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2016 Playoffs
Preview: Green Bay @ Cards

Last MInute News, Rumors etc.:
(Updated regularly if or when needed) - 1/13/2016 - Mash Unit: There's been some musical chairs at OLB due to injuries. Alex Okafor ended the seaason with an off-field toe injury. Corey Redding (ankle) was placed on IR. Cards replaced the two with veteran FA Jason Babin and practice squadder, Gabe Martin. (Quayshawn Nealy was signed to the PS to replace G Martin.

Babin had been a sack-artist earlier in his career, but his production fell off to 2 sacks in 16 games with the Jets last year. He appeared in 2 games with Baltimore earlier in this season. BA and jom Bettcher have hinted that there will be certain non-described roles carved out for Babin (probably in a manner similar to what's been worked out for Dwight Freeney). Alani Fua and Kareem Martin have seen some action at OLB. Markus Golden (knee) will wear a brace. Shaq Riddick is expected to remain inactive on game days.Aside from that, the Cards seem healthy and well-rested overall.

Packers will be coping with a 6-day work-week. When the two teams met a few weeks ago there was concern that Green Bay fans (who are said to "travel well") might take over the stadium in Glendale. Since these are the playoffs, the hope is that, this time, the seats will be filled with crazed Cardinal fans.

Setting the Stage:
Cards enjoyed a Bye Week. Yesterday (Sun. Jan 10), the Packers rebounded from a lackluster first half and stepped up the offensive tempo to beat Washington going away 35 to 18.

Packers are feeling good about themselves; confident that they can dig their way out of any hole they dig their way into. Cards have used their Bye Week to get healthy and to study much footage as possibie on on potential playoff opponents (including the Packers). Actually, the two teams are pretty familiar with one another, having faced each other in the desert in Week #16 (in which the Cards won convincingly). But successful playoff football is a game of adjustments, and we don't know what kind of rabbits Coach McCarthy will pull our of his proverbial hat.

Opponent's Last Game
Washington used a safety and a stingy defense to open a 11 point first quarter lead, but Green Bay rebounded in the second quarter, going no-huddle, taking a 17 - 11 lead just before halftimre and winning going away.

First Quarter
GB received. TB on the KO. After Rodgers hit J Jones for +11, the Pack went 3 & out. Punt downed at the Washington 33. Skins held to 3 & out. Punt (net penalty on GB) gave Pack the ball on its own 8. After a false start flag on GB (Tretter) , Rodgers was sacked in the end zone for a safety.
Washington 2 - Green Bay 0.

Free kick rerturned to the Washington 45. Cousins led the Skins on a multi-play drive featuring an apparent TD pass/run by Jackson which was challenged and reversed due to footwork/sideline/Stanchion issues. Skins were unable to convert a 1st & 1 and had to settle for a FG. (After the game, Rodgers attributed the Packer turnaround to keeping the Skins out of the end zone on this drive). Washington 5 - Green Bay 0.

KO returned to the GB 20. The two teams exchanged 3 & outs. Quarter ended with Skins 1st & 10 on the GB 37.

First Quarter Score: Washington 5 - Green Bay 0.

Second Quarter
On the fourth play of the quarter (7th play of the drive), Cousins hit Reed (deep middle) for a 24-yard TD. XP attempt was no good. Washington 11- Green Bay 0.

TB on the KO. Rodgers went to a no-huddle and moved the Pack to the Washington 12 in 8 plays before hitting Cobb (short-middle) for a TD. Key plays were a 34-yard Rodgers to J Jones completion and a couple of 1"2-men on the field" defensive penalties. Washington 11- Green Bay 7.

TB on the KO. Skins moved to the GB 39 where Cousins was sacked and fumbled (recovered by Neal). Pack took over on their own 46. They moved to the Wash 24 where they settled for a 43-yard Crosby FG to make it a one-point game. Washington 11- Green Bay 10.

TB on the KO. 2:54 till halftime. Skins held to 3 & out. Punt was returned to the GB 40. 2:22 left on the clock. Rodgers led the Pack on an 11-play drive capped by a 10-yard TD pass (short-left) to Adams to take the lead for the first time. Green Bay 17 - Washington 11

First Half Score: Green Bay 17 - Washington 11

Third Quarter
Skins received and returned the KO to their own 27. They reached the Packer 3-yard line before Cousins punched it in for a TD. Key plays: 21-yard Completion to Garcon. Morris up the middle for +19. Cousins to Reed for +17. Washington 18 - Green Bay 17

TB on the KO. Rodgers moved Pack to the Wash 4 in 10 plays before Starks ran it in for a Packer TD. Everything was nickel and dime until Lacy clicked on a couple of long runs during the end of the drive. Key plays: Lacy around LE for +11. Lacy off LT for +30. Green Bay 24 - Washington 18

Wash returned the KO to their own 24 and was held to 3 & out. Punt downed at the Packer 24. GB moved to midfield in five plays to end the quarter.

