With the Redskins and Packers set to meet Sunday in the Wild Card round of the NFL playoffs, we go behind enemy lines for insight on Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay's struggling offense and more with Bill Huber from Scout's Packer Report.
1) Looking at the three potential playoff options, many thought the Redskins would be better off facing the Packers. How does everyone up there feel about getting Washington?
It’s funny. I’m not sure if it’s the majority of fans, because you hate to gauge such things on Twitter, but a lot of fans were openly hoping the Packers would “throw” last week’s game against Minnesota, figuring being the No. 5 seed and playing at Washington was a better option than being the No. 3 seed and hosting Seattle (with fans assuming the Seahawks would lose at Arizona).
I tried my best to point out the lunacy in that thinking. I think most of the fans smelled the stench of the NFC East and figured the Redskins were as stinky as the rest of those teams. As I kept saying, Washington is really good at home and quarterback Kirk Cousins is as hot as any quarterback in the league. So, the fans got their wish. We’ll see if they regret that line of thinking.
2) Aaron Rodgers is the one of the all-time great quarterbacks, but he wasn't at his usual level this season. How much was the loss of Jordy Nelson, the offensive line issues, Davante Adams dropping every pass or Rodgers simply having something of a down year?
I think it starts with Nelson and snowballed from there. As I’ve pointed out countless times to my readers, Nelson had more 60-yard touchdown catches last season than 30 of the other 31 teams had 60-yard passing plays, touchdown or nontouchdown. That’s how dominant the Rodgers-to-Nelson long-ball connection had become. Without Nelson, the Packers have no deep threat. You don’t have to go to defensive coordinator school to figure out the rest. Opponents crowded the line of scrimmage to take away the underneath stuff, content that nobody could beat them deep. And that’s about how it’s worked out.
Rodgers hasn’t risen to the occasion, though. I’m not sure what the deal is there. Perhaps he had grown so accustomed to having an all-star team around him that he didn’t know how to adjust to the uncertainty of whether anyone would get open before the pass rush arrived. From there, it’s all gone downhill. No speed at receiver or tight end, a beat-up offensive line that hasn’t played together in six weeks, an inconsistent running game — I think it’s all weighed on Rodgers and affected his performance and decision-making.
3) Kirk Cousins mania is sweeping the area with "You like that" chants popping up all over town. What's the sense from the Packers side about facing Washington's QB?
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers spoke highly of Cousins this week. And for good reason. He’s No. 1 in the NFL in completion percentage. DeSean Jackson has provided a lethal deep threat. When you look at Cousins’ yards per attempt, it’s really impressive.
Throughout his tenure in Green Bay, Capers’ defenses have feasted on mediocre quarterbacks but struggled against elite quarterbacks. You saw that last week against Minnesota’s Teddy Bridgewater, who was horrendous, and the week before against Arizona’s Carson Palmer, who lit them up in the first half. Cousins is a good player and he’s surrounded by a great supporting cast on the perimeter. This will be a heck of a challenge.
4) Seems to us that the key may be whether the Redskins can apply pass rush pressure on Rodgers. Do you agree and if not, what say you?
That’s the formula every week for every quarterback, but Rodgers was somewhat immune to that in years past. He’s just got that innate ability to escape from pressure, extend the play and fire a strike down the field for a big gain. That was the case for the start of this season, too. That’s disappeared down the stretch, though. He’s been the NFL’s most-sacked quarterback over the last 10 games. Entering this season, Rodgers ranked No. 3 in NFL history in yards per attempt. This season, he’s 30th. No, that’s not a typo. Part of it is all the issues surrounding the Packers’ offense; part of it is defenses rushing with discipline so he can’t get out of the pocket. That puts the pressure on Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith to be disciplined in their rush.
5) Whether an injury, a underrated player or possible strategy decision, what's a storyline Redskins fans should keep an eye on?
Green Bay lost veteran cornerbacks Tramon Williams and Davon House in free agency during the offseason. That put the pressure on Sam Shields to take over as the No. 1 cornerback and for rookies Damarious Randall (first round) and Quinten Rollins (second round) to grow up in a hurry. They’ve done that.
When healthy, Sam Shields has been excellent. Presumably, he’ll be back after missing the last three games with a concussion and will use his speed to try to negate Jackson. Randall, a former college baseball player, got eaten up by Oakland’s Amari Cooper a couple weeks ago but generally has been up to the challenge. Rollins, a former college basketball player who played one season of college football, has gotten better as the season has progressed. Obviously, Shields, Randall, Rollins and standout slot cornerback Casey Hayward will be in the spotlight on Sunday against Cousins and Co. Who steps up? The young corners or the young quarterback?
Extra point: Prediction and key?
Last week at this time, I said the Packers would lose to the Vikings and then lose to the Redskins. I’ll stand by that. Washington’s defense is bad, but I’m not sure it matters. If the Packers’ offense hasn’t delivered for the last 10 weeks, why should things change for the playoffs? But, Rodgers still has that track record. He’s a two-time MVP. Who knows, maybe he’ll get hot. For that to happen, Adams needs to play like he did in last year’s playoff game against Dallas, when he had 117 receiving yards. Adams has had a miserable second season but he made a couple plays last week. If the Packers are going to make a run, it’s going to be up to Adams.
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