It’s hard to believe, but going back to last season the Green Bay Packers have played five consecutive games away from the hallowed ground of Lambeau Field. The last time the Packers played in front of the home crowd was the week 17 win over the Chicago Bears that catapulted the Packers into the playoffs and on the track to football immortality.
Today, the champions return home.
The Green Bay Packers tonight play their second exhibition game against the Arizona Cardinals. Who cares that it is a preseason game? For the first time, the Packers take the field at Lambeau as defending world champions. It will indeed be a special moment even if the game truly doesn’t count
That said, enough with the nostalgia. Let’s talk some football.
With a very deep roster, the Packers enter the game hoping to further mold their depth chart for the season opener against the New Orleans. The starters currently locked into the lineup (Rodgers, Finley, Jennings et al) should see more action than they did in Cleveland so I would not be surprised to see them finish out the first quarter, if not less. The last thing the Packers need is more injuries.
The Cardinals on the other hand are in a different situation. They are still kicking the tires on newly acquired starting quarterback Kevin Kolb as well as different players on the defensive side of the ball.
Let’s look at the Red Birds.
Breaking down the Cardinals.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Kolb is a mixed of terrified and energized going into this game. This is the same defense that concussed him in Week 1 of 2010 and opened the door for Michael Vick’s resurgence while slamming shut Kolb’s chances at being “the guy” in Philadelphia. Revenge could very well be on the quarterback’s mind tonight.
The big weapon in the Cardinals offense remains wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Since he is entering the final year of his contract, Fitzgerald has a lot on the line this season. He quickly needs to develop chemistry with Kolb for the offense to have any kind of explosive ability.
Also noteworthy is the return of former Packers offensive lineman Daryn Colledge to Lambeau. Colledge made headlines this week with his remarks about not being invited along with the rest of the Packers during their visit last week to the White House to meet President Obama.
On defense, the Cardinals will get a look at their depth in the secondary with safety Adrian Wilson out for a lengthy period of time with a biceps injury. With the verbal linebacker Joey Porter and Darnell Dockett anchoring the defensive line, the Cardinals have some pieces in place on the defensive side of the ball but they will be tested with the plethora of weapons that the Packers have.
When the Packers have the ball….
Aside from the usual cast of characters (and there are plenty), expect the Packers to continue to play Randall Cobb in the passing game. We’ve seen what he can do in the return game, but he can also play a decent receiver. I personally would love to see Cobb go up against the Cardinals starters just to see what he can do.
This is a good chance to see if the two-headed monster of Ryan Grant and James Starks will be the best away for the Packers to utilize the rushing attack this season. The Cardinals have a decent defensive line and the Packers should let both their backs take their share of reps against this defense.
The Cardinals will use this opportunity to test their pass rushing abilities. Aaron Rodgers has proven to be a most difficult quarterback to take down so the Cardinals should see how strong they are in blitzing during the first quarter of the game.
When the Cardinals have the ball….
Again, Kolb needs to develop chemistry with Fitzgerald as well as the rest of his receivers. Since he had no time to prepare with the receiving corps before camp thanks to the lockout, these preseason contests will be critical for the Cardinals offense to hit the ground running going into the regular season.
This is also Beanie Wells’ shot to prove he can be the answer at running back. If Kolb struggles early in the season, the Cardinals will have to find some way to get yards and points and that way would default to the rushing attack. Coach Ken Whisenhunt is a former Steelers offensive coordinator so he is well aware of the importance of a strong running game.
In the past two preseasons, Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers has kept his defensive calls pretty vanilla and there is very little to no reason to expect anything to change in 2011. Some starters will likely be held out again and the Packers will show very little of what their defense has in store for opponents during the regular season.
Getting pressure on Kolb and knocking him out of sync with his targets will go a long way to stopping the Cardinals’ once-potent offensive firepower.
Three Keys to the Game
- Hit Cobb The Packers very well may have another offensive weapon on their hands, but the only way to find out is to keep him involved in the passing game and letting him learn his routes on the field. Cobb has tremendous athletic ability, but he will still need to adjust to the speed of NFL defenses.
- Hit Kolb It bears repeating. The Cardinals are so reliant on the receivers that if you rattle their quarterback, you can basically hijack their offense and make them do whatever you want them to do. Kolb could get rattled easily considering what the Packers did to him in Philadelphia last year.
- Stay healthy With word of multiple injuries coming out of practice this week, the Packers really need to come out of this game with no major injuries to any starter on either side of the ball. That’s why the starters again could see very little action again as Mike McCarthy just doesn’t want to take a risk given what they went through last year (although it ended quite nicely).
Packers starters 14, Cardinals starters 3
Final Score: Packers 27, Cardinals 20
The Packers offense continues to look in sync and the defense for all intents and purposes shuts down the Cardinals.
The reserves for both teams will still play sloppy but show some improvement from last week.
That’s why they play these games even though they have no bearing on the regular season standings.——————
Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke