The playoffs are clinched, the team has reached 10 wins, and now comes the biggest test of the season that could decide a lot of the immediate future for the Packers. They travel to Arizona to take on arguably the most complete team in football in the Cardinals looking for a win to keep their dreams for the second seed alive.
Sitting at 10-4 is a very good situation to be in, but the fact that the offense hasn’t been up to par has been a source of anger for fans. And rightfully so. This team has shown that injuries have a much bigger impact on the offense than the defense. Without guys like Jordy Nelson and a series of banged up linemen, the Packers aren’t the well-oiled machine they were in years past, but that sometimes is good enough.
The offense knows now that the big play that has made them special in recent years won’t be there nearly as often this year, but they can win games by controlling the clock and methodically moving down the field in smaller chunks. But to do that, they need to find balance. And balance in this offense has been hit-or-miss at best. This is the week where the running game has to step up if they have any chance. That brings us to this week’s edition of 3…2…1…
For those of you who are new, please feel free to go into my archives to read past countdowns, and keep up with reading this series as the season goes on. For those who are consistent readers, feel free to skip down to the next subheading. But 3…2…1… is a series in which I will countdown ways for the Packers to win their game each week. I will highlight 3 key matchups, make 2 bold predictions, and then focus on 1 key stat. So let’s dive in.
3 KEY MATCHUPS
- Richard Rodgers vs Deone Bucannon
- Time of possession will be the key to this game for either team. And that means for the Packer offense that they need to consistently move the chains and keep the Cardinal offense on the bench. Perhaps no receiver besides Randall Cobb has been as consistent at finding that first down marker as Rodgers. The big tight end has been a safe option for Aaron Rodgers to find and he is usually right at the sticks, usually matched up against a linebacker. But Bucannon is a different type of player. A hybrid safety/linebacker, he has safety skills and a linebacker’s mentality. He can line up in the box while still covering tight ends and being able to play the ball well enough. He will likely be the guy who ends up on Rodgers in that battle for first downs.
- David Johnson vs Morgan Burnett
- David Johnson is a special talent according to numerous scouts and writers. He showed that against Philadelphia, gashing the Eagle defense time and time again for big gains as well as getting the tough yards. He has to be stopped for the Packers to have any hope of victory. And the most important run defender might very well be Morgan Burnett. The safety has been a stalwart in recent years in the box and is usually a sound tackler. If he can come up and help slow down Johnson the Packers have a chance.
- Mason Crosby/Tim Masthay/Rick Lovato vs Calais Campbell
- We are spoiled by the consistency of the kicking game, from the great play by Brett Goode to the holding of Tim Masthay and his chemistry with Mason Crosby. But with Goode now out for the year and the Cardinals having an abundance of length, the new trio of Masthay, Crosby, and rookie Lovato need to be on point with their specific roles. Of all the Cardinals who can be a nuisance on special teams, I picked Calais Campbell because of his known ability to create problems. The 6’8” veteran has a great knack for getting his long arms in the kicking lanes, blocking 6 kicks in his career, and he will look for that opportunity again Sunday afternoon.
2 BOLD PREDICTIONS
- Packers control the ball for over 35 minutes
- Going back to my key of time of possession, the Packers all know what needs to be done, so this is a no-brainer as a goal and I think it will get done. Aaron Rodgers will be efficient with the ball and the lack of rain will finally give some help to the receivers who have had a rough year holding on to the ball. Throw in the loss of Tyrann Mathieu and the Cardinals defense will be more vulnerable than ever. This is the opportunity for the team to break out of a funk and show their mettle against a good defense.
- At least 2 drives will start in Cardinal territory
- While time of possession is key, sometimes the Packers do need to have a couple of drives where they don’t need to go the length of the field. Having some drives start in Cardinal territory could be a real benefit for this team, more than most others based on the lack of firepower that this offense has right now. I project that a turnover and a special teams play will each start a drive in enemy territory, and both will lead to points.
1 KEY STAT
- Plays per drive
- This ties in with my overarching theme of time of possession, but each drive will be vital for the Packers, whether it factors into field position or a score. They need each drive to last more than 3 plays to beat the high powered Cardinals and Bruce Arians. Their 19 play drive against Oakland was a great sign of what this offense can do even though they don’t have that deep playmaker like they’re used to. They need a couple of 10-plus play drives to keep the ball in their hands and keep the score down.
Mike Wendlandt is originally from Iola, Wisconsin and graduated from Drake University in 2015 with a degree in History. With a significant journalism background both in writing and broadcasting, Mike can be heard as the play-by-play voice of Central Wisconsin High School sports on WDUX FM 92.7 and on Twitter @MikeWendlandt.
Mike Wendlandt is a writer covering the Green Bay Packers for PackersTalk.com.