Everything you need to know for Packers-Cardinals

Bryson Vesnaver gets you set for the Packers' NFC Divisional Round meeting with the Cardinals, highlighting the game's biggest matchups.

| 9 months ago
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Everything you need to know for Packers-Cardinals


The Green Bay Packers got off to a slow start in their Wild Card matchup against Washington on Sunday evening. Their offense struggled to move the football through the first quarter and a half, and it looked very much like the same Packers’ offense that had been struggling for weeks. But suddenly, they turned it on, and cruised to a 35-18 victory. Now they’ll travel to Arizona on Saturday to take on the Cardinals in the Divisional Round.

The Cardinals were one of the strongest teams in football this season, and are a heavy favorite to go all the way. They’re led by a quarterback who played at an MVP level, and a defense that’s among the best in the game. They finished the season 13-3, and earned the first opening round bye in Cardinals’ history.

The Packers and Cardinals met just a little over two weeks ago, also at the University of Phoenix Stadium. It was a game that the Packers would like to forget, as they were completely overmatched from the start, falling 38-8. They’ll look to have more success this time around. Let’s take a look at the two squads.

Green Bay Packers

The good

Against Washington, Green Bay’s offensive line played its best game of the season. As a unit, they finished with a net positive run block production grade, and all five individually finished with positive pass block grades. The Packers allowed just one sack and four hurries all game. Plus there’s a chance they’ll get LT David Bakhtiari (76.8 season grade) back, whose 85.6 pass block grade is 10th-best among offensive tackles.

The Packers’ pass rush on Sunday was as strong as ever, finishing with seven sacks, five hits, and 10 hurries. Overall, they pressured Kirk Cousins on 35 percent of his dropbacks. They were led by ILB Clay Matthews (64.3) and his two sacks and one hit, plus OLB Julius Peppers’ (71.9) two hits and two hurries. On the inside, elite DE Mike Daniels (91.2) had five hurries.

The bad

QB Aaron Rodgers (79.3) struggled against Washington (despite the victory), posting a slightly below-average passing grade. He struggled when he didn’t see any pressure, completing just 58.6 percent of his passes with an average of only 5.3 yards per attempt when in a clean pocket. His receivers have had a hard enough time getting open all year, and in this game, there were times where they did so, but the veteran QB simply missed them. He did play well the few times he was under pressure, completing 57 percent of his passes with an 8.0 YPA average.

The run defense has been an issue all year for the Packers, and it reared its head again on Sunday against Washington. NT B.J. Raji (63.9) and SS Micah Hyde (69.1) struggled against the run—Raji for his inability to clog holes, and Hyde for his inability to make run stops. As a unit, they allowed 85 yards on just 17 carries, an average of 5.0 yards per attempt. It could have been much worse if Washington hadn’t had to play catch-up and abandon the run game.

Key player

SS Morgan Burnett (88.2): Burnett has had one of his best seasons as an NFL player, and has been a key to the Packers’ defense. He’s our fourth-highest graded safety, and has grades above 80.0 in both pass coverage and run defense. His 7.1 run stop percentage ranks third among all safeties.

Arizona Cardinals

The good

The Cardinals have had one of, if not the best, passing game in the NFL this season. Only one team averaged more passing yards per game, and nobody had a higher yards per attempt average than the Cardinals’ 8.5. Led by MVP candidate QB Carson Palmer (98.5), the best passer in football this season, throwing to ageless WR Larry Fitzgerald (91.5), this is the Cardinals’ biggest strength.

Despite losing their best defender for the season in CB Tyrann Mathieu (91.6), the Cardinals still have a very strong pass coverage unit. CB Patrick Peterson (85.9) averaged 19.5 coverage snaps per reception, and gave up just 0.58 yards per coverage snap, both numbers ranking first in the NFL. ILB Deone Bucannon (71.9) was also strong, finishing with a coverage grade of 83.9, 12th highest among ILB’s. 

The bad

The Cardinals’ offensive line was not good when it came to pass protection this season. Only one lineman, LT Jared Veldheer (81.8) finished with an above-average pass block grade, and three starters finished with below replacement level grades. As a unit, they allowed 214 total pressures and had a pass blocking efficiency of 72.2, the third-lowest mark in the NFL.

Defending the run has been somewhat of a struggle for this Cardinals’ defense this season. Because of their offensive skills, teams often abandoned the run because they were playing from behind, but overall, very few Cardinals’ defenders were actually above-average at stopping the run. ILB Kevin Minter (39.6 run defense grade) had one of the lowest run defense grades among inside linebackers, and in the interior, DE Frostee Rucker (54.8 run defense) struggled as well.

Key player

QB Carson Palmer (98.5): Palmer was our highest graded quarterback this season, and rightfully so. No quarterback averaged more than his 8.7 yards per attempt, and only one finished with more touchdowns than Palmer’s 35. Palmer gained 1,123 yards on passes that traveled more than 20 yards in the air downfield, the fourth-most yards this season among quarterbacks.

 

Matchups to watch

SWR Larry Fitzgerald (91.5) vs. SCB Casey Hayward (81.8): Fitzgerald had a phenomenal season, finishing as our seventh-highest graded receiver. Fitzgerald lined up in the slot over 50 percent of the time, and averaged 1.92 yards per route run, third-most among slot receivers. Hayward was our 16th-best coverage corner by grade, surrendering just one reception every 9.5 coverage snaps in the slot.

LG Josh Sitton (87.2) vs DT Calais Campbell (87.5): This is a true power matchup on the interior. Campbell was a top-15 interior defender this season, generating 46 total pressures and finishing with an 11.5 run-stop percentage, third-best his position. Sitton was a top 10 guard, and arguably the best pass blocking one. He allowed three sacks and a mere 12 total pressures all season, for a pass blocking efficiency of 98.4, tops among guards.

 

Paths to victory

Green Bay can win if: Their offense can get success running the ball early with Eddie Lacy and James Starks against the Cardinals’ average run defense, and if their defense can get consistent quick pressure on Carson Palmer to prevent him throwing downfield.

Arizona can win if: Carson Palmer does what he’s been doing all season and chucks the pigskin, and if Patrick Peterson and the rest of their secondary can lock down the Green Bay receivers and cause Aaron Rodgers to force bad throws.

 

Thanks to the support from the Ohio Film Office.

| Analyst

Bryson has been an analyst at Pro Football Focus since 2014, and has also been a contributor to 120 Sports.

  • SeattleSteve

    NFC North safeties are underrated. Even when Collins was getting a ton of those pick sixs in a season and not getting all pro votes.

  • crosseyedlemon

    The Packers should be able to solve some of the problems that caused them to get blown out by the Cardinals in their last meeting but they will likely need some turnovers and big special teams plays to pull off an upset.

  • Tommy

    GB’s only hope in this game is that Lacy has a breakout game 20+ carries and the defense can register 5+ sacks.