January 12, 2016

Arman Three Pack Preview: 2016 Divisional Playoffs vs. Arizona Cardinals

The Arman brothers dissect the Green Bay Packers upcoming Divisional Playoff  matchup against the NFC's number two seed, the Arizona Cardinals. Two brothers agree on the player of the game, but not all three agree on the final outcome of Sunday's game. Read more for a breakdown on key questions facing the Packers in their big road match-up Saturday night.

The Cardinals are the favorite to win Super Bowl 50 and are 7.5 point favorites against the Packers Saturday night. What are the two keys in this game, that give the Packers a chance at a huge road upset?

Adam: 1)PROTECT AROD. Before Sunday's playoff win against the Redskins where Rodgers was sacked once resulting in a safety, the Packers had the longest streak in the NFL allowing multiple sacks at 13 games. Despite that one sack Sunday resulting in a safety, the offensive line did a great job giving Rodgers time to make plays leading to the team's highest scoring output since week 3.

Any shot Green Bay has starts with protecting Aaron Rodgers
Any shot Green Bay has starts with protecting Aaron Rodgers
2) The Packers need to account for rookie running back David Johnson who had 127 yards from scrimmage in their week 16 meeting. This will be easier said that done with the elusive backs' combination of power, speed and receiving ability. The veteran defense and coaching staff should be able to reformulate the game plan to better account for the Cardinals play maker in the backfield.

Shane: First, protect Aaron Rodgers - I think that's pretty obvious. He was turned into a punching bag in week 16 and had zero time to throw the ball. Hopefully David Bakhtiari is back in the starting lineup to help solidify the blind side and bring full stability back to the offensive line. And hopefully Mike McCarthy took some notes from the Seahawks' 36-6 thrashing of Arizona in week 17. Second, the Packers must force turnovers by making Carson Palmer uncomfortable in the pocket. Palmer is playing at an MVP-level and if he has time to scan the field, he will shred just about any defense. Get some heat on #3 and he is bound to make a few mistakes.

Mitch: It all starts where the issues began in game one versus Arizona: in the trenches. The Packers MUST protect Aaron Rodgers if they have any shot on Saturday night. Getting David Bahkitari back would be a good start. After that, it's all about execution. Second key is pressuring Carson Palmer, on the other side of the ball. With Sam Shields status still up in the air for the contest, the front seven must get pressure and force Palmer into contested passes.

What will the Packers do differently in their offensive game plan to protect Aaron Rodgers from getting sacked eight times like he did in week 16 against Arizona?

Adam: One of the keys to success is the play calling. Against Washington, the Packers were less predictable, which got them into favorable 3rd down situations. Limiting the 3rd and long situations will minimize the pass rush and is why the offensive line had so much success in the final 3 quarters against the Redskins Sunday. Mixing the screen game with WRs on the outside, and an effective run game will help keep the down and distance manageable, leading to a less effective pass rush. Finally, using play action and Rodgers' mobility to bootleg him out of the pocket can free up more time to create big plays in the passing game.

Calais Campbell tore through the Packers' O-Line in Week 16
Shane: The Packers need to establish the run and stay committed to it early. It's tough when you have the best quarterback in the league, but McCarthy needs to know his personnel and stay patient. I doubt Green Bay breaks off huge runs early or even gets in a rhythm early on the ground, but they must stick with it. Force extra cover men to play in the box and it will open up throwing lanes for Rodgers.

Mitch: Well, I think its pretty obvious the Packers need to double-team Calais Campbell. The guy killed us. Whether that is using Kuhn  in the shotgun with Rodgers to help, or just dedicating two guys to him, Arizona's pass rush starts with and is fueled by Calais Campbell. McCarthy should call plays that get the ball out quick and use different read-action formations to throw off the talented Cardinals defensive front seven.

Who is the Packers' single most important offensive player and who do they most need to stop on Arizona's offense?

James Starks will need a big day to fuel the Packers offense
Adam: Aaron Rodgers. If everyone does their job, it allows Rodgers to get into a rhythm, read the defense and direct the offense; that gives the Packers an advantage with the best player in the NFL. Obviously, most of the season, including week 16 in Arizona, Rodgers has been harassed and out-of-sync with his receivers. The Cardinals present a significantly more formidable defense than the Redskins, but if the offense can collectively execute the game plan its exciting to know that the Packers still have the biggest difference maker on the field calling the shots. Comparatively the Cardinals present a much deeper stable of offensive threats. Floyd and Johnson both topped 100 yards in the first meeting and Carson Palmer has been one of the most efficient QBs in the NFL all year. If I had to pick one like I mentioned earlier it would be Johnson, but to channel Mike McCarthy I would say winning the turnover battle and limiting explosive plays will be the biggest keys. I'm confident in Capers' ability to adjust the game plan to put the defense in a position to be successful.

Shane: Eddie Lacy. Get the big boy running downhill, get him fired up and he can put this team on his back. The Packers couldn't win trying to throw the ball week 16 in Arizona and they aren't going to do it this week with Davante Adams out with a knee injury. On Arizona's offense, the Packers need to stop Michael Floyd, who caught 6 balls for 100+ yards in week 16. Time and time again, Floyd made big catches and the Packers need to avoid Palmer getting into a rhythm with him again.

Mitch: I am going out on a limb here and saying James Starks is the most important man on offense with it looking like Davante Adams will not play this weekend. Starks can provide a spark in the run game, and he is deadly in space after catching the ball. I expect McCarthy to use the screen game to get the ball out of Rodgers' hands quickly and to prevent the pass rush. For the Cardinals, it is all about stopping David Johnson. Arizona is very good on play action-passing deep, which is set up by their power run game. He can also catch the ball out of the backfield for huge chunks. Green Bay must keep him in check.

What's Green Bay's best strategy to be productive and score points against the stout Arizona defense?

Adam: Rodgers is at his best in tempo offense. Regardless of when the ball is snapped, using no huddle to give Rodgers time to survey the defense with the option to audible, is huge. This also helps the run game. No allowing the defense to substitute and change their calls gives the offensive line and Eddie Lacy the advantage to get down hill. I loved seeing Cobb back in the backfield against the Redskins and McCarthy mixed his personal groups masterfully to keep the defense guessing with Lacy, Starks and Cobb all contributing in different ways out of the backfield.

Shane: Plain and simple, they need to win at the line of scrimmage. Protect Aaron Rodgers and he will make plays - even if it's with his feet. Push the defensive line back, and Lacy and Starks will find holes to run through.

Mitch: Quick passes, screen game, run the ball effectively early in the game and PROTECT AARON RODGERS.

Game score prediction and player of the game

Adam: Packers 30
Cardinals 24

POG: Aaron Rodgers 25-32, 280 yards & 3 TDs

Shane: The Packers got embarrassed by Arizona a few weeks ago and it's still fresh in their minds. Mike McCarthy shows why he's an elite coach, Aaron Rodgers shows why he's the defending MVP and the Packers stun Arizona in the desert.

Packers 27
Cardinals 24

POG: Aaron Rodgers 19-29, 230 yards & 2 TDs

Mitch: After an impressive thrashing of Washington, I felt very good about this game until hearing about Davante Adams. I don't think we will make enough plays offensively, and there is no way the defense can carry us to a win against such a quality team. You have to have balance. Unless Green Bay can win the turnover battle, they are going to be outmatched in just about every facet of the game.

Cardinals 31
Green Bay 21

POG: James Starks 65 rush yards, 75 receiving yards, 1 TD

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