After allowing Ryan Longwell (one of the great all-time kicker names) to depart to Minnesota in the off-season, the Packers may have gotten lucky with second year specialist Dave Rayner. While he hasn't been perfect (10 of 13 thus far this season), he has been more consistent than Neil Rackers. Scott Player continues to be spectacularly average and Green Bay punter Jon Ryan has a powerful leg (46.7 average), but has had only 5 of his 32 punts downed inside the 20 all season.
In the return game, neither team's coverage unit has been anywhere near average all season. Expect that to stop this week, if for no other reason than the fact that J.J. Arrington and Troy Walters strike no fear in the opposition and Vernand Morency and Noah Herron for the Packers haven't separated themselves from the dregs of the NFL, either. At some point, the Packers are going to realize that having Greg Jennings or Charles Woodson return punts is a foolish act that exposes key players to injury. Let's hope they realize that after one of these two guys goes down on Sunday.
Special teams is a wash. The only thing to worry about in a battle of weakness against weakness is if someone misses an assignment and one of the teams (hopefully not the Cardinals) lets up a big return or misses a crucial kick.
This game will be defined by Arizona's ability to attack the intermediate middle and perimeter of the field in the passing game. By getting the ball into the hands of their playmakers over the linebackers and in front of the safeties, Anquan Boldin, Troy Walters, and Bryant Johnson should have a fun day running wild against a poor tackling Green Bay secondary.
On defense, the key is to take away Favre's favorite targets (Donald Driver and Greg Jennings) in the passing game and force the Packers to play mistake-free football (no interceptions, no dropped passes). If they're made to march down the field and consistently execute, they will start making mistakes kill drives with either turnovers or failed third down conversions.
One of the better games the Packers played this year was a Monday night game against the Eagles. They kept the game close until Philadelphia realized that all they had to do was make the Packers and Brett Favre work for the yardage they needed. At that point, Green Bay imploded and ended up getting blown off the field.
The big advantage the Packers hold over the Cardinals is in the running game. Their ability to effectively run the ball and Arizona's complete lack of any production with their $30 million man, Edgerrin James. Arizona's front seven needs to continue to be aggressive in pursuit of the ball carrier, intelligent in gap control, and keep winning the battles at the line of scrimmage. They've stopped better backs running behind better offensive lines already this season. They just need to continue their high level of play.
As far as Sunday's game being the one. The game where Edge finally busts out and runs for 150 yards and two scores? You can forget it. With excellent two-way defenders like Aaron Kampman and Corey Williams on the defensive line, and highly skilled, athletic, sure tackling linebackers like A.J. Hawk and Nick Barnett, Green Bay simply has the Cardinals outmatched in this one. Hey, they do get to play the 49ers again this season!
Finally, coordinator Clancy Pendergast needs to continue to keep the heat on the quarterback on defense. While Adrian Wilson is needed to help double his man on the outside and Gerald Hayes must shadow Ahman Green and William Henderson, everyone else, from Calvin Pace to Orlando Huff to Karlos Dansby to nickel cornerback David Macklin should be sent on blitzes. The more exotic the better. The more well disguised the better, as Favre is still one of the best in the NFL at diagnosing a defense at the line of scrimmage.
On paper, this looks like a game that heavily favors the Cardinals, even playing at storied Lambeau Field. However, the game are played on the field, where Arizona has not had success this year.
I seriously think the Cardinals will be able to contain Green in the running game, keep him from killing them when he comes out of the backfield as a receiver, pressure Favre, and take away big plays to Driver and Jennings. I seriously think Boldin, Walters, and Johnson (even Leonard Pope) will find plenty of open real estate in the 10-15 yard range in the passing game. That Mike Kruczek will call enough running plays to keep Green Bay's defense honest and set up deep passes by Matt Leinart off of playaction.
I think Favre will start to wilt under the unrelenting pressure the Cardinals will be able to bring and throw at least two costly interceptions. And, I think that, if Arizona has the lead inside of two minutes, that Favre will be the Favre of late and not the Favre of old, tossing a ball up for grabs instead of jamming it in a tight space between three defenders or simply throwing the ball away.
I think the Cardinals can win a close game against this team. I think that we won't have to worry about it being close, that the Cardinals should win by at least a touchdown.
I think all of this. I just can't seem to force myself to believe it.
Prediction: Packers 27, Cardinals 20.