Third Quarter Score: Green Bay 24 - Washington 18

Fourth Quarter
Five plays later (on the backs of a few long runs by Starks), Lacy took it up the middle from the two for a Green Bay TD. Two-point attempt was good. Key Plays: Starks off RG for +11. Starks around RE for +7. Starks around LE for +22. Green Bay 32 - Washington 18

TB on the the KO. Wash A 22-yard completion to Reed helped Wash make it as far as the Packer 37 in 4 plays, but a sack by Perry and Matthews forced them to eventually punt from the Packer 46 with 8:56 left on the clock.

Punt downed on the Packer 9. a pass interference penalty gave the Packers a first down at their own 27 but they eventually punted from their own 36. Fair catch - Wash 9-yard line. The Skins made it out as far as their own 23m but - on 4th & 10 - Cousins was sacked for minus-6 by Perry. GB ball on the Wash 17. They made Wash use up all their time outs before Crosby was good from 29-yards. Green Bay 35 - Washington 18

KO was returned to the Wash 15. 4:36 left. Skins moved to the GB 4-yard line in 7 plays, but Cousins was sacked by Neal for minus-16 yards. Two plays later Lacy fumbled. Recovered by Skins. (Challenge reversed a no-fumble call). Wash ball on the GB 32 with 1:51 left. Another sack (this time by Daniels and Perry for minus-9 on a 3rd & 8 ended the Wash drive with 0:13 left. One knee. Game over.

Final Score:Green Bay 35 - Washington 18

Meaningful Game Stats
Key differentials included Run Yardage, Sacks and Penalties.

Passing - Rodgers was 21 for 36 210 yards, two TD's and no interceptions.

Receiving - J Jones led with 7 catches for 81 yards. Adams (who injured a knee) was next with 4 catches for 48 yards. Cobb followed with 3 catches for 38 yards.

Rushing - GB gained 141 net rushing yards. Run/Pass Ratio: 32/36. Starks gained 53 yards on 12 carries and a TD. Lacy gained 63 yards on 12 carries and a TD.

Pass Defense -GB gave up 270 net passing yards.

Run Defense - GB surrendered 84 net rushing yards.

Turnovers - +0. No picks. Each team recovered one fumble. les.

Tackles - Burnett led with 11. Randall was next with 8 followed by Hayward & Hyde with 7.Ryan and Randall had 7 apiece.

Interceptions - None

Sacks - Six. Neal and Perry were credited with 2 piece. Mathews had 1.5. Daniels had 0.5.

Third Down Efficiency - 3 for 11 (27%). Wash had 5 for 15 (33%)

Net Punting Average - 44.0 (Wash had 44.8).

Penalties - 3 for 23 yards (Skins were flagged 7 times for 55 yards).

Red Zone Efficiency: GB 4 for 5 (80%). Oakland 1 for 3 (33%).

Time of Possession: GB: 29:33 Raiders 30:27.

Meaningful Green Bay Season Stats (prior to Sunday's gamess)

First Downs: Green Bay 317 - Opponents 300

First Downs (Rushing): Green Bay 100 - Opponents 96

First Downs (Passing): Green Bay 17 - Opponents 183

Receiving: Cobb leads with 79 grabs for 829 yards (10.5 ypc) and 6 TD's. R Rodgers is next with 58 catches for 510 yards (8.8 ypc) and 8 TD's. followed by Adams (50 catches), J Jones (50) and Starks (43). Jones is the home run hitter of this group - averaging 17.8 ypc.

Passing Yards: Rodgers is credited with 347 completions from 572 passing attempts for a 60.7% completion average. He has 31 TD's while throwing only 8 interceptions and has been sacked 46 times and sacked (or lost yardage) for 314 yards. He has an 92.7 QB rating.

Rushing: Lacy leads with 758 yards in 187 attempts (4.1 ypc). Starks follows with 601 yards on 148 carries (4.1 ypc). Rodgers has gained 344 yards on 58 carries (he's run the ball roughly 3 - 4 times a game).

