Episode 132 - Week 13 Preview: What Does a Win Even Mean for the Packers?
The Packers badly need a win, but playing a team as bad as the Cardinals, it’s tough to say what a win would even tell us.
Still, if the Packers are going to keep their rapidly dwindling playoff hopes alive, they need to take care of business against bad teams. That’s the task ahead of them Sunday, and if they can’t accomplish that, it’s just as well that the season will be coming to an end soon.
Five Things to Think About During Sunday’s Game
1 - The Packers keep running out of the shotgun formation, but they haven’t shown any evidence they’re particularly good at it. Through Week 12, the Packers have run the ball out of a shotgun formation 113 times (10th in the NFL) for an average of 4.4 yards per carry (23rd in the NFL).
In 2017, the Packers ran the ball out of a shotgun formation 130 times (12th in the NFL) for an average of 4.6 yards per carry (17th in the NFL).
In 2016, the Packers ran the ball out of a shotgun formation 165 times (11th in the NFL) for an average of 4.5 yards per carry (17th in the NFL).
2 - Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson is one of the most dynamic players at his position in the NFL, but the Cardinals have struggled to get him involved in the passing game this season. In a breakout season in 2016, Johnson caught 80 passes on 120 targets. After missing all but a handful of plays in 2017, Johnson has only managed 34 catches on 49 targets.
If there’s a team that could allow Johnson to get on track in the passing game, though, it’s the Packers. According to Football Outsiders, the Packers are the second worst team in the league when it comes to defending passes to running backs. Last week alone, the Packers gave up 60 yards and a touchdown on four passes to backs, largely due to a lack of speed in their linebacking corps.
3 - At 35, Larry Fitzgerald isn’t the weapon he once was, but his name alone should be enough to give the Packers some nightmares. In three career regular-season games against Green Bay, Fitzgerald hasn’t done all that much, averaging just over 4 catches for 40 yards and a touchdown.
But in two playoff games against the Packers, he’s totaled 14 catches for 258 yards and three touchdowns, including a 75-yard catch and run and the game-winning score against the Packers in overtime in 2015.
One of the defensive backs on the roster for the Packers for that 2015 loss was Quinten Rollins, just a rookie then. He was released by the Packers at the conclusion of training camp this summer, but he signed with the Cardinals this week. It’s the first time he’s been on an NFL roster this season.
4 - The Arizona Cardinals selected their new starting quarterback Josh Rosen with the 10th overall pick in this spring’s draft. Rosen hasn’t quite tapped his potential just yet. In eight starts plus mop-up duty in another game, he’s thrown 10 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, and has completed just under 56% of his throws.
Also, it’s not particularly relevant, but according to Pro Football Reference, his full name is Joshua Ballinger Lippincott Rosen. Do with that information whatever you will.
5 - Both the Cardinals and Packers have shown they’re able to get after the quarterback. They currently rank second and third in the league, respectively, in sacks. They’ve collected their sacks in similar ways, too. Both have relied on contributions from a wide range of pass rushers. 12 players have worked together to collect 37 sacks for the Cardinals so far this season. In Green Bay, 14 players have contributed to the team total of 36 sacks.
Who Could Be an X-Factor This Week?
As we mentioned earlier, the Packers have struggled to defend passes to running backs this season, and that’s in large part because their linebackers are painfully slow, particularly Antonio Morrison. That’s not to say Morrison doesn’t have his virtues. He does. They just don’t happen to align with defending a lot of what the modern NFL does.
The Packers could really use a guy like Oren Burks to step up if they’re going to make a late run. Getting more athletic in the middle of the field is never a bad thing, and Burks certainly would provide a more athletic alternative to Morrison.
The problem is, Burks can’t seem to get on the field. He hasn’t played more than 15 snaps on defense since Week 6, and his 15 snap effort against the Patriots was the only time in that same time span that he’s played double-digit snaps in a game.
What Happened the Last Time the Packers and Cardinals Played?
The Cardinals are a little bit like a lite version of the Seahawks. Through somewhat unusual circumstances, they’ve ended up playing almost all of their recent significant games against the Cardinals in Arizona, and things have not gone well for the Packers. Three of their last four games have been in Arizona, and all of those games have been crushing defeats of one kind or another.
The most recent loss, though, was probably the most gut-wrenching. In the 2015 playoffs, the Packers, completely beat up and worn out, traveled to Arizona to take on the Cardinals, who were the second seed in the NFL in that year.
Despite having no real reason to be in the game, the Packers forced overtime thanks to two all-time great throws from Aaron Rodgers to Jeff Janis, only to have Larry Fitzgerald doom the Packers pretty much single-handedly in overtime. The final score was 26-20.
Incidentally, I think it’s always interesting to take a look at the Packers receiving corps for this game. Jordy Nelson missed the entire 2015 season, but by the end of the year the Packers receiving group had been utterly devastated and they were leaning heavily on either low-end young players or veterans near the end of their careers. To that end, six of the eight Packers players targeted with a pass in that game are now out of the league and only one, Randall Cobb, is still with the Packers. That Green Bay was able to force overtime at all with Jeff Janis and Jared Abbrederis playing major roles in almost a miracle.
Who’s Going to Win?
The Packers are favored by more than two touchdowns in this game. That seems high. But even so, if the Packers can’t handle the Cardinals at Lambeau Field when Arizona is starting a rookie quarterback who’s been ineffective since he took over the starting job, Black Monday should come this week for Mike McCarthy and his whole staff. I don’t know if Mike Pettine could even survive a loss to the Cardinals.
Fortunately, I don’t think that will happen. This game will either be a blowout or way closer than it should be, but I think the Packers win either way. I’m going with something a little less than a blowout. The Packers will win 27-13.
No matter how the Packers win, a lot of people seem to believe there’s a good chance it’s going to happen. The win confidence rate in our most recent poll is at 79.25%, the third highest number of the season and the highest mark since Week 3.
Unfortunately, that same confidence doesn’t extend to the Packers’ chances of making the playoffs. The playoff confidence figure is at its lowest point: just 32.5%.
Overall, people feel worse about the team than they’ve felt all year, which isn’t unreasonable. MIke McCarthy is bearing the brunt of that displeasure, though. His weighted approval rating is at just 35.5%, the lowest mark for the season and the fourth time in six weeks he’s had his number drop.
But even with that low number, only 31% of Packers fans believe McCarthy will be fired before the end of the season.