The Green Bay Packers head into their matchup against the Carolina Panthers flying high with the return of Aaron Rodgers, even if they don’t want to admit it.
“We all gotta play. He’s not walking onto that field by himself.” Said wide receiver Randall Cobb when asked about Rodgers’ return. “He’s the greatest out there, but he can’t do it all by himself and he relies on us…”
The Packers maintain that he isn’t coming back as a “savior”, but they understand exactly what his presence on the field does for their playoff hopes and beyond.
“We understand the impact that Aaron Rodgers makes on our football team….We’re 7 – 6. We understand what’s on the line here. Carolina is in a similar position….We’re preparing for a playoff-like atmosphere.” Said head coach Mike McCarthy.
The Panthers hold one of the final two playoff spots in the NFC that GrBay bay is after. The Packers are coming off two straight overtime victories keeping their season alive. At 9 – 4, The Carolina Panthers have won five out of their last six games including an impressive performance last week snapping the Minnesota Vikings eight game winning streak. Green bay will have to figure out a way to contain former MVP Cam Newton to keep their playoff chances alive.
Here are the five things to watch:
Packers vs. Panthers: Five Things To Watch
Aaron Rodgers Rust
Many are wondering how Aaron Rodgers will perform Sunday after missing 8 weeks with a broken collarbone. In 2013, Rodgers came back from the same injury needing to beat the Chicago Bears in the final week of the season. The game was anything but a typical Rodgers performance as he looked sluggish through the first half. He threw two interceptions (one in the red zone) and fumbled once. Packer fans are hoping that the adjustment period does not last as long this time around as Green Bay doesn’t have the luxury of playing a Jay Cutler led team.
The Packers have gotten off to fast starts this year as they lead the NFL with seven opening drive touchdowns. The problem has been what they do after. For the past two weeks, the Packers offense has followed up an opening score with consecutive possessions in which they do nothing but flip the field position. Having Aaron Rodgers should obviously help this situation as his experience with the offense opens up the playbook allowing him to make adjustments and reads that Brett Hundley just can’t.
Offensive Line Protection
It’s fairly simple. Can Green Bay’s offensive line protect Aaron Rodgers? The Panthers have one of the best defensive fronts in the league led by linebacker Luke Kuechly. The Carolina defense ranks 3rd in total sacks with 40.0 and 1st in adjusted sack rate getting a sack on 9.5% of pass attempts just ahead of the Jacksonville Jaguars (9.4%). The Packers offensive line is allowing a sack on 9.2% of pass attempts for the season (30th). The play of all-pro left tackle David Bakhtiari and emergence of rookie tackle Jason Spriggs, starting in place of Bryan Bulaga, has stabilized the play of the line over the last 2 week. The Packers will have their hands full Sunday trying to stop Carolina’s pass rush.
Cornerback Davon House has been ruled out leaving Damarious Randall as the number one cornerback heading into the game. Randall’s versatility has been key with all the injuries to Packers corners this year. He’ll have the responsibility of slowing down the Panthers number one wideout Devin Funchess who has been looked upon to be “the guy” for Cam Newton since trading away Kelvin Benjamin. Funchess has responded by catching seven touchdowns on 13.4 yards per reception
The Packers kick returner has been one of the more exciting players for Green Bay this year. He has tons of speed, but has had bad luck this year with penalties bringing back big returns. Over the course of the last 2 games, he has been a big factor in momentum and field position. He earned “Special Teams Player Of The Week” honors for his 65-yard return last week to set up the game-tying drive. Davis looks primed for another big week.