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The Green Bay Packers (6-1) are headed to Arizona to play the undefeated Cardinals (7-0) on Thursday night. The primetime contest looks like one of the best matchups of the NFL season so far.
The Packers and Cardinals haven’t faced off since 2018 and haven’t played in Arizona since the 2015 playoffs. Talented on both sides of the football, Kliff Kingsbury’s team looks like one of the early Super Bowl favorites.
To help preview the important NFC showdown, Packers Wire asked six questions of Jess Root, the managing editor of Cards Wire. Here’s the Q&A.
This team was 8-8 last year. What has changed for the Cardinals?
Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury.
Cards Wire: This team is actually more like the 5-2 team they were last year, but we can point to health and talent. They didn’t have Chandler Jones after Week 5. Only one defensive lineman played all 16 games. The receiver room is stacked. They added former Pro Bowlers in A.J. Green, J.J. Watt, Rodney Hudson, Matt Prater and now Zach Ertz. Plus, after fading last season, their focus is single-minded on every single game.
Packers Wire takeaway: The Cardinals were one of those teams on the cusp of becoming good last season, but a few pieces were missing. The team added a bunch of veteran talent this offseason and the quarterback took a step to open this season, creating this awesome start. Like the Packers, they look like they’ll be one of the favorites to be the top seed in the NFC.
The Cardinals have four players with at least 300 receiving yards, and they just added TE Zach Ertz. How dynamic is this offense?
Chris Coduto-USA TODAY Sports
Cards Wire: Honestly, unless a team can create negative plays with sacks and force turnovers, there is no stopping the offense. There are too many players to defend. The running game is great and Kyler Murray isn’t contributing anything there this year. They have two elite outside receivers (A.J. Green is still there in talent), they have Christian Kirk in the slot and Rondale Moore’s speed and shiftiness embarrasses defenders. Now they have a top-notch tight end. Basically, the only way the offense fails is if they make mistakes.
Packers Wire takeaway: This is going to be an awesome test for a Packers defense that has faced Justin Fields and Taylor Heinicke the last two weeks. Chicago and Washington are two of the worst offenses in football. Arizona might be the best.
A lot of Packers fans wanted J.J. Watt this offseason. How good has he been in Arizona?
Rob Schumacher-Arizona Republic
Cards Wire: The numbers aren’t there, but his impact has been enormous. He has been incredibly disruptive. He is among the top of the league in total pressures and his three forced turnovers because of pressure are tied with two other Cardinals for the most in the league. Add in his leadership and the presence he is in the locker room and you have a perfect fit.
Packers Wire takeaway: The insistence on the Packers signing Watt was never about the Wisconsin ties. He’s a great player, and he would have made the Packers better. He’s helping the Cardinals take the next step to start 2021.
Where have the Cardinals struggled this season? Any weak spots?
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Cards Wire: Honestly, they have not had any weaknesses thus far. They have been great on offense. They have been great on defense. They are situationally great on third and fourth down both on offense and defense. They are great in the red zone. They have managed the clock well. Kyler Murray did have interceptions in the first possession of the second half of the Cardinals’ first three games. But it has been that sort of season. Everything is going right.
Packers Wire takeaway: Can the Packers create a big turnover or two from Murray? They might need a couple well-timed takeaways to win on Thursday night.
Is there a way to slow down Kyler Murray?
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Cards Wire: Truthfully, Kyler’s kryptonite is sacks for big losses. It’s not easy to do because he can escape so well. But if the Packers can get quick pressure from more than one direction, it doesn’t allow him to get away. Interior pressure is better, but that is easier said than done, as their centers have been great. Right guard Josh Jones has struggled more the last two games.
Packers Wire takeaway: The Packers are going to need a big night from everyone along the defensive front, including Kenny Clark, Rashan Gary, Kingsley Keke and Dean Lowry.
Prediction! Are you confident in the Cardinals winning this?
Cards Wire: This was going to be a tossup for me before. However, with no Davante Adams, I think the Cardinals control this game early. I don’t think the Packers defense can slow Arizona’s offense, but Aaron Rodgers will lead a second-half comeback. He will fall short at the end, though, because the Cardinals will run out the clock. Cardinals 31, Packers 27.
Packers Wire takeaway: Sounds about right. Winning this game on a short week without four All-Pros is going to be incredibly difficult.