Sacks: Green Bay is credited with 43 sacks whille giving up 47. They spread it around pretty good - Peppers leads the team with 10.5 Matthews is next with 6.5 followed by Daniels and Neal (4.0). Perry is next with 3.5. Elliott and D Jones have 3.0 apiece.

Tackles - Clinton-Dix leads in tackles with 100 followed by Palmer and Burnett with 68 each and C Matthews with 66. Haywrd has 65.

Field Goals: 24 for 28 (Opponents are 24 for 28). Crosby is 12 for 12 inside the 40.

Punting: Masthay and Packer opponents are close to equal in gross punting average (43.4 - 43.9). Masthay 's 24 of 81 inside the 20 or for touchbacks. (Opposing kickers are 35 for 82).

Interceptions: The Pack have picked off 14 passes (while only giving up 6. Randall, Hyde and Shields have 3 picks apiece. Randall and Rollins are each credited with one Pick 6.

Time of Possession: Packers 30:08 - Opponents 29:52

Turnover Ratio: +5

Rosters/Match-ups

Green Bay Offense

WR....17 Adams.........89 J Jones.........83 Janis   
LT.......69 Bakhtiari......67 Barclay.
LG......71 Sitton..........65 Taylor                    
C........63 LInsley........73 Tretter.....              
RG  ...79 Lang............79 J Walker 
RT......75 Bulaga.......          
TE......82 R Rodgers...80 Perillo...........xx Quarless......86 Backman                       
WR....18 Cobb............84 Abbrederis
QB.....12 A Rodgers...06 Tolzien..........07 Hundley
RB.....44 Starks..........27 Lacy..............38 Crockett
FB.....30 Kuhn............22 Ripkowski
        

Cardinal Defense

DE        93 Campbell..........71 Bryant
NT        95 Gunter...............69 X Williams                
DT        92 Rucker..............73 Mauro.............72 Stinson                    
SLB      44 Golden.......... ..54 Freeney...........47 Riddick
ILB       20 Bucannon.........59 Fua.................50 G Martin      
ILB       51 Minter...............55 Weathrspoon             
WLB    96 K Martin...........58 Babin
LCB     21 Peterson..........27 C White                   
RCB    25 Powers.............28 Bethel               
SS       26 R Johnson.......36 Swearinger              
FS       22 Jefferson..........29 Clemons

Matchup: Packer Passing Attack vs. Cardinal Pass Defense
Rodgers is a Top 5 QB. He may not quite have the receiving weapons that the Cardinals have, but he can (and does) do whatever's necessary to put together a winning drive and points on the scoreboard.

His "home run" target is J Jones (76.9 PFF Receiving rating). Expect Peterson to Make him his prime responsibility). Cobb (72.2) and their TE Rodgers (80.7) ) are also quality receivers. One of their two RB's, Lacy (73.5) is a good receiver out of the backfield.

The Green Bay offensive line, when healthy, is solid across the board in protecting A. Rodgers, with LInsley (76.3) Lang (87.5), Sittomn (87.9) Tretter (78.5), Bakhtiri (85.6), Bulaga (75.8)

A. Rodgers will be facing a Cardinal secondary that will have to make do without the physical presence, versatility and on-field leadership of Tyrann Mathieu. In most looks, Powers moves from CB to the Badger's nickel role with Justin Bethel occupying the corner opposite Patrick Peterson. Bethel has all the athletic ability in the world, but is still is a work in progress technique-wise. an important key to the Cardinals' success will be how well Bethel learns from his added number of snaps in recent weeks. At safety, Rashad Johnson is back andfigures to be paired up deep with Tony Jefferson. That leaves Deone Bucannon to excel in a hybrid S-LB role with newcomner Swearinger seeing more action filling specific roles.

Green Bay pass protectors willl be facing a Cardinal "pass rush by committee" which - while not posting gaudy sack numbers - can put enough pressure on opposing passers to make them hurry their throws into a very busy secondary. Mid-season free agent signee, Dwight Freeney, is a playmaker who is making his presence felt. Golden should be healthy once again.

Cardinal LB corps is a bit banged up (mostly at OLB). Look for Rodgers to try to exploit coverage and communication lapses within this shuffled unit.)

Key Matchups: Peterson vs J Jones. Freeney or Babin vs. Tretter or Buloga. Swearinger or Powers vs. R Rodgers. Bucannon vs. A Rodgers. Bethel vs. Cobb.

