The Green Bay Packers may have some unpleasant memories of their last trip to the University of Phoenix Stadium, in which the Arizona Cardinals routed the Packers 38-8 in one of the largest Packers’ losses under the Mike McCarthy era.
Saturday’s matchup is seemingly different; the Packers are coming off of a first-round road playoff victory against the Washington Redskins and are taking on a well-rested Cardinals team.
“This was a playoff-style game and we played terrible,” Rodgers told ESPN after their Dec. 27 loss. “But we have won a lot of games here. When you play long enough you are going to be on the wrong side at times, but I am confident that we have guys and myself that, when it matters for all the marbles, guys will show up.”
In particular, the Packers allowed a season high nine sacks against the Cardinals, and were overwhelmed by the Cardinals’ defense, so overwhelmed, in fact, quarterback Aaron Rodgers didn’t finish the game in case of a potential injury.
Put the past aside, Saturday offers a new game, a game in which two teams are battling in a “win or go home” scenario. In order for the Packers’ road to Super Bowl 50 to continue, they must perform in several aspects of the game.
Green Bay’s front line
Looking back at the tape from the Dec. 27 rout, the Packers have several adjustments to make to their game plan; most necessary, a game plan to protect Rodgers.
“They were very aggressive to the line of scrimmage,” McCarthy told ESPN’s Rob Demovsky. “They played very well and took advantage of it.”
In the 38-8 defeat, Rodgers took a beating, suffering 12 hits and a safety. To stay intact on Saturday, the Packers’ first priority must be to defend the pass rush, and make time for Rodgers.
To do so, the Packers are depending on several key players, including David Bakhtiari, who is questionable for action on Saturday.
Bakhtiari missed his third straight week last week after a nagging knee sprain that has sidelined him since the Packers victory against the Oakland Raiders. Since then, the Packers dropped two straight games before their Wild Card victory last weekend.
The health of the Packers’ front line is crucial for success on Saturday, as the Cardinals possess the 6th best pass-rushing team in the league. Throughout the regular season, Dwight Freeney led the team in sacks, and had a big impact in their victory over the Packers.
Alongside Bakhtiari, the Packers could potentially start their original five starting lineman on Saturday, marking the first time since Nov. 22 against the Minnesota Vikings. Though, Bakhtiari’s status among others may limit the Packers from doing so.
Whether the Packers offensive line will clear Saturday’s injury report remains to be seen; their performance on the field however, is crucial to a Packers victory.
Small roles need to make big plays
In lieu of several players listed on Wednesday’s injury report, the Packers may have to rely on inexperience to make crucial plays on Saturday.
In spite of the Packers’ Wild Card victory, they may have lost one of their biggest red zone threats in Davante Adams, who, likely sprained his MCL in the third quarter of the game. Adams’ injury in turn opened up playing time for second-year receiver Jared Abbrederis.
“You can’t make it bigger than it is,” Abbrederis said Tuesday according to ESPN’s Jason Wilde. “Obviously it’s a big game and all that, but it’s still football.”
Abbrederis now has time to prove his worth after spending his entire rookie campaign sidelined with an ACL tear sustained early in the preseason. After seeing a career-high 28 snaps on Sunday, Abbrederis is poised to see even more this weekend.
On the other side of the ball, and similarly due to injury, the Packers’ secondary may have to rely on young talent to take the field in the potential absence of Sam Shields, who, hasn’t played since sustaining a concussion against the Dallas Cowboys on Dec. 13. Coupled with Shields’ absence, rookie cornerback Quinten Rollins sat out of practice on Wednesday in ailment of sore quadriceps; both players are questionable for Saturday.
With these injuries, the Packers will likely rely heavily on the play of rookie Damarious Randall and LaDarius Gunter. Nonetheless, without Shields and Rollins, the Packers’ secondary will be thin.
Win or go home
The Packers face a tough task on Saturday, a task to erase a 30 point deficit sustained just three weeks ago, while on short rest. However, McCarthy and the Packers don’t see themselves as underdogs.
We’re no underdog going to Arizona,” McCarthy told the Green Bay Press Gazette. “I don’t care what people think or how we’re picked or things like that. We’re going out there to win, and we expect to win.”
McCarthy is right, the Packers are noted as 7.5 point underdogs for Saturday, and may face an uphill battle against a rested Cardinals team. But the Packers are prepared to rewrite the script when it really matters on Saturday, and punch their ticket to the NFC Championship.
The Green Bay Packers and the Arizona Cardinals face off on Saturday at 7:15 p.m. CDT at the University of Phoenix Stadium located in Glendale, AZ. Winner will advance to the NFC Championship game, and will take on the winner of Sunday’s Seattle Seahawks vs. Carolina Panthers matchup.
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