4 Downs with Dougherty: Shields sorely missed
Every week I'll share four quick thoughts the day after the Green Bay Packers' game. Here they are after the Packers' 38-8 loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday:
First down: This was one game in which the Packers definitely missed cornerback Sam Shields. They have two promising young cover men in rookies Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins, but with Shields inactive for the second straight game because of a concussion we saw how valuable he is against the better passing teams in the league.
Arizona has one of the fastest and deepest receiving corps in the NFL with two big, strong athletic receivers in Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd, and a burner in John Brown. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers appeared to play more zone coverage than usual, and Shields’ absence had to be a factor in that decision.
Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer kept finding the holes in the zones and the best matchup in one-on-one coverage on his way to a solid 107.8 passer rating and excellent 9.8-yard average per pass attempt.
The Packers covered OK, but Shields probably would have made Palmer’s life a little tougher.
Second down: Capers showed a new personnel grouping that brought back the days when Fritz Shurmur was running the Packers’ defense in the 1990s. It was a 3-3-5 look: nickel personnel in the secondary (i.e., five defensive backs), but with three true defensive linemen and three linebackers.
Capers’ usual nickel includes two true defensive linemen along with two outside linebackers who in effect form a four-man line, plus two inside linebackers. So for instance the new set at times included Mike Daniels, Mike Pennel and B.J. Raji on the defensive line, with Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers and Jake Ryan at linebacker.
That lineup theoretically is better at stopping the run than the normal nickel because of the third true defensive lineman, though it didn’t seem to work any better than the normal nickel against Arizona.
Third down: The Packers have played the NFC’s top two seeds, Carolina and Arizona, and to me Arizona looks like the better team.
Carolina quarterback Cam Newton is having a great season and is a huge, gifted passer and runner. But Palmer has more weapons at receiver, and rookie halfback David Johnson is an explosive-looking runner who’s also a tough matchup coming out of the backfield in the passing game.
Arizona just might be the best team in the league, though playmaking defensive back Tyrann Mathieu’s recent season-ending knee injury was a huge blow.
Fourth down: Arizona’s Calais Campbell isn’t a particularly big name in the NFL, but we saw Sunday why he’s a Pro Bowler and prototypical 3-4 defensive lineman. At 6-foot-8 and 308 pounds, he was a disruptive force no matter where he lined up on the interior of the line.
Campbell had six tackles and 2 ½ sacks, and his most impressive play came early in the second quarter, on a third-and-12 pass rush. The Packers double teamed him with center Corey Linsley and guard T.J. Lang, but Campbell split them and dropped Rodgers before he could get off the throw.