try, they shouldn't expect points to be easy to come by.

The Cardinals lead the NFL in fewest points allowed and only one team has put up more than 20 points on them this year: the Minnesota Vikings.

They jumped out early and led late, but ultimately lost as they missed a 37 yard field goal as time expired (which makes me laugh to write).

Still, the Vikings put up 33 points and only lost by 1.

Perhaps the biggest factor in the Vikings success was the turnover battle. They took the ball away from Arizona twice (the only game this year where the Cardinals turned it over multiple times) and they never gave the ball away (the only game this year Minnesota has managed to not turn it over).

The Vikings were very efficient passing, but didn't put up gaudy numbers. They completed 69% of their passes for 244 yards and 3 touchdowns and they spread the ball around, with their top 3 receivers each getting 5 or 6 catches. They also allowed only one sack. The Vikings passing success, however, was predicated on the run. Dalvin Cook was a workhorse with 22 carries for 131 yards as the Vikings rushed for a total of 177 yards, while averaging 6.6 yards per carry. 

So the Vikings recipe for success on offense was to run the ball, spread things around in the passing attack, don't turn the ball over, and protect the quarterback.

Again: these are the basic things you do to find success in any offense.

Just like on the other side of the ball, there is no magic scheme to scoring on the Cardinals. You just have to play good and beat your man.

The Packers have talent and depth, but they may have a hard time squeezing out points against this defense while missing key pieces on offense.

 

OTHER NOTES

Cardinals punter Andy Lee is one of the tops at his position over the last decade - Corey Bojorquez might find himself in an interesting contest

Former Packer Chris Banjo is a backup safety on the Cardinals

LaFleur vs Kingsbury should be a fun matchup between two brilliant young offensive minds

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

The Packers keep losing players and coaches.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals are getting a couple key players back.

This is a short week and the Packers have to travel west (which has historically been tough on them) to face the only undefeated team in the league - a team with a great offense and a great defense.

You could say this is a trap game for the Cardinals, but they will be solid favorites and rightfully so. I expect toughness on defense and a very creative game plan on offense, but I don't see anything more than a moral victory for a team that is just too depleted to travel on a short week and knock off the hottest team in the league.

Packers 20, Cardinals 31

 

 

Bruce Irons has played, coached, and studied football for decades. Best-selling author of books such as A Fan's Guide To Understanding The NFL Draft, A Fan's Guide To Understanding The NFL Salary Cap, and A Fan's Guide To NFL Free Agency Hits And Misses, Bruce contributes to CheeseHeadTV and PackersForTheWin.com.

Follow Bruce Irons on Twitter at @BruceIronsNFL.

 

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