Packers vs. Cardinals: 5 Things to Watch and a Prediction

Five things to watch and a prediction for Green Bay's NFC Divisional Round showdown with the Cardinals. 

Roughly three weeks after suffering the second largest defeat of the Mike McCarthy era, the Green Bay Packers are taking a trip back to the scene of the crime to face the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium in the NFC Divisional Round.

Here are five things to watch and a prediction for the rematch:

1. Turnaround the Turnovers

The Packers lost by 30 points in the first meeting. The 38-8 loss included four turnovers, and the Cardinals turned those takeaways into four touchdowns, including two fumble returns for scores. One of the turnovers came when Aaron Rodgers threw an interception in the end zone. So let's do the math. Four touchdowns off turnovers equal 28 points, and the Packers lost at least three points on Rodgers' interception. That's 31 points in a 30-point game. It's no secret how Green Bay can erase the gap from Week 16's massacre. 

2. Who Gets Open?

Green Bay's beat up offensive line was manhandled in the first meeting, but losses and injuries up front weren't the only reason why Packers quarterbacks were sacked nine times. Receivers couldn't get open. The Cardinsls secondary smothered everything in the intermediate area, and when Rodgers held the ball, bad things happened. Davante Adams (knee) won't play on Saturday night, leaving James Jones, Randall Cobb and Jared Abbrederis as Rodgers' top three receivers. That group won't scare Arizona. At all. Mike McCarthy better have some clever route combinations ready, because his receivers can't beat the Cardinals secondary consistently. 

3. Pressure the Inexperienced 

Pressure remains the key for Green Bay's defense. Dom Capers' group sacked Kirk Cousins six times and finished with 13 total quarterback hits in the Wild Card Round win in Washington. It was an encouraging performance, as disruption came from a number of players and it came late to finish the contest. The Packers could use a repeat against Carson Palmer and the Cardinals' deep passing game. Palmer just produced his best season as a professional quarterback, and he's perfectly capable of putting up big yards and big points within Bruce Arians' offense, especially against a secondary dealing with injuries. However, he has enjoyed only a brief taste of the postseason, and he must know his opportunities are running out. Add some pressure from the opposition to the equation, and maybe, just maybe, the Cardinals will be the offense making all the big mistakes this time around. 

4. Run with Tempo

The Packers can slow the pass rush and negate Arizona's advantage in the secondary by running the football with effectiveness and consistency. Green Bay came alive on the ground in the second half last Sunday, rushing 23 times for 124 yards and two touchdowns. Running the uptempo offense early on helped, as Washington looked gassed up front by the second half. However, rememner that the Packers rushed for just 17 yards in the first half. Can the Packers afford to get nothing on the ground for the first 30 minutes on Saturday night? Probably not. The run game and tempo need to work in unison from start to finish. 

5. Healthy Up Front

For the first time in over a month, the Packers will have David Bakhtiari, Josh Sitton, Corey Linsley, T.J. Lang and Bryan Bulaga starting along the offensive line. And here's the bottom line: Green Bay can't win the rematch without the offensive line playing its best game of the season. The final three quarters in Washington should give this group confidence, and getting back Bakhtiari should mean no implosions on the left side. The key for Green Bay will be keeping track of No. 93, Calais Campbell. He wrecked everything the Packers wanted to do in the first meeting, both by winning individual matchups on the interior and freeing up others with stunts to the outside. Play well up front, slow Campbell and the Packers should have a chance. 

Prediction: Cardinals 27, Packers 19

Was Green Bay's win in Washington fool's gold? Having a healthy offensive line in front of Aaron Rodgers will help, but the problems that have hurt the Packers all season aren't going away because of one win over an average opponent. I just don't think the Packers offense can put together all the ingredients necessary to pull off the road upset. 

 

Zach Kruse contributes to CheeseheadTV.

