Rematch in Arizona: Pressure on Palmer and Rodgers Will Decide Winner
From Brian E Murphy, Packers Insider Senior Editor
Jan 11, 2016
~When these two teams met just 15 days ago, the final score was obviously very one-sided, 38-8 Arizona.
However, just looking at the pressure on each quarterback, that alone was essentially the reason the score was 38-8.
Aaron Rodgers was pounded all day long, pressured on 15 of his 28 pass attempts, hit on 12 of them, plus oh-by-the-way sacked 8 times, including two of them being fumbles-returned for Cardinal touchdowns. “They were very aggressive to the line of scrimmage,” Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy said. “They played very well and took advantage of it.”
Veterans Dwight Freeney and Calais Campbell combined for 5.5 sacks against the injury-depleted Packers offensive line.
Now this is far-fetched I know, but take away just those two plays, imagine good pass protection and instead two eventual touchdowns on those two drives for the Packers, and that alone is a 28-point swing.
The point I am trying to illustrate is the difference in the game was essentially the differences in each team’s pass protection and pass rushes that day.
Just seven days after Arizona blew the Packers out of the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, the Seattle Seahawks came in, protected their QB Russell Wilson, and harassed and pressured Carson Palmer, en route to a 30-point blowout of their own win at Arizona.
The main differences in Arizona’s 30-point win over the Packers and their 30-point loss just seven days apart was what happened with the offensive lines in terms of pass protection.
Pressure on a QB is a great equalizer.
Packer fans will remember the end of the 2009 season, into the 2010 playoffs. No not the 2010 “season” in which the Packers won the Super Bowl. But the playoff game in early 2010 at Arizona.
The previous week, the Packers went into Arizona for a week 17 game that meant nothing to each team really, but the Packers wanted to win, and win they did. Arizona played semi-resting, although they played key players. But the Packers killed them on both sides of the ball.
A week later, in the playoff game, the Cardinals offense was unstoppable against Dom Capers’ defense in Clay Matthews’ and B.J. Raji’s rookie year. Warner had more touchdown passes than incomplete passes. He was not touched by the Packers pass rush.
Rodgers played great, but he made three fatal mistakes. His first pass (first career playoff pass) was an interception. In overtime, he missed a wide-open deep Greg Jennings on what could and should have been a historic, signature fantastic 51-45 playoff win in Rodgers’ first ever playoff game.
Instead, one play later, Rodgers was hurried by a blitzing Cardinal DB, and popped the ball loose, which was scooped up by Arizona linebacker Karlos Dansby and returned for a game-winning, season-ending fumble-return touchdown.
Pressure on Rodgers ended the 2009 season. Yes this should have been a facemask penalty.
Yes, Rodgers has had more than his share of fumbles, and fumbles-returned for touchdowns in Glendale. The Packers offensive line must play great, as they did pretty much yesterday at Fedex Field. In other words, they must play the total opposite of how they played 15 days ago when they seemed like they wanted to get Rodgers injured. The fact that he escaped from that game in one piece was a miracle.
The good news now is that, barring practice injuries this week, Donny Barclay won’t be manning the left tackle spot. He was Rodgers’ blind side protector last time, and he was a turnstyle. He allowed three sacks including the fumbles, and he allowed a half-dozen other hits and hurries on Rodgers. No QB in the history of the NFL would have done anything good passing behind that left tackle.
Bryan Bulaga left the game over on the right side, and the Packers replacement right tackles that day were as horrific as Barclay was.
This time around, it appears that J.C. Tretter has at least put a body at left tackle that is capable of A) moving and B) blocking people. It’s true that the Redskins opened the game yesterday with a sack and safety on Rodgers, around Tretter. But that sack was as much on Rodgers as it was Tretter, as Rodgers stepped up and into the sack.
It’s also possible that regular David Bakhtiari will (finally) return from his ankle injury. At his healthiest, he’s a fantastic left tackle, who is capable of making Freeney look more like his age, although the turf is fast there and Freeney still has moves and get-around.
Against Kirk Cousins yesterday -and the Redskins offensive line is typically as good or better than Arizona’s is- the Packers were able to get a lot of pressure on the quarterback despite not many heavy blitzes.
Mike Neal and Nick Perry each had a pair of sacks, and Clay Matthews had 1.5 sacks. In all, the Packers had 13 QB hits and 7 sacks.
Make no mistake about it: this Packers defense is capable of carrying the Packers.
In Matthews, Perry, Julius Peppers, B.J. Raji, and Datone Jones, the Packers have five guys up front who are first round draft picks.
That list doesn’t count Neal, who was a second rounder, or Mike Daniels, the Packers’ Pro Bowl DT. These guys should be, and they are, capable of getting after quarterbacks.
Carson Palmer is not Russell Wilson back there. He’s not quite the statue that Peyton Manning is, but he’s not quick. He’s a bit like Tom Brady in that he can sense pressure and step one way or the other. But he can’t escape guys like Peppers and Matthews coming at him.
It’s the Cardinals offensive line versus Matthews and Peppers, Daniels and Datone, Neal and Perry.
And it’s the Packers offensive line versus Calais Campbell and Freeney, and company.
Whoever wins among these two battles is most likely going to win the game Saturday night.
I wouldn’t count out Daniels, Matthews, Peppers and Company.
About the writer:
Brian E Murphy was schooled and obtained his degree in Minnesota in journalism, living in enemy Viking country through the miserable 70’s and 80’s, resurgent 90’s, and glory of the 2000’s so far.
He remembers miserable teams year after year through most of two decades.
He’s seen terrible coaching and quarterback play, and horrible defenses.
He currently coaches and teaches in Dallas, where the Packers have enjoyed some recent glory winning Super Bowl XLV in 2011, and having a historic comeback in 2013 with Matt Flynn leading the win.
He’s pessimistic by nature, and often bets against the Packers as “Heartbreak Insurance”. The final six games of the magical 2010 season (4 playoff games plus Giants and Bears wins before that to get in) cost him a bundle, but seeing the Super Bowl win in person in Dallas was well worth it. It almost worked last year too, but Brandon Bostick refusing to do his job was too much to overcome.