Wednesday, January 13, 2016

To Beat The Cardinals; Aaron Rodgers Is Going To Have To Be Great

There's no other way to look at it; the Green Bay Packers are the statistically weakest 2015 team still in the playoffs and they have the hardest road to the Super Bowl.
It's useful to look back at the Packers' 2010 season (2011 playoffs) when they went on a road playoff run and advanced to the Super Bowl. But that was a different team, which never trailed by more than seven points at any time during the 2010 season and might have been the greatest 10-6 team in NFL history. They were the 4th highest rated team of 2010 according to Football Outsiders, and the best remaining team in the NFC after they beat the Eagles that year in the Wild Card game. The 2015 Packers don't have a lot in common with them.

The 2015 Packers' best comparison is the 2012 Ravens, which was the 9th best team of 2012 according to FO, and won the championship behind the arm of QB Joe Flacco. He was OK that regular season (ESPN QBR of 49.2, which was dragged down by two disastrous losses vs. the Texans and Broncos) but he outplayed nearly every statistically measurement during the playoffs (11 TDs and 0 INTs in 4 playoff games). QB Aaron Rodgers has been better during the 2015 regular season in almost every way compared to Flacco v.2012, and he had one of his best games of the season against the Redskins last week. Now he's going to have to do it again while also improving on the lowly 5.83 ypa he had during that Wild Card game.

There's no good way to look back and see any positives from the 38-8 beating the Packers had pasted on them by the Cardinals three weeks ago. The upgrade to Tretter (if Bakhtiari is still out with an ankle injury) over LT Don "revolving door" Barclay will make them much more competitive. While he had a good game against the Redskins, WR Davante Adams has been a problem all season and his MCL injury might provide a boost to the Packers' offense by giving more reps to WR Jared Abbrederis. But those are marginal improvements and not enough to overcome a 30 point difference. The Packers (Rodgers in particular) are going to have to play their best.

The Cardinals are a great team, and they're about as good in 2015 as the Packers were in their 2010 when they were on their way to the Super Bowl, but they're not without their flaws. Rodgers played great against the Redskins because his pass protection was solid. The Cardinals were outstanding at getting after Rodgers three weeks ago, but the benching of Barclay alone makes a big difference and the Cardinals aren't the best at pressuring the QB. They also lost two defensive players to injury over their bye week and were forced to sign LB Jason Babin to provide some depth for Saturday's game. Neither of the two players lost to injury (Okafor and Redding) are defensive cornerstones but it's a sign that the Cardinals don't have much of a pass rush outside of DE Calais Campbell.

There's no statistical advantage the Packers are bringing to their next playoff game; they're going to have to play their best game of the season if they want to beat the Cardinals on Saturday.

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