Having beaten the Detroit Lions, Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders in the last 3 weeks, the Green Bay Packers will have their hands full this week in the desert against the 12-2 Arizona Cardinals.
Detroit was a game they should have won, and needed the Rodgers to Rodgers hail mary to get it done. Dallas was a must win game without Romo, and Green Bay exploded in the run game to put them away in the 2nd half. Last week they went on the road and held a feisty Raiders team to 20 points, and though the offense only produced 2 touchdowns, it was enough to get the win and go to 10-4 with 2 games remaining. They’ve done what they were supposed to do, and for that Packer fans are grateful. Now the bar gets raised.
Heading into what could be the toughest game of the year so far on the road against a very well balanced Arizona Cardinals team in the 2nd of back to back west coast road trips, just enough may not be enough to get the job done. This pivotal week 16 test somewhat conveniently serves as a way to settle the debate within Packer Nation as to what this team is capable of this year. Listening to sports radio the last month or so you’d think the Packers were the most flawed 10-4 team in the history of the NFL.
I understand most of it. Expectations are high for this season, and deservedly so. Aaron Rodgers will only be in the prime of his career for so long. Mike McCarthy and this organization have said they want to be judged on championships. When fans assess this Packer team against that expectation, they don’t see a team that has displayed the ability to make a run through the playoffs and into the Super Bowl. They see a team that is finding ways to win games against teams they should beat, but who has struggled on offense against good defenses, and has not played their best football this year. Inexplicable losses to the Lions and Bears have the Packers 2 games behind Arizona for the 2nd seed and first round bye. Winning those games would have the Pack tied up with Arizona at 12-2, with this week’s game determining the 2nd seed in the NFC. Instead Green Bay will have to win this game, and next week vs. Minnesota 1If Minnesota wins this week that game will also be for the division, as well as having Arizona lose next week against Seattle. Possible sure, but this sure could be easier if Green Bay wouldn’t have made it so much harder on themselves.
The Oakland game last week serves as a microcosm of the Packer season thus far. The defense played great, keeping them in the game against a good offense, even scoring on a pick 6 by Damarious Randall. The offense didn’t do anything spectacular and sputtered out at points, but was able to maintain some drives and put up 2 touchdowns and 3 field goals. Just enough. With only a 4 point lead in the 3rd quarter, the pack went on a 19 play, 92 yard, 8 minute drive that only ended in a field goal. They moved the ball well, converted 3 third downs, maintaining possession and momentum in a drive that effectively helped to seal the game away. But once again they weren’t putting this game away earlier, and they weren’t getting in the end zone. They were doing just enough.
Unfortunately just doing enough does not win championships. It can beat Detroit, Dallas and Oakland. It can’t beat Denver or Carolina. Sometimes doing just enough, or not quite, even loses to the Lions and Bears. The Packers have not passed their most difficult tests this year, and this week 16 tilt against Arizona stands as a point of reckoning for the somewhat split fan base. If Green Bay plays their best football, they’ll have a chance against Arizona, and that’s all that we can ask for. Being able to play with the best teams in the league is what we rightfully expect, to be able to compete for championships. But just enough won’t be enough in the desert this week. Just enough will get them beat by 3 scores and embarrassed if Arizona is on their game.
Arizona’s offense is lead by quarterback Carson Palmer, coming into this game with a beat up finger that shouldn’t keep him from playing to his potential. He threw a couple touchdowns after injuring it last week. The Cards put up a league leading 422 yards of offense per game. The vaunted passing attack has weapons out wide in Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and John Brown, possibly the best trio of wideouts in the league this year. The Cardinals also boast a potent rushing attack with David Johnson having filled in for the injured Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington. David Johnson has torn up defenses the last 3 weeks and offers a stiff challenge for the Green Bay defense. I’ve been very impressed with the Packer defense this year, and it has been the most consistent and unheralded unit of the team, keeping the Packers in games and giving them a chance to win. I don’t believe they’ve faced a better offense this year, so Dom Capers will need to have his defense ready to play their best game yet.
Green Bay’s offense will attempt to regain past form and display some consistency this week against a good defense in Arizona. Though the Honeybadger Tyrann Mathieu is out for this game, Patrick Peterson, Deone Bucannon and Dwight Freeney lead a physical and stout defense for Arizona. Mike McCarthy will try to keep the play calling balanced with the run and pass, and getting Lacy and James Starks involved early will be key to keeping the Cardinal pass rush at bay. With Mathieu out some passing lanes may be more open. Outside of Peterson the other defensive backs for Arizona show some weaknesses. Getting in a rhythm through strategic use of the hurry up offense to take advantage of personnel matchups throughout the game will be key.
Despite how much faith Packers fans have been able to put in the defense, with the Arizona offense as potent as it has shown this year, the Green Bay offense will have to put up points to keep Green Bay in this game. Controlling the time of possession to keep Palmer and his weapons off the field, and finishing those drives with touchdowns, will be needed to win in the desert. I believe they’ll be able to do that in spurts, but this Arizona team will be too tough of an opponent to take down on the road if the defense can’t force Arizona into uncommon mistakes. Arizona takes this one 31-27 in a game where the Packers play well, but not well enough to take out a very good team on the road in their 2nd west coast trip in as many weeks.
Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers don’t have time for the media’s or fan’s negative questioning. They’ve gotten to 10 wins for the 7th straight year. I don’t know if I buy that, but if that is their way of having an edge and creating an atmosphere akin to the “We’re nobody’s underdog.” run in 2010, that’s fine with me. Certainly they know of the issues the fans have been worried about all year.
They’ve already over-promised, and us fans wouldn’t have it any other way. Let’s hope Green Bay over-delivers on expectations this week. They’ll have to if they want to make it a game and prove they belong at the top of the NFC, competing for the Lombardi Trophy. You can be sure it will take more than just enough.
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|1.||↑||If Minnesota wins this week that game will also be for the division|