The season is again on the line and the Packer magic looks to return as they travel to sunny Arizona to take on arguably the best team in the NFL right now. There is a lot to worry about with this game, not the least of which is the trouncing that came about last time the Pack went out there just a few short weeks ago.
But this is a new team, a more confident team that finally showed what it can do for a full two quarters more than it did in any game since November against an overmatched Washington team last Sunday. You can bet that Arizona won’t be nearly as inefficient or as wide-eyed as the Redskins were last week.
And for the Packers to have any chance of winning, it will need some young faces to step up, especially with the injuries continuing to mount. Jared Abbrederis will likely slide into the number three receiver spot after it was determined that Davante Adams wouldn’t play this week, and it might be another week on defense for LaDarius Gunter as both Sam Shields and Quentin Rollins are both listed as questionable. But it looks a lot better for David Bakhtiari to return to his left tackle spot and that is sorely needed. JC Tretter did an admirable job last week and should be commended, but Bakh is the better tackle right now and the Packers need their starting offensive line against a juggernaut like Arizona.
And with the team looking better on offense last week, the question remains about whether it was a fluke, or the product of a poor Washington defense, or that they’ve finally found themselves. For me, it’s kind of in between all of that and that leads me into this week’s 3…2…1…, possibly but hopefully not the last one of the season.
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 jump right in.
3 KEY MATCHUPS
- Eddie Lacy vs. Arizona defensive line
- This is simple. The Packers will want to control the clock from the opening kick to keep the top rated offense off the field as much as they can. And the best way to do that is to feed Eddie Lacy early and often, forcing the Cardinals to respect the run and pass. Now, Eddie was abysmal against Arizona earlier this season but he looked motivated and focused last week. He needs to hit the hole like he did on fourth down against Washington and break the tackles of a strong Arizona defensive line.
- Randall Cobb vs Patrick Peterson
- Peterson is usually a matchup corner and he had his way with the Packer receivers last time, so Randall Cobb needs to show up in the passing game. Even if he doesn’t make the huge play, if he can get 4-5 catches to get Peterson on his heels just a little bit, even make a few plays out of the backfield, he can open up a lot of options for the Packer offense underneath as well as over the top. And if he proves that Peterson can be beat, it gives even more confidence to guys like James Jones, Abbrederis, and Jeff Janis to beat their defenders on their routes.
- Damarious Randall vs Michael Floyd
- Randall will be one of the outside corners, it is just a question of who he lines up across. Larry Fitzgerald is a future Hall of Famer and will get his catches in the middle, but the Packers cannot let Michael Floyd get behind them again. He torched numerous teams this year with his deep catches and he can victimize the Packers this evening. Carson Palmer has a lot of trust in him and Randall needs to clamp down on him early. Press him and get him off stride on the first play of the game and get into his head. Floyd has been inconsistent for almost his entire career and can be thrown off his game. Randall needs to be the pitcher.
2 BOLD PREDICTIONS
- Packers rushing attack gains over 150 yards and two scores
- This is optimistic because of the stout nature of the Arizona defense, but the Packers need to run the ball and run it well. They got it going in a big way in Washington, and they need to ride that momentum. Lacy, Starks, Kuhn, Crockett, Rodgers, Cobb, and whoever else in the backfield needs to make plays for this offense to have a chance at all. I expect 100 yards from Lacy, 40 from Starks, and 10-20 from everyone else, with touchdowns from Lacy and Kuhn.
- Special teams forces a muff from Patrick Peterson
- Patrick Peterson is a punt return savant, and is always a candidate to break one. But that can cause some problems and has had Bruce Arians pulling out what hair he has left. Peterson likes to catch the ball in traffic and he can be removed from the ball with a big hit. The Packers special teams, much improved under Ron Zook, can do just that. They have a big play guy in Janis at gunner who beats his guys down the field more often than not and all it takes is one big hit.
1 KEY STAT
- Early down penalties
- These plays are what drive me to yell at the team from my living room, and I don’t like that part of me. Penalties are killers, and especially on first or second down. Everyone, think of the countless drives this season that have been killed by a first or second down holding penalty, or a false start, or even a hands to the face call. It’s mind-boggling how much this team has shot itself in the foot. Everyone is commentating that it will take a near-perfect game for the Pack to win. So give them that perfect game. Don’t commit costly penalties.
Now I don’t usually comment at the end of these pieces about the game itself. But I just want to throw this out there. The Packers have more road playoff victories than any team in the NFL with 11. They are being consistently looked down on this week and are expected to get beaten up by the big bad Cardinals. And that may happen. So far, only Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report has picked them. But we know this team thrives in adversity, especially in high pressure games, so make sure that wherever you’re watching the game at, be passionate and give all your love to this team that has done so much for us. So I’ll end with a Go Pack Go! and hopefully we will see each other again next week.——————
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.