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Packers vs. Cardinals: Rants & Raves

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Packers vs. Cardinals: Rants & Raves

I hope everyone had a nice Christmas holiday or is enjoying their weekend so far.  I got a lump of coal in my stocking (cinnamon flavored) so for those who are growing tired of my negative/realistic take on this team at times, I have been humbled.  I also suffered a knee bruise, a Packers personal favorite, but was able to go and still write this piece so, you're welcome.  

With the holiday madness behind us and before the NCAA football craziness returns, we turn to the last two weeks of the 2015 NFL season and a lot yet to be settled.  The Green Bay Packers have already earned a playoff appearance, but have yet to secure the NFC North division title and still have an outside shot at the #2 seed, which would earn the Packers a bye week and ensure a home game in the divisional round.

Green Bay comes into this weekend's game against the Arizona Cardinals with a record of 10-4 and coming off of a 10-point win on the road against the Oakland Raiders.  With a win over Arizona and a Minnesota Vikings loss to the New York Giants, the Packers secure the division title.  In that scenario and if the Seattle Seahawks beat the Cardinals in week 17 and the Packers win their finale against the Vikings at Lambeau Field, the Packers would earn the two seed.  If the Packers lose to the Cardinals, they will need to beat the Vikings the following week to finalize the division title.  

Green Bay hasn't played at Arizona since the infamous wild card playoff game following the 2009 season, an overtime game that ended with the Packers losing by a score of 51-45.  Yours truly was in the stands for that one and can attest to how loud University of Phoenix Stadium gets.  With as well as the Cardinals are playing and that there will be a healthy dose of Packers fans in the house, the Cards fans will once again come with the intense noise and energy.  January 2010 seems longer ago than nearly five years and these teams are very different today than they were then, but this game will have the same type of air, given what's at stake.  And much like 2009 when the Packers visited the Cardinals in week 17 and returned just a week later, the Packers could be headed back to Arizona in a few weeks if things shake out like I think they will.

I've been saying most of this season that the Cardinals aren't a good match up for the Packers.  Offensively, Arizona's passing attack is very potent and a lot to ask of any defensive backfield and the Packers may again be without starting cornerback Sam Shields.  As of Friday, Shields was still listed as doubtful and still recovering from a concussion suffered in the win against the Dallas Cowboys.  The Cardinals receivers are very good, run very crisp routes and unlike their counterparts across the field, can get separation more often than not.  If Shields can't go, it will be up to rookies Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins again to slow down Arizona's passing game.  I can see the Cardinals running quite a few bunch formations and using quick passes to move the ball.  These receivers can run with the ball and the Packers won't get away with missed tackles.  It's hyperbole to say Green Bay has to play a perfect game to win in this one but. . Green Bay has to play a perfect game to win this one.  Tackling, I'm afraid, will likely be an issue on occasion.  Larry Fitzgerald is entering what seems like his 20th season and looks just as good now as he did when he came into the league.  He's either open and catching ball after ball or he's down field blocking the hell out of his man.  He does everything well and he's turned in some good games against the Packers in his career.

Week to week, game plans are different, but I saw way too much open space and green in the middle of the Packers defensive line against the Raiders.  And low and behold, the Raiders, who magically each have two eyeballs, noticed that as well.  Latavius Murray got most of his yards early on in that soft middle and the Packers are going to get gashed by the Cardinals if they try that.  Clay Matthews was also lined up outside at the time, which made it that much more puzzling.  Matthews has made most of his impact this season from the middle and that's where he needs to be parked on Sunday.  Somehow, defensive coordinator Dom Capers will bail the Cardinals out by lining Matthews up outside.  If I'm Arizona and Palmer, I get the ball into my receiver's hands over the middle and watch the magic happen.  I can see a quick slant that turns into a 50+ yard touchdown run because the Cardinals exploit the Packers easily with some of these baffling formations.  The corners have to get their hands on the receivers if they're going to play press man.  Asking two rookie corners to do that all day and succeed against these receivers is asking for over achievement.  I love what I've seen from Randall and Rollins so far this year, but this is one of those games where I feel like the Cardinals are just going to be a step ahead of the Packers most of the day.

Defensively, the Cardinals returned a solid unit that made quite a few waves last year.  Were it not for an injury to quarterback Carson Palmer late in the year, the Cardinals may have made more of their 2014 season than they did (wild card round exit after losing to the Carolina Panthers).  The defense was solid most of the year with stellar play from Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson and a much better pass rush than the Cards have had in a long time.  They're without Tyrann Mathieu, their standout defensive back, who suffered a season-ending ACL tear last week against the Philadelphia Eagles.  Mathieu had been a spark plug for this team both with his play and with his emotion on the field.  He's the type of defender the Packers would have likely had problems with so this is a bit of a silver lining for the Packers offense.  

As far as how the two teams rank on offense and defense, the Cardinals are currently fourth-best in rushing defense, allowing just 86.7 yards per game.  With Eddie Lacy and James Starks having struggled last week, I wouldn't expect much more in this game.  It will be interesting to see if the Packers activate John Crockett to change it up or just continue to drone through life with Lacy and Starks.  Starks lost a fumble last week and Lacy did next to nothing.  I just hope Lacy knows his bed time!  The Packers defense is giving up 116.6 yards per game on the ground this season.  I'd like to personally invite Mike Daniels to start earning some of his millions in this very game.  No RSVP needed.

Green Bay is allowing about seven fewer passing yards per game than the Cardinals are.  In terms of scoring defense, only .3 separates the two teams.  Both are allowing under 20 points per game.  Despite that success for the Packers, I expect Arizona to blow through that average this week.  The Cardinals are averaging seven more yards per game rushing than Green Bay.  Passing offense is where Arizona stands head and shoulders above the Packers.  Arizona averages just under 300 yards per game, the Packers just 225.  Arizona's pass rush coupled by Green Bay's struggles with the pass, I expect a good amount of frustration for quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Packers on Sunday.  To add to the potential misery, Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari was listed as questionable as of Friday.  Bakhtiari's absence means either Josh Walker or Don Barclay and. . ugh!  

On special teams, the Packers had a kick blocked at the end of last week's win in Oakland.  Although Green Bay's special teams have been much better this year than they were last, they still have the occasional breakdown.  Arizona has a return touchdown this season and this Cardinals team plays very fundamentally sound.  The Packers will have their hands full enough with Arizona's offense and defense.  The last thing they need to do is shoot themselves in the foot and allow a big play on special teams to get that crowd riled up and the give the Cardinals any more advantage than they already have.

Getting back to the basics here, this comes down to a matchup that just doesn't look good for the Packers.  Apparently asking for these receivers to both get open AND hang onto the ball requires an act of Congress so I don't know how optimistic I can really be.  The issues with Davante Adams and dropping the ball still baffle me.  Will this be a game where James Jones shows up big or is a complete ghost?  Do the Packers trust Richard Rodgers enough to throw to him or will they save him for another final heave ho try?  At least in this game, there aren't any Cardinals defensive backs who are really good friends with Aaron Rodgers and he won't try to help them pad their career stats with a mind-numbing interception.

After the Raiders game, Rodgers seemed visibly frustrated by his performance and that of the team's.  Despite the win, he didn't seem anywhere near satisfied and many a reason has been thrown out there from his being unhappy that head coach Mike McCarthy took back the play calling to just being frustrated that the offense can't get into a rhythm.  Rodgers has certainly had his own share of issues this season with inaccuracy and mental mistakes that we aren't used to seeing from 12.  McCarthy has to, repeat has to come into this game with a solid plan for getting plays called and keeping this offense on the move.  It's one thing if Arizona outplays the Packers and stops them, but clock issues and game mismanagement are unacceptable in game of this magnitude and at this point of the season.  

Defensively, pick your poison.  If Green Bay tries to make Arizona run, they block so well from line to receiver that I don't trust Packers defenders to get there to make a stop.  If the Packers want to shut down the run, Arizona just has too many weapons that can kill them through the air.  Green Bay has to solve the riddle of how to get to Palmer many a time.  This would be another game that Julius Peppers needs to appear big in.  He's quietly had a good season overall, but he's also gone stretches where he was like that employee who disappears way too long and doesn't really have an explanation as to where he was when he gets back.

As I sit here putting all of these thoughts down, I am reminded of how I felt about the Packers' chances going into the NFC Championship game against the Seahawks last year, which is to say "not good at all".  Those of you who want to remind that the Packers defied many of those doubts all day are also probably the same contingent who want to talk about 2010 as well.  It's just. . . not last year nor 2010.  A loss here to the Cardinals isn't the end of the season nor the world for this Green Bay team.  They're fully capable of bouncing back the following week and I think they will.  That just also means a likely trip back to Arizona with the season on the line and for those of you who have been to Glendale, Arizona, two trips there in a month is no treat.  

Just hoping the Packers can get out of this one relatively healthy and not too crabby.  

 

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Jason is a freelance writer on staff since 2012 and also co-hosts Pulse of the Pack podcast.  You can follow him on Twitter here

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (11) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Lphill's picture

Thanks to The Sunday ticket I have watched a few Cardinals games and I was not really impressed, they almost lost yo the Vikings who were missing some of their defensive stars, timing is right for the Packers to play a well balanced game in good field conditions, Packers can win this game if they play fundamental football .

Portland Mark's picture

Here's to hoping that we hear Aaron Rodgers saying, "Shhh" around 5:00 Pacific Time.
This reminds me a lot of the trip to Houston in 2012. Jason, do you have access to any posts on this site prior to the Houston game that year?

jasonperone's picture

Mark, we were over at ALLGBP.com and I'm sure there's a way to access them, I'm just not sure. I can ask Al

Tundraboy's picture

Thanks for reminder of the expectations going into Seattle last year. After reading this article it was getting somewhat discouraging. Like last year I have a good feeling that they are going to pleasantly surprise us. Go Pack Go

jasonperone's picture

They certainly could. And I introduced this format last week to be a "tongue in cheek" rant/rave style piece that uses my "realistically negative" take on the team that seems to come out every game day. Just trying to add a little spice to everything else. I'm always happy to eat crow and have many times!

ray nichkee's picture

Eat crow jason. Go pack. ( if you know what i mean) thanks for the article.

Tundraboy's picture

Thanks. May the force be with us.

CallingIt's picture

Don't think that most people don't think the packers can't win, they probably just don't expect them too. If we are firing on all cylinders, we can whallop any team. We just can't find the plugs for all those cylinders in any single game yet. But if we do...watch out.

croatpackfan's picture

Jasone, how we can install you instead of Carson Palmer ("If I'm Arizona and Palmer, I get the ball into my receiver's hands over the middle and watch the magic happen.")?
Nevertheless, two complete games I watched where Arizona was not so "dominant" - Bengals & Vikings. And I was not that impressed. They are good, really, really good, but not unbeatable. Both of those 2 games they won on pure luck (not Luck!). Every team will run of their luck at least one to two times per season. And Packers where not lucky in Carolina, and both losses at Lambeau...
I'm preparing to write you down: I told you!

DrealynWilliams's picture

No team is unbeatable.

nostradanus's picture

Yes indeed,; on paper the Packers sure do look to be undermanned and at disadvantage going into Arizona.
That said and borrowing an overused cliche, "this is why they play the games" because you just never know. McCarthy's teams have played some pretty impressive games when all looked bleak.
Here is what I am expecting:
1) The Packers to use two tight ends and backs to chip pass rushers, especially on Barclays side.
2) A tough bruising running game featuring a good dose of Big Eddie, ball control is the only way to play against the Cardinals and Green Bay knows it.
3) A bevy of draws, screens, play action passes and Randall Cobb again lined up in the backfield quite a bit.
4) A swarming, aggressive Defensive game plan by Capers, this will also leave the Packers open to some big gashing plays against Capers legions, but that is to be expected and the Packers will also force several turnovers, attack is the battle cry of this day!
5) This day could come down to the hands of the Packers new long snapper, lets all hope he is up to it, here's wishing good luck to the young lad.

In closing, I hope you all had a very Merry Christmas and me being the the Optimistic Mystic, I predict a closely fought, bruising battle in which the Packers win by a Mason Crosby Field Goal 27-24 Green Bay.
NostrDANus

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