Matchup: Packer Rushing Attack vs. Cardinal Run Defense
The return of Lacy has helped stabilize the GB running attack and get them closer to being "field-ready" for the playoffs. He's rated in the 70's both overall and as a runner. (As basis for comparison, David Johnson has a 73.6 rating as a runner). Lacy and Starks tend to split the total number of of run snaps. From what we saw yesterday, Starks is beginning to assume the role of Mr. Outside with Lacy Mr. inside. It was Starks who almost singlehandedly carried the team on his back attacking the ends on a fourth quarter drive that iced the game. Earlier, 2 long runs by Lacy were instrumental in the drive that turned an 18 - 17 deficit into a 24 - 18 Packer lead. Keep an eye on Rodgers (who reminds us of a heavier version of Russell Wilson).

Much of GB's rushing success is driven by the interior of its offensive line - both guards are rated in the 80's as run blockers. Their centers (Tretter and Linsley) rate in the mid70's. But, with the exception of Bakhtieri, their tackles (Bakhtieri, Tretter and Buloga) are only rated so-so as run blockers. (Suggestion: Watch the A-Gaps).

Key Matchups: Bucannon vs. Lacy. Powers and Okafor containing Starks and Rodgers on both perimeters. Cardinal D-line rotation (most notably Campbell, Gunter and Mauro) vs. Lang, Sitton and Linsley.


Cardinal Offense

WR1     11 Fitzgerald..13 Jar Brown......10 Golden   
LT         68 Veldheer....79 Sowell                      
LG        76 Iupati.........61Cooper                    
C          63 Sendlein....53 Shipley                    
RG       62 Larsen                   
RT        70 Massie.......74 Humphreys                     
TE        85 Fells...........87 Niklas           
WR2    15 M. Floyd.....12 John Brown...14 Nelson              
QB       03 Palmer........05 Stanton.........09 Barkley        
RB       38 Ellington.....27 C Johnson....30 Taylor............33 K Williams
TE        84 Gresham

Green Bay Defense

DE........98 Gulon........95 D Jones
NT........90 Raji............64 Pennel      
DT........76 Daniels        
LOLB...96 Neal...........91 Elliott
BLB.....47 Ryan..........xx Palmer.........48 J Thomas     
MLB....52 Mathews                
ROLB..56 Peppers....53 Perry............55 Mulumba
LCB ....29 Hayward....23 Randall........39 Goodson    
RCB.....37 Shields......24 Rollins.........36 L Gunter
SS   ....42 Burnett.......32 Banjo    
FS.......21 Clinton-Dix....33 Hyde

Matchup: Cardinal Passing Attack vs. Packer Pass Defense
To put things in perspective - Pro Football Focus rates Carson Palmer (98.5 as a passer) ) 18.8 points higher than Aaron Rodgers (79.7). Not to say that - in terms of such non-analytic benchmarks as "Super Bowl Rings" - this makes Carson overwhelmingly better than Aaron, we do feel we can safely say that Palmer has looked "scary good" over the first 16 games this season.

Part of the reason for the 18.8 point rating difference can be found in the Cardinal wide receiver corps where, as pass catchers, the trio of Fitzgerald , John Brown and Floyd compare favorably to Cobb (72.2) and J Jones (76.9). (Adams appears to have injured his knee). Cardinal TE's have had their moments but have found it a challenge to be consistent, given shifts in personnel due to injuries. But all you have to do is watch the highlight reel of Fells carrying a would-be tackler down the field on his back for 20 or so yards to understand what the upside is.

GB's sackmeisters have nailed opposing QB's 5 more times than they've given up. (They got to Cousins 6 times yesterday)!!!! Julius Peppers leads the defense with 10.5 sacks followed by Clay Matthews with 6.5 and Daniels and Neal (4.0). Keep an eye on Perry (who's come on like gangbusters of late).

Cards have only allowed 27 sacks in 16 games (between one and two per game). One secret to Palmer's success thus far has been his surrounding cast's ability to give him enough time to find his receivers and stay upright and clean. When they don't (translation: the 2nd Seattle game) he'll tend to hurry his throws or be sacked outside FG range. But, in general throughout the eason, he Cardinal offensive line (Veldheer, Iupati, Sendlein. Larsen, Massie) desrves much of the credit for keeping Palmer upright and clean in the pocket as do the Cardinal rotation of RB's in blitz pickup blockers/outlet receivers.

