Jason Wilde breaks down what he thinks the Green Bay Packers need to accomplish to extend their six-game winning streak when they take on the undefeated Arizona Cardinals Thursday night at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.
2. RUN RAGGEDUpdated
Rodgers is an admirer of Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (above), and he's a bit jealous of the youngster’s athletic gifts. Rodgers was an excellent high-school baseball pitcher; Murray was a first-round draft pick in baseball and could have been a Major League outfielder instead of a quarterback.
“Obviously an incredible athlete,” Rodgers said. “I’ve never seen him play baseball. But it seems like he made a really good decision because he’s a dynamic quarterback, football player, athlete.”
While Rodgers has been surprisingly spry at age 37 on runs of his own this season, it was Washington’s Taylor Heinicke who was the one running all over Lambeau’s green earth last Sunday, gaining 95 yards on 11 carries and giving the Packers defense a preview of what could happen if they’re not more disciplined in their pass-rush lanes against Murray.
“It’s a big challenge. You have to balance out being aggressive in your rush but also making sure that you’re not too aggressive,” defensive end Dean Lowry said. “If he finds a hole, he’s going to scramble and he’ll gash you. Just make sure we know where he’s at, collapsing the pocket. Because when he gets time back there and he can scramble, he’s at his best. That’s a big challenge for us facing a guy like that.”
Added safety Adrian Amos: “Kyler Murray is probably a little bit faster than (Heinicke). That’s something that we have to stop. That’s something that we have to be aware of, in the back end, for extended plays. When you’ve got a mobile quarterback like that, there’s going to be plays when he gets loose, there’s going to be plays when he gets outside the pocket. It’s up to us to contain him as best we can and then eliminate those big plays.”
1. SHORT WEEK, QUICK TURNAROUNDUpdated
There aren’t many things NFL players universally agree on. But their disdain for playing on Thursday Night Football has to be close to unanimous — even though they all like the bonus weekend off that comes with it.
“It's one of those Thursday games the league loves so much,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (above) said when asked how he feels about this matchup with the undefeated Cardinals. “They're obviously tough on the bodies, but we're looking forward to the challenge — and look forward to the three days off afterwards.”
Those days off are a lot more enjoyable when you win. The Packers’ challenge will be a bit greater, having to play without first-team All-Pro wide receiver Davante Adams, who tested positive for COVID-19, and No. 3 receiver Allen Lazard, who was deemed a high-risk close contact, but both teams are dealing with the same less-than-ideal preparation schedule.
This week, Packers coach Matt LaFleur made Tuesday a two-days-in-one session where the normal Wednesday (in the morning) and Thursday (in the afternoon) work was done and the team had a light jog-through instead of a usual practice. The team then had another walkthrough session Wednesday morning before leaving for Arizona around 1:30 p.m.
The Packers took a hybrid approach to their prep for last Sunday’s win over Washington, having their position coaches spend Friday and Saturday working on the Cardinals. Both coordinators — defensive coordinator Joe Barry, who will miss the game because of his own positive COVID-19 test, and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett — took extra plays into the Washington game so they’d have leftover plays that their guys practiced during the week that could be used against Arizona.
That means a simpler offensive approach than the team would take during a normal week.
“You want to try to keep as much carryover as you can or even look at the things you had planned for Washington that you might not have gotten to and if it fits for your upcoming opponent,” Hackett explained. “You always want to use that because you have banked (practice) reps. They'll be familiar for those guys.”
3. BOBBY’S BACKUpdated
Before Sunday’s win over Washington, Packers tight end Robert Tonyan (above) had just 11 receptions for 92 yards on the season. After his four catches for 63 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown, Tonyan — a year removed from catching 11 touchdown passes and being one of the NFC’s biggest Pro Bowl snubs — appears to be back after having limited opportunities earlier in the year.
“That was important, I think, for (Tonyan’s) confidence. Not that it wavered, but it's always good to be able to ball out like that and be able to watch that back,” Rodgers said. “I think there's a lot to be gleaned to be able to watch back your film of positive plays and you having success. We all need it. We all, at different times, need that confidence boost and to be able to go back so recently and see yourself making plays — the plays that you know you're capable of making that you haven't maybe had the opportunities (to make) as many times the first six weeks.”
LaFleur said keeping Tonyan in to help in pass protection before getting out on his routes had factored into his production, and the coach also acknowledged that he made “a concerted effort” to get Tonyan more involved against Washington. And without Adams or Lazard, that effort might be redoubled against Arizona.
“I wouldn’t say he’s had to change his game. It’s just, we’ve played some pretty darn good pass rushes, and unfortunately we’ve had to use him in a chip position quite a bit,” LaFleur said.
Said Tonyan: “It was good to back in the end zone, that’s for sure. Every day I go in just doing what is asked of me and what is going to help our team win. And (against Washington) I was a little bit more a part of the pass game, and it feels good — definitely.”
Jason Wilde covers the Packers for ESPN Wisconsin. Listen to him with former Packers and Badgers offensive lineman Mark Tauscher weekdays from 9 a.m. until noon on “Wilde & Tausch” on 100.5 FM ESPN Madison.
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Aaron Rodgers and the Packers extended their winning streak to seven games when they held off a late push from the Cardinals in Arizona.
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