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The Skeleton Key to beating the Packers

Many people are assuming the Arizona Cardinals are going to get their collective backs waxed in Green Bay this weekend. The Packers started slowly but have won three consecutive games, including an impressive beatdown of the Houston Texans in front of a grateful nation on Sunday Night Football.

Aaron Rodgers has torched coverage from Houston, St. Louis and Jacksonville at a torrid pace and looks to be an MVP candidate once again. Clay Matthews has nine sacks and the Packers are #3 in sacks per attempt; the Cardinals offensive line is setting records for sacks allowed and this matchup does not look promising. Finally, the Packers are playing at home, in front of their “Cheeseheads” at Lambeau Field.

Having said all of this, 45-7 Packers, seems about right.

I don’t think so. I think the Cardinals defense should keep Arizona in this game; they are eager to prove that last week was an anomaly.

The X-Men wanted to show the nation they were an elite defense and although their numbers still are impressive, they were summarily dismissed by Jim Harbaugh’s tight end and fullback-laden offense. The Cardinals were pushed around on the line of scrimmage, missed tackles, blew coverage and gave up big plays. It was an uncharacteristic performance by this defense and they are determined to avenge their public caning, metaphorically speaking.
I don’t believe the Packers are built to have the kind of success against the Cards’ defense that the 49ers had.

The Packers are struggling to run the ball and this was key to what the 49ers were able to do last week. Alex Smith got on a roll because he was operating in a three-dimensional offense. The Packers want to do the same thing but have had trouble opening holes and have had a problem finding a got-to running back. Like the Cards, they are one of the worst running teams in the league. The Packers average 90 yards rushing per game (ranks 26th) and 3.7 yards per carry (ranks 27th).

Arizona’s defense may have a soft underbelly when it comes to stopping the run, but this is not the Packers’ strength. The 49ers were, in my opinion, the best rushing team in the league. And although the Cards were able to shut them down in the second half on Monday night, the damage was done in the first half when they rushed for 80 yards and scored 17 points. The Packers shouldn’t have that kind of success running the ball and that should make Rodgers easier to defend…and get pressure on.

The Packers’ offensive line has given up the second-most sacks in the league (Cards are #1) and are number 29 in sacks per attempt allowed. Protecting Aaron Rodgers has been a major problem for the Pack, which is why they’re trying to get back to running the football. Their offensive line needs help, too.

And the Cardinals can rush the passer. Arizona continues to manufacture pressure and the Ray Horton Factory has produced sacks. The Cards have 26 sacks this season, and the best team at getting to the QB per pass attempt in the NFL is the Arizona Cardinals. Daryl Washington and company have been able to get to the QB.

The Packers won’t have WR Greg Jennings for a significant dispensation of the season, including this Sunday. Jennings is the over-the-top, deep threat for Aaron Rodgers and a playmaker of the highest order. Jennings stretches a secondary vertically and allows others like Jordy Nelson, Jermichael Finley, James Jones and Randall “Don’t Call Him Tex” Cobb to work the Packers short to intermediate passing tree efficiently.

Now, much of that deep threat responsibility falls on the shoulders of a Jordy Nelson, whom is fighting the daggers in the leg of a pulled hamstring. Not having Jennings and a healthy Nelson could limit Rodgers’ options even more.

Aaron Rodgers is on fire, the Packers score 26 points per game and convert red zone possessions at a rate that is simply staggering. The Pack are 72% in the red zone, number two in the league, and that’s where this game will be decided. If the Packers are 50% or better in the red zone on Sunday, the fat lady will be singing at Lambeau.

I don’t know if the Cardinals offense can become more consistent with the talent they have. Injuries have left the Cards with players they were not counting on to carry the load and the players they have are struggling to improve.

But I know this: the X-Men can get better and play more consistently and I think that will happen in Green Bay. And that’s why this game should be up for grabs in the fourth quarter. Time to buckle up.