Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015, file photo, Green Bay Packers
quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) looks to throw against the
Arizona Cardinals during the first half of an NFL football
game in Glendale, Ariz. The offensive line is battered. The
running game is inconsistent. Receivers aren't breaking out
for enough big plays. It all adds up to subpar season for
Rodgers, at least by the Packers' high standards.
GREEN BAY — The most important
member of the Green Bay Packers isn't necessarily Aaron Rodgers.
For Green Bay to have any chance at
beating Arizona on Saturday night in a NFC divisional round playoff
game, the offensive line will have to do a much better job of
protecting the quarterback.
The last time these teams met, on
Dec. 27, the Cardinals had virtually unfettered access into the
backfield with eight sacks of Rodgers and nine overall.
The game didn't exactly make for
enjoyable viewing for the offensive line during film review this
"It's not fun to watch it,"
right tackle Bryan Bulaga said Wednesday. "It was a learning
tape to take a look at, correct and move on."
With the line battered by injuries,
the Packers experienced one of their lowest points of the season in
the 38-8 loss at Arizona. The nightmarish trip included two fumbles
lost by Rodgers on sacks that led to Cardinals defensive touchdowns
Rodgers was sacked 13 times over the
final two weeks of the regular season, most in the league during
that stretch. Starting left tackle David Bakhtiari was out with an
ankle injury during that same period.
Momentum turned during last week's
35-18 victory over Washington. The Packers found a solid replacement
for Bakhtiari when jack-of-all-trades J.C. Tretter got the start.
Protection improved as the game
progressed. The Packers' quick tempo added energy and kept the
Redskins' defense on the field.
"Eventually, their bulls got a
little less power, their speed rush is a little slower and
everything kind of slows down for you, and that plays to your
advantage a little bit," Tretter said about how a fast-paced
attack helps the offensive line.
Tretter's outing gives the Packers
some peace of mind that they can effectively replace Bakhtiari if
Rodgers' regular blind-side protector remains sidelined.
Tretter got help at times on the
edge, but Rodgers liked the protection overall even when Tretter was
going one on one. The Packers also got the ball out quickly to
receivers who made big plays.
"Feel a lot better," coach
Mike McCarthy said. "I think it's clearly something that, one
of the things that we needed to improve on from prior games, and JC
Tretter gave us that."
Arizona coach Bruce Arians said the
game wasn't the beat-down that the score seemed to reflect.
"I don't really think we
dominated them in any form or fashion," Arians said,
"other than we got a couple of good fumbles and picked them up
and scored with them. They're too good, and we didn't get their best
shot because they didn't have their best players."
More help might be on the way for
Green Bay with Bakhtiari practicing on Wednesday on a limited basis.
Bulaga is healthy again after leaving the Arizona game with an ankle
The Cardinals know another nine-sack
performance isn't likely.
"I don't think you ever set out
with those kind of numbers in mind," Arizona defensive
coordinator James Bettcher said after Wednesday's practice.
"But I've said it all along, the biggest thing is
If Rodgers doesn't have time to
throw, the offense can get thrown off-kilter. The running game has
been inconsistent, so it's a mystery each week as to whether
tailbacks Eddie Lacy and James Starks can relieve the pressure.
There is much that can be done to
annoy the Green Bay quarterback even if he's not on the ground,
"We've got to keep him throwing
off his back foot," he said. "We've got to keep his eyes
up. In other words we can't let him have clear sight lines down the
And, of course, Arizona is well aware
of Rodgers' ability to evade the rush, run around in the backfield,
then get the ball away to a receiver.
"We know it's a scramble
drill," Bettcher said. "Every down is off-time throws,
even more in the red zone, but we've got to be great in plastering
Arizona will be without one of its
best pass rushers. Outside linebacker Alex Okafor injured his toe
during the team's weekend off and is out for the playoffs. Arians
wouldn't say what Okafor was doing when he was hurt.
Bettcher mentioned four players who
would rotate into Okafor's spot. One would be Dwight Freeney, who
had three sacks (one a strip sack) against the Packers. He plays
only in passing situations.
GREEN BAY— Starting cornerback Sam
Shields has returned to Green Bay Packers practice with the team
preparing for an NFC divisional-round playoff game against Arizona.
Shields was limited in practice
Wednesday. Shields suffered a concussion in Week 14 against Dallas,
and he has missed every game since, including last week's win
against Washington in the wild-card game.
Getting Shields back would be a boost
for a secondary that must contend with veteran Larry Fitzgerald and
the Cardinals' speedy receivers on Saturday night.
Cornerback Quinten Rollins missed
practice for the Packers with a quadriceps injury.
On offense, receiver Davante Adams
sat out practice with a right knee injury. Rollins and Adams got
hurt in the Redskins game.
Starting left tackle David Bakhtiari,
who has an ankle injury, was limited in practice.