The Arizona Cardinals visit Lambeau Field this week in desperate need of a win, having lost their last four games after starting 4-0. The Green Bay Packers have won three straight and want to head into their much needed bye week at 6-3. Let’s jump into the key matchups that will determine the fate of this week’s game.
Offensive Lines vs. Pass Rush
Both Green Bay and Arizona head into this game in 1st and 2nd place, respectively, in QB sacks. Each is also surrendering more than any team. Many have already dubbed this game a “sack fest”. Of course, games aren’t played on paper as we saw last week in the Packers/Jaguars game.
Each team’s offensive line has come under fire this season for inconsistent play.
Green Bay’s unit has struggled in their run blocking as well as in spots in pass blocking. Newly acquired center Jeff Saturday hasn’t been what many Packer fans had hoped thus far. Steady right tackle Bryan Bulaga has committed more penalties than in the past.
Arizona’s line has had troubles of their own. Who could forget that week 5 game against St. Louis in which Cardinal quarterback Kevin Kolb was sacked nine times in a losing effort. Just a few weeks later, Kolb would be taken down five times by the Buffalo Bills and forced out of that game with a rib injury.
It would seem like this will become a chess match in who can more creatively protect their quarterback. Putting added protection in the backfield means less hands available at receiver. With Packer wideout’s Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson likely to miss this game, it puts each team’s receiving units at about equal. Arizona has All-Pro receiver Larry Fitzgerald on their side while the Packers have the hot hands in Randall Cobb and James Jones.
It goes without saying that the team that wins this battle likely sits in the driver’s seat to a win on Sunday.
If the Cardinals should elect to blitz Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, they better have a backup plan. Rodgers is, once again, having a stellar season throwing against the blitz. At least ten of his 21 TD passes this season have come against an added pass rusher.
Of course, Arizona may not have to blitz much if they get the kind of production from inside linebacker Daryl Washington that he has been getting them so far this season. Washington has eight sacks at the inside linebacker position. He ranks 3rd behind Houston’s J.J. Watt (9.5) and Green Bay’s Clay Matthews (9). Washington has two sacks in each of his last two games. He runs many of the same stunts that we have become accustomed to watching the Packer inside linebackers run where they cross at the snap to hamper the protection and allowing one man to roam free. More times than not, that guy has been Washington.
For the Green Bay pass rush, they must get production from someone not named Matthews in order for Matthews himself to be productive. Last week, defensive coordinator Dom Capers sent his defense backs on a few blitz calls and he may have to do the same this week to keep the Cardinal offensive line off balance. With OLB Nick Perry and DE Jerel Worthy likely to miss this game, Capers will once again have to reach into the bag to find a solution to pressure Cardinals quarterback John Skelton.
Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald vs. Packers Secondary
The All-Pro Fitzgerald is every defense’s biggest headache when preparing to play the Cardinals. The guy just keeps catching balls despite double and triple coverage. He never gives up. He was one of the few Cardinals still trying to make the score more respectable at the end of last week’s Monday night game.
In the playoff game against the Packers three seasons ago, Fitzgerald had six receptions for 82 yards and two touchdown grabs. He was targeted seven times. It’s easy to say double him with a safety over top but all that will likely do is make two guys look foolish instead of one. Still, the Packers have to pay added attention to Fitzgerald and cannot allow him to single-handedly keep Arizona in this game.
With S Charles Woodson still out, it will be up to CB’s Tramon Williams and Casey Hayward to try and blanket Fitzgerald. Hayward has played well so far but this will be one of his true first tests at the NFL level. Expect to see S Morgan Burnett helping over the top, even if it means leaving Michael Floyd one-on-one across the field.
The one saving grace for the Packers secondary is that Skelton will be at QB this Sunday. Skelton has just one touchdown pass to go along with four interceptions. Named the opening day starter, Skelton was hurt in week one and forced to give way to Kevin Kolb as he recovered. We have heard so many times about a quarterback and his receivers being ‘in rhythm’ with one another. It is clear that Skelton and Fitzgerald are not yet completely on the same page. One miscommunication could be the break the Packers need to kill a Cardinal drive.
