– Evan Sally
Green Bay @ Arizona 8:15pm Saturday
Green Bay visited the desert 3 weeks ago and got rocked. There’s no other way to put it. They lost 38-8 and it’s wasn’t even that close. Arizona is not a team known for it’s blistering pass rush and yet they sacked Packer quarterbacks 9 times in their week 16 matchup. It was a nightmare for Green Bay. Their receivers couldn’t get open, their offense gave up 2 fumbles returned for a touchdown and turned the ball over 4 times total. The offensive line was so bad that Rodgers had to be taken out of the game for his own safety. It was complete Cardinals domination. So what will make this game any different?
Green Bay’s offense has been sputtering for the better half of the season and while Rodgers could be playing better it’s hard to imagine a more difficult situation for him to produce. His offensive line is inconsistent at best and Swiss cheese at worst forcing him to run for his life in the backfield. His receivers are slow (James Jones), have bad hands (Davonte Adams) and struggle being the focal point of the offense (Randall Cobb). And yet Rodgers has been able to muster enough points together to get Green Bay two games away from the Super Bowl. Getting matched up with Washington last round didn’t hurt either. While they were a nice story, the Redskins suspect defense ended up letting them down and the Packers took advantage. In that game the Packer rushing attack gave them balance and slowed down the Redskins pass rush. Eddie Lacy and James Starks have to be at that same level of effectiveness this week too. Keeping the pass rush off of Rodgers has to be priority one for the Pack. Green Bay’s receivers will struggle to get open with likes of Patrick Peterson and Jerraud Powers covering them, but if Rodgers has enough time no one is better at placing balls in tight windows than him.
On the other side of the ball Arizona’s offense has been prolific this season, tied with Pittsburgh for being the most efficient offense in the league averaging 6.3 yards per play. Carson Palmer, finally able to stay healthy for entire season, is an MVP candidate capable of dueling any quarterback in the league and he has the pieces around him in Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown, David Johnson and a solid offensive line to get the job done. One of Arizona’s offenses biggest weapons isn’t necessarily a player but a mind set. Their willingness to throw the ball deep sparked by head coach Bruce Arians’ aggressive play calling and Carson Palmer’s strong arm keeps defenses honest. There’s no one particular part of the field a defense can focus on. The Green Bay defense will have to take on this challenge. In their Week 16 matchup, the final score doesn’t do the Green Bay defense justice; 14 of the 38 points given up were off of turnovers from the abysmal Packers offense. While they need to play better this is a decent starting point. This defense has playmakers on all 3 levels of the ball in Mike Daniels, a declining but still pretty good Clay Matthews and guys like Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Morgan Burnett in the secondary. Someone is going to have to make a play and force a big turnover to stem the tide of the Arizona offense.
I think based on the odds it’s safe to expect that Green Bay won’t be as bad as they were 3 weeks ago and Arizona won’t be as good. That game was a bit of an outlier. However, Arizona might be the most complete team in the league right now, they have the better head coach and for this season they have the better quarterback. You can never completely count out Aaron Rodgers, but even Superman can only do so much. Throw in home field advantage and all signs point to the Cardinals.
Cardinals get it done and move on the NFC Championship 27-19 over the Packers.
– Evan Sally (@Evan_Sally)