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Comments (17)

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Denise Chanterelle's picture

January 16, 2016 at 01:20 pm

Aloha Mr. Nagler: I watched your podcast the other evening and really enjoy all you guys do for my beloved Pack. However, (and meaning no disrespect), I suggest you launder your shirt next time. Go Pack! Mahalo..

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Bearmeat's picture

January 16, 2016 at 02:02 pm

Exactly Zach. I want to believe that GBs offense is back, but after the funk of the past 12 weeks, one good performance over a bad defense isn't enough to change my mind.

Win today with a strong offensive performance and I'll be on the bandwagon 100%

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DrealynWilliams's picture

January 16, 2016 at 04:17 pm

Just win

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sonomaca's picture

January 16, 2016 at 01:54 pm

I know the Packers want to start with the run, but the Cardinals know that. Therefore, the Packers should feature passing early. Even if unsuccessful, at least that will force the Cards to back up just a bit.

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Rossonero's picture

January 16, 2016 at 01:56 pm

Packers 24, Cardinals 23. Crosby hits the game winner after a nail biting drive.

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LASVEGAS-TOM's picture

January 16, 2016 at 02:29 pm

Rossonero, I'll take it, but I hope it doesn't come down to Crosby. Had he made a Field Goal in the 2009 game against AZ, we would have beat Warner in regulation. I'll hang his picture above the Fireplace if he kicks the game winning field goal, but I hope we get it locked up before it comes to that. Go Pack!!

LVT

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sonomaca's picture

January 16, 2016 at 02:01 pm

Status of Shields and Rollins? If both players are ready, I think the Packers can limit Arizona to around 24 points. If not, the pass rush is going to have to be exceptional.

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EdsLaces's picture

January 16, 2016 at 02:51 pm

I don't care what the score is ....Sam Shields pick6 FTW!!!!!!!

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Rossonero's picture

January 16, 2016 at 02:56 pm

We're overdue for a pick six.

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EdsLaces's picture

January 16, 2016 at 03:46 pm

It's just what Sammy Boy does....

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Dan Stodola's picture

January 16, 2016 at 04:34 pm

Its what Sammy does? Sorry to disappoint you, but Sammy Boy has no TD's in his NFL career. Now Sir Charles Woodson on the other hand...

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EdsLaces's picture

January 16, 2016 at 06:39 pm

First of all I meant what he does is intercept balls more than tds. And second of all you are wrong because he picked Kap and took it to the house 2 years ago in the playoffs.

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GVPacker's picture

January 16, 2016 at 10:59 pm

Didn't Sammy have a Pick Six against Kaepernick in the 2012 NFC Divisional Playoff Game?

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Tundraboy's picture

January 16, 2016 at 04:33 pm

Yes we are. Have had many near interceptions. We are due to break one.

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shinglesmcfanny's picture

January 16, 2016 at 03:01 pm

Not going to mention the O-line here. Nagler covered that fairly well.

Instead I'm making a prediction here that I hope is correct: Abby = more catches and YAC than Adams.

I think Abby is the better receiver right now. Devante going down could be exactly what the packers needed to force McCarthy to break the mold, so to speak.

Lets hope that's a spark for a far more creative and less predictable offense.

Defensively, Having shields come back would be a huge boon. I believe Raji went down in the first or second quarter of the Cards game last time. so if he is able to play the entire game, that could change the landscape of the Cardinals running game.

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Dan Stodola's picture

January 16, 2016 at 04:38 pm

"Abby = more catches and YAC than Adams."

Since Adams is ruled out for the game, I would say its a given. Raji is back for sure which helps a lot. Shields is questionable so its not a given he plays, but he is needed.

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Tundraboy's picture

January 16, 2016 at 04:16 pm

Great point on Abby versus Adams. Was having my doubts this afternoon, but that and possibility of Raji playing entire game has renewed my optimism. Break the mold is right. With Adams out MM has to play Abby more and maybe Ripkowski and Janis as well.. Looking forward to what he comes up with and what plays he dusts off out of the playbook.

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