Key Matchups: Floyd vs. Hayward. Fitz vs. Shields. John Brown vs. Randall. Veldheer vs. Peppers. Massie (& a helper) vs. C Matthews. Iupati, Sendlein and Larsen vs. Perry and other inside rushers.

Matchup: Cardinal Running Attack vs. Packer Run Defense
Rookie David Johnson has emerged as "the man." This is only partly due to injuries to other Cardinal starting
RB's (C Johnson and Ellington). He mixes, size, power, patients and hands. Yesterday, Green Bay run defenders did a nice job of containing the Wash running attack. Prevailing against the GB run defense will be a challenge.

Some of our success running the ball has been due to inside blocking (Iupati made the Pro Bowl) and run-blocking by our TE (Gresham) and wideouts (most notably Fitzgerald). Two weeks ago, Cardinal run blocking seemed to lack a great deal of want-to. The hope is that, with more at stake, the Cards will be able to run the ball nesxt Sat. in Glendale.

The added advantage of a strong run game is that it keeps opposing pass rushers honest (& our QB healthy and more productive - since Palmer would have more time to set his feet and find receivers).

Green Bay is tough vs. the inside run. Their safety (Clinton-Dix) is very Bucannon-like (intriguing since it's been said that the Cards traded down from the opportunity to draft Clinton-Dix in order to draft Bucannon and another pick).

Key Matchups: Iupati vs. Raji. Shipley vs. Daniels. Clinton-Dix vs. D Johnson.

Special Teams

Green Bay

        08 Masthay                       
K         02 Crosby                        
H         08 Masthay  
LS       59 Lovato                              
KR      83 Janis                  
PR      33 Hyde

Cardinals

K          07 Catanzaro                             
P          02 Butler                                   
H          02 Butler                             
LS        82 Leach                                  
KR       31 D Johnson.....10 Golden          
PR       21 Peterson

Matchup: Packeer Special Teams vs. Cardinal Special Teams
Crosby has been perfect (12 for 12) inside the forty. He missed three between the forty and fifty and one outside the fifty. Catanzaro has missed five XP attempts. (Can't continue to do that) and missed a makeable FG in Week #17 vs. Seattle.

24 of 81 Masthay punts were neither touchbacks or inside the 20. By contrast, 35 of 82 Opposing punts were toucbacks or inside the 20.

Card special teams are OK but not as outstanding as they've been in the recent past. Two weeks ago, Lockett (4 returns over 20 yards/one nullified due to penalty) made Cardinal coverage teams look like amateurs. (Hopefully, this was only due to the Week 17 blahs).

Key matchups: We don't see anything predictably special. (Often great special teams performances - blocked kicks, crunching tackles, big returns etc.) come out of nowhere when you least expect them. This is not to say that special teams play isn't important - you gotta try. Because - to quote the late Branch RIckey - "Luck is the residue of design."

Coaching
Green Bay: McCarthy did a terrific job yesterday of not letting his team disintegrate after an abysmal 1st quarter and - via a switch to a no-huddle offense - lead them to victory during the final three quarters. If you look at the key factors in the win over Washington, they were (1) running the ball, (2) sacking the quarterback and (3) giving up fewer penalties. In short - every man continuing to do his ob.

AZ: Then there's Bruce Arians - who'll challenge you deep early and often. He has an "old school" coaching style but is unafraid of new approaches or to stretch the play-calling envelope. HIs motto: "No risk-it/no biscuit." A fun guy to follow - and he backs it up with solid coaching fundamentals (with a huge staff of teaching-coaches from diverse backgrounds) and a record of proven success. His team let him (and them) down in the second Seattle game. It will be interesting to see how well his team handles the adversity..

GB typically plays close to the vest and hangs around till late in the game in the hope you'll beat yourself. They'll let you get overconfident on defense and then gash you with misdirection and perimeter running plays. This approach (which worked well vs,. Washington) didn't do so hot vs. the Cards. (we just kept mistakes to a minimum, ran the ball well and continued to widen our lead. So we expect Green Bay to review game-footage and be a bit more wide open than last time out. Look for McCarthy to continue to "adjust on the fly." Cards should continue to play wide open but also fundamentally tougher, more physical and mistake-free.

Last Word
Was the loss to Seattle two weeks ago a fluke? Cards will have to play much harder and better to prove the doubters wrong. Interesting observation by a playoff veteran: "Consider it a fact: If you leave any mistakes or yardage on the field during the playoffs, they'll invariably come back to haunt you. That's why you seldom see good teams do this."


 
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