3TFO: Cardinals @ Packers, Week 9
It’s been an up and down year for the Cardinals. After Week 4 they were 4-0 and in charge of a suddenly much stronger NFC West. Now, with four straight losses, they’re back in the middle of the pack in the division. Much of that can be attributed to some lackluster offensive play — Arizona’s quarterback duo has been sacked a league-leading 39 times and is a big reason they haven’t scored more than 16 points in the month of October. It’s a bad time for a slump too. After their visit to Lambeau Field, they follow up with their bye and then a trip to Atlanta.
The Packers have been using a similar (if less extreme) formula to last year. They’ve relied on their pass attack to win games, with little happening on the ground and a defense that’s been pretty average. Green Bay has been decimated by injuries thus far, losing starters (or rotational players) at nearly every defensive position. Still, the ‘next man up’ philosophy has been holding strong, and the Packers will come into this matchup looking to extend their winning streak to four games before heading into a bye of their own. Let’s look into some matchups that will determine which team will be riding high for two weeks, and which will have an extra week to contemplate their loss.
Cardinals Tackles vs. Packers Edge Rushers
It’s no secret, but Arizona’s tackles have struggled tremendously in pass protection. Bobby Massie and D’Anthony Batiste have given up 13 and 12 sacks respectively. For reference, only five offensive tackles have given up 12 or more sacks in a season since 2008. Those sack totals contribute to this duo being last and second last in Pass Blocking Efficiency. Batiste has been the model of consistency, giving up at least five quarterback disruptions in every game. However, Massie has been a bit more hit or miss. He was perfect in pass protection in Week 2, but against Miami he managed to give up six sacks.
On the left side, Batiste will have his hands full with Clay Matthews. His 10 sacks top all linebackers, and Batiste will likely see a lot of him. Matthews has missed only 13 defensive plays all season, most of which came in garbage time in Houston. On the other hand, Massie has a good opportunity to turn his season around. Eric Walden, who’s spent 77.8% of passing snaps rushing the passer, spends most of his time attacking the offense’s right tackle. Yet, Walden has just 13 pressures to show for his 187 pass rushing snaps. His pass rushing productivity of 5.7 is dead last among OLB’s who’ve rushed at least 60 times.
Can the Packers’ Depleted Receiving Corps Step Up?
With Greg Jennings still out of the lineup and Jordy Nelson’s hamstring on a day-by-day basis, the onus will once again be on the backups to step up. Despite a reputation for drops, James Jones has been as sure-handed as anyone this year, dropping just one of the 37 catchable balls thrown his way. Playing the vast majority of his snaps in the slot is Randall Cobb. When throwing in Cobb’s direction, Aaron Rodgers has been near perfect. On 48 attempts, Cobb has caught 42 passes and dropped four, giving Rodgers an accuracy percentage of 95.8% when throwing at the second-year receiver.
Don’t expect the Cardinals to make it easy for Rodgers and company though. Their fourth-ranked passing defense is led by sophomore Patrick Peterson who has improved on what was a solid, though perhaps over-hyped, rookie season. Opposing quarterbacks have a QB rating of 66.2 when targeting the former LSU Tiger, and he already has more interceptions than he had in all of 2011. While Peterson typically mans the outside, William Gay moves inside in nickel packages. While his coverage numbers aren’t terrible, Gay has given up 1.60 yards per coverage snap in the slot, fourth-worst among 37 corners.
Can Arizona Make Green Bay One-Dimensional?
Rodgers has recently mentioned his disappointment with the running game this year, and who can blame him? None of the Packer running backs are averaging more than 3.5 yards per carry. With Cedric Benson likely to be out for a while, Green Bay will turn yet again to sophomore Alex Green. Since picking up his first meaningful playing time this year in Week 5, Green has disappointed with less than 3.0 yards per carry. While his elusive rating of 17.8 is comfortably near the bottom of the pack, he’s not the only one at fault here. Green Bay’s offensive line has struggled to create running lanes as Green and Benson have had to pick up nearly two-thirds of their yardage after contact.
Arizona’s front seven will have the primary responsibility of shutting down the run. Daryl Washington’s 34 stops lead the team by a considerable margin. However, his six missed tackles in the run game are a bit more than you’d like to see, as they land him near the bottom in tackling efficiency among inside linebackers. Second-year linebacker Sam Acho has done well for himself too, converting 12 of his 13 tackles in run support into defensive stops. O’Brien Schofield and former Packer Paris Lenon round out the linebacker group. While Schofield has been adequate, Lenon has had his share of struggles getting off the blocks of offensive linemen and tight ends. A good day by this unit will allow the Cardinals pass rushers to tee off, and that may just be the difference in this game.