Early Bird Breakdown Wildcard – Green Bay @ Washington

Hello and welcome back to Early Bird Breakdown, this week we follow the Packers to Washington for the first round of the playoffs, but first here is last week’s recap:

The Recap:

Last week Green Bay’s offense laid another egg in a division clinching game against Minnesota. While the Packers moved the ball more in the air than in recent weeks the team was ineffective on the ground and was only able to score 13 points. Rodgers passed the ball 44 times but still did not break 300 yards which marked the 7th consecutive game where he failed to get 300 yards or more. The defense kept Green Bay in it, holding Minnesota to 20 points and only 242 total yards but Minnesota held on to win 20-13.

The Breakdown:
Green Bay’s Offense vs Washington’s Defense:

The Packers head in to Washington having scored a combined 21 points in the last two weeks. However, Green Bay gets a break as Washington has given up over 20 points in each of the last four games. Washington had the 25th ranked pass defense, giving the Packers a real shot to be able to throw the ball around.

Washington is not any better against the run, ranking 26th in the league in run defense. Eddie Lacy and James Starks will need to give the team an early boost to keep the Packers offense going. Green Bay has gone three-and-out on 22.9% of their possessions, which is 18th overall in the league. The Packers will need to break this trend if they want to have a chance in the post season.

While Washington does not have the talent to exploit the Packers’ receiving corps easily, Rodgers seems to have lost confidence in the receivers to get open. While Washington is the worst defense of all the playoff teams, they will have enough going on that if the Packers do not show more life it will be  along ams Sunday.

The offensive line looks to be without left tackle David Bakhtiari again and that will be a big problem as Washington’s best pass rusher Ryan Kerrigan lines up opposite to the left tackle. Rodgers on the season has been sacked 47 times and 13 times in the last two games. If they do not keep him upright this could be another early playoff exit for Green Bay.

Head coach Mike McCarthy said this week that the Packers are, “ready to showcase who the hell we are.” While offensively the Packers are better than what they have shown, how much better can they be this weekend versus what we have seen the last ten games?

Green Bay’s Defense vs Washington’s Offense:

Green Bay will square off against one the league’s hottest quarterbacks. Kirk Cousins and the Redskins are 6-2 largely impart to his improved play, especially at home. In Washington this season Kirk Cousins completed nearly 75% of his passes and a 16-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio. However, the Packers’ defense presents a difficult puzzle for Washington to solve.

The Packers will be without Sam Shields this week but should be able to cover the receivers with only DeSean Jackson requiring assistance with coverage down the field. The problem for the Packers is that they have struggled against top-flight tight ends and Washington had a breakout star at tight end in Jordan Reed, who caught 11 touchdowns this year. Reed is not a height mismatch, listed only at 6’2″ but is very fast for a tight end. Clay Matthews, who has done more coverage this year than any other should be able to keep Reed in check as Reed does not tower over him like other tight ends do.

The Weather:

The weather will be mild in Washington, with game time temperatures around 57 degrees and partially cloudy after some morning rain that is expected to clear before game time.

The Prediction:

The Packers are 4-6 in the final ten games and have looked anemic on offense. Conversly, Washington is 7-3 over that span including winning four straight to get into the post season. Kirk Cousins is a whole different animal at home than on the road.

Offensively, the Packers appear to be without David Bakhtiari again and will struggle up front against the Washington pass rush led by Ryan Kerrigan. While these days it seems that the Packers receivers cannot beat anyone, the Washington secondary is not that menacing and they should get their chances, specifically James Jones on the outside.

Defensively, the Packers will need to get a good pass rush going to frustrate the young quarterback Cousins. The Packers have the secondary to matchup with Washington and Washington’s dynamic tight end is not the kind of tight end that historically has given Green Bay a ton of trouble with Jordan Reed only being 6’2″. The Packers barring an unforeseen meltdown should keep Washington mostly in check meaning regardless of what the offense is doing the game should be winnable for Green Bay.

Despite all their struggles recently though the Packers have a better team than Washington on paper. Washington also has not beaten anyone with a  .500 or better record (0-5 overall). The fact they also have playoff experience should guide them through and past Washington. I can easily see a scenario where Green Bay wins big because the offense gets a couple of shots to James Jones against a poor secondary. I can see a scenario where the Packer offense falls apart from the constant pressure and Washington takes flight as they have at home this year, getting an early touchdown or two and Green Bay falling behind and punting frequently. I can see this game coming down to the wire between these two. If it’s close, the Packers’ experience will give them the edge.

My prediction is that Green Bay generates two turnovers early while not turning it over themselves. The turnovers lead to 10 Green Bay points. Washington does force the Packers offense to stall and stays close but the difference between turnovers and punts keeps them behind until the clock hits 00:00. Green Bay wins 20-17.

As always, go Pack go! Stu Weis -Journalism graduate 2012, Carroll University