3 Storylines: Packers at Cardinals

Ryan Wood
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Each Tuesday, Press-Gazette Media will turn to the week ahead with three storylines for the Green Bay Packers’ next game. This weekend, the opponent is the Arizona Cardinals. Here’s a glimpse of what to watch for when the Packers travel to Arizona for a 3:25 p.m. kickoff Sunday.

Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald #11 of the Arizona Cardinals runs with the football after a reception against the St. Louis Rams.

1. Road test: There could be playoff implications on the line Sunday. A win over the Cardinals would pull the Packers within one game of the No. 2 seed in the NFC standings. With Arizona finishing its season against the red-hot Seattle Seahawks, the Packers’ head-to-head tiebreaker could be the difference in earning a first-round bye. What’s potentially as important as the standings – if also less tangible – is the chance for coach Mike McCarthy to get one last, quality gauge of his team on the road before January. The Packers are going to need to win at least one road game – probably multiple – if they are to advance to the Super Bowl. The Cardinals certainly are beatable at home. Despite their 5-1 home record, their past two wins each have been by only a field goal. This will be a playoff atmosphere against a playoff opponent, and McCarthy wasted no time before moving past his team’s win in Oakland and onto this week.

2. No shield of defense: Elite receivers have gashed the Packers when top cornerback Sam Shields has been unable to play this season, and Sunday was no different. With Shields out because of a concussion, Raiders rookie receiver Amari Cooper had six catches for 120 yards and two touchdowns. Earlier this season in Denver, Demaryius Thomas had eight catches for 168 yards when a shoulder injury knocked Shields out early in the Packers' game against the Broncos. While the Packers have young talent in their secondary, Shields has quietly played at a Pro Bowl level this season. He seamlessly has locked down the top cornerback job with blanket coverage against the opponent’s top receiver each week. They’ll need him this week when they face Larry Fitzgerald. Twelve seasons into his potential Hall of Fame career, Fitzgerald remains an elite receiver. He ranks third in the NFL with 99 receptions, eighth with 1,131 yards and has seven touchdown catches. Without Shields on the field, Fitzgerald has the ability to rip up the Packers’ secondary.

3. Kitchen-sink offense: At one point Sunday, Randall Cobb was the Packers’ featured running back. Jared Abbrederis is quickly becoming Aaron Rodgers’ go-to receiver. John Kuhn had 47 snaps in Oakland, which was 19 more than Eddie Lacy. Desperation can do some weird things, and the Packers' offense is clearly desperate to find something – anything – that works. They have two games left to find their rhythm before the playoffs begin. It won’t be easy this week. Even after losing safety Tyrann Mathieu to an ACL tear, the Cardinals remain one of the league’s most talented defenses. The Packers have struggled mightily against talented defenses this season, but this week would be a good time to change that. Nothing is more important than getting on track offensively. If they don’t, the Packers will have a short postseason stay. and follow him on Twitter @ByRyanWood

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