The Green Bay Packers looked like a team suffering from a Halloween hangover Sunday afternoon, but a win is a win, and that's exactly what the Packers got with a 24-15 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Perhaps a closer-than-expected game was in the works for Green Bay, a team stung by a rash of injuries in the weeks leading up to its clash with the Jaguars. Players missing in action for the Packers included Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Nick Perry, John Kuhn, Sam Shields and Charles Woodson.
That's a long list of key guys who weren't in uniform for the Packers on Sunday, and it showed as Aaron Rodgers clearly couldn't find his rhythm without his top two receivers and a struggling rushing attack.
Green Bay is banged up, but it is a team that has now won three games in a row heading into its final game before its bye week against the Arizona Cardinals.
The bye couldn't come at a better time for an ailing Packers' squad, but first it needs to take care of business against a reeling Cardinals team that lost its fourth straight game Monday night against the 49ers by a score of 24-3.
If head coach Mike McCarthy wants to be conservative, he will hold out Shields and Perry as well as defensive linemen Jerel Worthy and Mike Neal, who exited Sunday's game with a concussion and ankle injury, respectively.
On offense, Jennings is weeks away from a return and still awaiting abdominal surgery thanks to Hurricane Sandy. Nelson worked out before the Jacksonville game, so the Packers seem optimistic that the hick from the sticks will play against the Cardinals, per Jason Wilde.
— Jason Wilde (@jasonjwilde) October 29, 2012
McCarthy on Nelson: "We worked out before the game yesterday, so he's close."
— Jason Wilde (@jasonjwilde) October 29, 2012
While all of those injuries are concerning to say the least, getting Nelson back for the Arizona game would give Aaron Rodgers the same receiving corps he had when he lit up the defenses of Houston and St. Louis.
Speaking of defenses, Green Bay's secondary unit allowed over 300 yards passing from Blaine Gabbert, who ranks No. 26 in the NFL in passer rating. His performance was marred by several dropped passes, and there were multiple plays that went for over 20 yards through the air.
Such is to be expected when playing two rookies at cornerback on a majority of the defensive snaps. Davon House and Casey Hayward have both showed promise, but consistency needs to be the main focus for the two youngsters.
Arizona's quarterback situation is actually in worse shape than Jacksonville's. Kevin Kolb had been putting up decent numbers up until his rib injury, but he isn't expected back until late November or early December.
That leaves John Skelton as the man under center for the Cardinals. In his limited time at quarterback this season, Skelton boasts a 64.5 QB rating with a 57.9 completion percentage, one touchdown and four interceptions.
Of course, Arizona has the threat of Larry Fitzgerald, one of the most potent wide receivers in the game, but it's up to Skelton to deliver him the football. It should come as no surprise that Fitz is Skelton's favorite target thus far, hitting him for 15 catches and 223 yards this season.
It will be up to Tramon Williams to shut down Fitzgerald, but not far behind the star receiver is Andre Roberts as far as production is concerned when Skelton is in at quarterback. That's where things could get dicey if Shields is unable to play, as it will be up to House and Hayward to limit the Cardinals No. 2 receiver.
All that being said, the Packers actually hold an edge in the ground game, and Green Bay's rush defense has been stronger than the Cardinals' run D. The Packers will also benefit from a full six days of rest, whereas Arizona will be coming off a short week.
It may come down to which defense can generate the best pass rush and provide the most pressure in the backfield, as each team's offensive line has performed poorly this season.
Green Bay leads the league in sacks, while no quarterback in the league has been sacked more than Aaron Rodgers (28). However, Arizona's offensive line has allowed the most sacks in the NFL by a large margin between Kolb (27) and Skelton (12).
A lot could also come down to whether or not Nelson and Shields are able to give it a go. Arizona features a stout pass defense led by cornerback Patrick Peterson—although you wouldn't know it from Monday night—and Shields' availability could drastically affect how the Packers want to deal with Fitzgerald and Co.
Regardless, this game is crucial heading into the bye week. Should Green Bay lose, the Cardinals will hold the tiebreaker with the same record as the Packers. Arizona was the surprise team coming out of the gates, and even though it has faltered as of late, the Cardinals would technically be in better shape following Week 9 than the Packers should they walk out of Lambeau with a win.
For the Packers, they would love to enter their bye week with a four-game winning streak and a 6-3 record after falling below .500 early in the season following a couple of gut-wrenching defeats.
Having an extra week to get players healthy would be an added bonus coming off another victory. Nelson, Shields, Perry, Kuhn and Worthy would all figure to be healthy enough to play by the time Green Bay comes back to play against Detroit, if not this week against Arizona.
Health is a pressing issue for the Packers right now, and if they are able to knock off the Cards, they can use the bye to get (somewhat) healthy and gear up for the second half of the season riding all sorts of momentum.
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