NFL countdown: Packers at Cardinals

Green Bay's running game will be one of the biggest keys to topping the Arizona Cardinals in the playoffs, as Eddie Lacy looks to get rolling after playing a key roll in the Packers' win over Washington.

Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports/Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

After Green Bay beat Washington in the opening round of the NFL playoffs, shaking off its struggles frpm the second half of the season, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said "you don’t have to talk about the regular season no more. The playoffs are different."

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For the Packers sake, he’d better be right.

The Packers met Arizona just a few weeks ago and were throttled 38-8. Aaron Rodgers was harassed all day and finished 15-of-28 passing for just 151 yards with a touchdown, an interception and three fumbles.

Green Bay was without tackle David Bakhtiari that game as well as cornerback Sam Shields, and both might be back for the NFC Divisional matchup, which would certainly be a boost.

Of course, the Packers enter as a seven-point underdog and Arizona has never lost at home in the playoffs (4-0). On the flip side, Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer has never won a postseason game in his career while Aaron Rodgers has plenty of experience and is 7-5.

Will any of that make a difference?

Here’s a closer look at Saturday’s matchup:

3 THINGS TO WATCH

— If Davante Adams can play, and that seems doubtful, just how healthy and effective can he be? Without Adams, who had a nice game against Washington before getting hurt, who will Aaron Rodgers throw to? James Jones has received the most targets lately — he had 11 in last week’s playoff game, 13 in the regular-season finale vs. Minnesota and 11 in the last matchup against Arizona. But if Adams is out, would he get more attention? Randall Cobb hasn’t done much lately – one game of over 80 yards since mid-November (81 vs. Dallas) and no touchdowns since Nov. 22. 

— Will Green Bay continue its up-tempo approach to try and wear down a tough Arizona defense? Cardinals defensive coordinator James Bettcher noted the Packers have always tried to play fast, but against Washington used the same personnel group for about 40 straight plays. That makes it tough for a defense to sub-in and match up, not to mention can get a lot of players tired, quickly.

— The Packers need to hold onto the ball. Last time against Arizona, Green Bay turned it over a season-high four times. Six times this year the Packers have turned it over two or more times and they are 2-4 in those games (three of those times Green Bay had an even or positive turnover differential and was 2-1). Defensively, the Cardinals had a streak of nine consecutive games forcing at least one turnover snapped against Seattle. At the end of the stretch Arizona had caused 11 turnovers in three games. So the Cardinals are more than capable of turning the game around on one play. Offensively, Arizona went four straight games with no turnovers, but have had five in its last two games.

2 THINGS TO REMEMBER

— We hate to beat this into the ground, but we can’t emphasize enough how important it is for Green Bay to get its running game going and not be one-dimensional. Repeating what we said last week: When the Packers rush for over 101 yards, they win. Green Bay is 10-1 this season when that happens, including a victory last week over Washington when the Packers rushed for 141 yards. Meanwhile, Arizona is 13-0 when allowing 115 or fewer rushing yards this season. The Cardinals three losses came when they allowed 164, 141 and 145 rushing yards.

— The Packers are working on short rest — just five off days between games. Of course, they are also coming off their best game in a while. Better to get back out there and keep the momentum going? Meanwhile, Arizona will have had more rest (nearly two weeks), but laid an egg in its last game, a 36-6 loss to Seattle at home in the regular-season finale. Will the Cardinals be rusty, especially considering the result of their last game?

1 KEY MATCHUP

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Packers offensive line vs. Cardinals defense

The last time these two teams played, Arizona had nine sacks. On three of those Aaron Rodgers fumbled, with two being returned for touchdowns. Green Bay was sacked just once last week against Washington as the Packers kept in an extra body to help block. We doubt the Cardinals will have a game like they did last time, but this isn’t Washington’s defense either. Arizona blitzes nearly half the time to get pressure (which obviously worked in the last meeting) and is better at covering receivers than the Redskins, so not having an extra set of hands to throw to could be problematic no matter the rush. Even if David Bakhtiari does play, the Packers will need to give Rodgers time to throw without sacrificing passing targets.

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