The Green Bay defensive backs have to be physical and get after the ball. We have been waiting for the Packer secondary to come alive and get the game-changing turnover for weeks now. I’m not foolish enough to once again declare this the week, but it sure wouldn’t be a bad thing if it is.
Cardinals Patrick Peterson vs. Packers Punt Coverage
I was tempted to title this section “Patrick Peterson against whoever he is nearest” but I’m not quite ready to crown him as one of the best of the best. That is unless we’re talking about as a punt returner. Last season, Peterson’s rookie year, he had four punt returns for touchdowns. He has yet to get into the end zone this year but it’s safe to say that’s a matter of “when” and not “if”.
Packer fans have to hope that “when” is not this Sunday. Green Bay’s punt coverage has been much improved this season over last and the year prior. One of the reasons for this is the outstanding job by Packers punter Tim Masthay. Masthay is having his best season yet in a Packer uniform. It’s fairly obvious that the strategy will be to keep the ball away from Peterson at all costs, even if the Pack have to give up some field position to ensure it.
Peterson is taking his chances this season. Last year, he fair caught half of his punt return attempts. This year in 30 tries, Peterson has just four fair catches. Part of the reason for this is that the Arizona defense has played well and has their opponents punting from their own territory which usually means ample room for Peterson to work with.
It’s very simple: the Packers do not want to play with fire this week and test Peterson in any way. One mistake or lapse and we will all be looking at a #21 Peterson jersey running away from us towards the end zone, ball in hand. Fortunately the Packers kick coverage teams have had plenty of practice corralling a great returner in that of Devin Hester. Green Bay understands the importance of winning this matchup and forcing the Cardinals to move the ball the hard way.
Cardinals QB John Skelton vs. Packers Defense
With Skelton having thrown just one touchdown pass, it could become interesting if Green Bay builds an early lead and Arizona is forced to throw it a lot to keep pace. Skelton is not one of the quarterbacks that you think of when you envison a great shootout matchup. Never mind who his counterpart is for the Packers, but in case anyone has been living under a rock for any period of time: it’s still Aaron Rodgers.
The Packers plan of attack has to be to get pressure on Skelton. If they are successful, he will have a hard time getting the offense moving and likely throw one or two up for grabs. With the Cardinals very banged up at running back, there will almost certainly be added pressure placed on Skelton to get the job done with his own two feet and throwing arm.
This is a matchup the Packer defense should win and obviously will need to if they want to win this game. The mark of a great team is to take chances and execute when the pressure is on. I don’t see that the Packers are desperate or incapable in this contest They do, however still need to take some chances at getting to Skelton and pressuring the crafty Cardinal wide receivers to disrupt the timing and rhythm of the passing game.
It’s asking a lot of any quarterback to come into Lambeau Field and out-dual Aaron Rodgers but Skelton will likely have to do just that in order for the Cardinals to have a chance at pulling the upset.
Packers vs. The Schedule
This one falls largely on head coach Mike McCarthy to keep this team focused on the game at hand. As he has said a few times this week, McCarthy is not interested in looking ahead to the much-needed bye week. He wants his team’s finger squarely on the pulse of what lies ahead on Sunday.
It’s easy for the Packers to pine so hard for the week off. They are in much need of some extra time to get quite a few of their regular contributors healthy again. Between last week’s game and this upcoming game, it would seem that the schedule makers threw two “trap games” at the Packers just before their bye. The team has to approach this one as though they are the underdog. There has to be that sense of urgency to get a lead and pile on from there. With the Chicago Bears continuing to win, the Packers need to come out of Sunday’s game at 6-3. It’s a game they should win, but “should” hasn’t always been kind to the Packers as of late.——————
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: