The Packers are coming off a convincing win at home against the Washington Football Team and have rattled off six wins in a row. Next up comes a rising Phoenix, the Arizona Cardinals. Here are 3 big things to watch for as the Green Bay Packers take on the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday Night Football.
How will the defense contain Kyler Murray?
The Cardinals have one of those players in quarterback Kyler Murray (maybe two if you count DeAndre Hopkins) who is in the midst of an MVP-caliber campaign. Murray channels the suddenness and rushing prowess of prime Michael Vick combined with arguably better arm talent.
Even playing with a full deck the Packers defense would have a tough time with a talent like Murray. Factor in the losses of Za’Darius Smith and Jaire Alexander and the task becomes nearly insurmountable.
If the Packers are going to have a shot to win this game three things have to happen on the defensive side.
- The linebackers and defensive lineman must stay assignment-sure and not freelance. The second anyone gives up contain, it’s an open invitation for Murray run wild. If Murray gets in a rhythm running the football it could be a VERY long evening for the Packers defense.
- When Murray is flushed from the pocket the deep coverage can’t break down and allow the big play or get grabby and allow a big pass interference call. The Packers have done a good job keeping a lid on opposing offenses, but this will easily be their toughest test thus far.
- The Packers must affect the passing game via the pass rush. Even if the rush doesn’t get home, players like Rashan Gary have shown that consistent pressure can be just as effective as an actual sack. Having Preston Smith even at less than 100% will help, and maybe we’ll see a spark out of new addition Whitney Mercilus? They’ll need it..
Will the Cardinals defense live up to its billing?
The Cardinals defense has graded out favorably so far this season, but are they as good as advertised?
The short answer is maybe. Much like the Packers they’re top heavy with a number of high end playmakers and then unproven depth underneath.
The news has broken that Edge JJ Watt will be inactive for the game. That’s obviously a huge blow to the Cardinals and a win for the Packers offense. Conversely, the Cardinals will have stud pass rusher Chandler Jones back from the Covid list for the first time in 2 games.
Beyond that, the Cardinals have a nice duo at linebacker in second year man Isaiah Simmons of Clemson and 2021 first round pick Zaven Collins who is a modern NFL size/speed freak.
On the back end the Cardinals have the resurgent Byron Murphy at corner and All-Pro safety Budda Baker.
So, not a group of slouches. Couple that with the likely absence of Davante Adams and Allen Lazard and you can say that Matt LaFleur has his game planning cut out for him.
The Cardinals have fared well against the pass thus far, but have given up numerous big plays on the ground. It will be very interesting to see what kind of approach LaFleur takes early on and if he sticks with the run if there isn’t immediate success.
I’m hoping that the game script allows for a balanced offensive approach, but if the Cardinals are scoring early and often Aaron Jones may be taking a back seat to the Packers receiving corps.
Also, can you really ever discount Aaron Rodgers just showing up and carving up any defense no matter the level of adversity?
Can the Packers patchwork receiving corps get it done?
I’ll be the first to admit that it’s terrible not to have Davante Adams in such a pivotal matchup with playoff seeding implications. It’s nice to say that the Packers should just get healthy and treat this as bye #1 but in the hyper competitive NFC the Packers need every edge they can come playoff time.
Add in the loss of Allen Lazard to the offense and you’re left with a pretty empty wide receiver room.
Randall Cobb. Maybe MVS.
I’ve stated previously that while I certainly appreciate Rodgers otherworldly connection Adams, it would be nice to see him move the ball around a bit more. This week will be a true testament to the connection Rodgers has with the receivers toward the bottom of the depth chart.
Randall Cobb could be a huge factor in the slot if a quick passing game plan is employed. It’d be great to see how much of that famed telepathy they still have.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling traveled with the team to Phoenix but has yet to be activated from injured reserve. The odds are strong that MVS will play, but to what extent and how effective he is will be are unknown.
It’s not uncommon for an injured player to fill a decoy role, and I wouldn’t be one bit surprised to see MVS running a good amount of deep routes to create space underneath for the rest of the receiving corps.
Robert Tonyan will have a tall task matching up with the aforementioned Uber athletic middle of the defense. I won’t put it past LaFleur/Rodgers to scheme Big Bob open on some mid level shots, but I don’t believe we can expect a lot of production out of the tight end slot tomorrow.
You can throw a dart at the group of Amari Rodgers, Equanimeous St. Brown, Malik Taylor & Juwan Winfree (if elevated). Rodgers has done more with less at the wide receiver position in his career than anyone not named TB12, and this game could be no exception.
EQ has come on a bit as of late, offers passable blocking in Lazard’s absence and has some rapport with Rodgers.
Last but certainly not least, Aaron Jones has a big opportunity tomorrow. This is a script tailor made for the shifty RB1. We’ve yet to see Rodgers/LaFleur take advantage of Jones downfield at all this season. Let’s hope they dial up a number of wheel routes or at least some well thought out screens. At minimum Jones will be the safety valve for Rodgers when he faces pressure.
The argument can be made that Jones might be the most dynamic pass catcher left on the Packers roster.
Path to victory
If the Packers win this game it will not be based on the skill of the wide receiver group, it will be the sheer willpower of Aaron Rodgers and the astute game planning of Matt LaFleur. Plain and simple.
Kyler & co. won’t be denied, so the Packers offense is going to have to put up points.
The defense won’t be perfect and doesn’t need to be. Being opportunistic and creating a turnover would be huge. Just one could swing the balance of things in Green Bay’s favor.
The Packers need to be as seamless as possible and can’t allow for turnovers or special teams gaffes if they want to win.
Even with the Packers missing top tier talent at just about every position group I still think they have a good opportunity to win this game.
I think this could end up as a shootout where the last
team to possess the ball wins. Let’s hope it’s the Packers.
You can follow Adam on twitter at @adamjcarlson28.