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Wednesday before Thursday Night Football: What to watch for in Packers-Cardinals

Cardinals are looking to improve to 8-0 for the first time in franchise history

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Green Bay Packers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The undefeated Arizona Cardinals (7-0) are set to host the Green Bay Packers (6-1) at State Farm Stadium in the battle of NFC’s best on Thursday Night Football.

Kliff Kingsbury and Matt LeFleur will clash for the first time since they were hired as a head coach for their respective teams in 2019. In Week 7, the Cardinals rolled over the Houston Texans with a 31-5 scorigami as LaFleur’s Packers took care of business at home against the Washington Football Team in a 24-10 win.

Taking a look at the Cardinals versus Packers matchups over the last two decades, they never seem to disappoint. The 2009 NFC Wild Card game and 2015 NFC Divisional Round are the two notable games between these teams that come to mind.

Kurt Warner took care of business against Aaron Rodgers in 2009. Carson Palmer did the same in 2015. Josh Rosen found a way to beat the Rodgers-led Packers in 2018. Will Kyler Murray be the next Cardinal in line to beat Aaron Rodgers?

Here are five Arizona Cardinals things to watch for in Week 8:

San Francisco 49ers v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

1. DeAndre Hopkins and Cardinals receivers vs Chandler Sullivan and Eric Stokes

The Packers are without shutdown cornerback Jaire Alexander (shoulder) on injured reserve but Chandler Sullivan rose to the occasion with four tackles and an interception in their 24-10 win over the Washington Football team last weekend. Rookie Eric Stokes has flashed at times this season but neither him or Sullivan have yet to face a team with an established NFL quarterback with premier receivers but that will change on Thursday.

Cardinals’ DeAndre Hopkins and A.J. Green are on pace for over 1,000 receiving yards on the season. They have a combined 20,265 receiving yards and 135 touchdowns in their respective careers as two of some of the best NFL receivers over the last decade. Kyler Murray is having an MVP-type season with 2,002 passing yards and 20 total touchdowns through only seven games. Let’s not forget Arizona also has other quality targets in Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz, Christian Kirk, and Rondale Moore. Packers’ cornerbacks will have their hands full on Thursday.

Arizona Cardinals v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

2. The return of starters Chandler Jones and Zach Allen to Cardinals’ defensive front seven

Zach Allen was coming off the best game of his career before landing on the COVID list. He had four tackles, two tackles for loss, and a sack in the 17-10 win over the 49ers in Week 5. Chandler Jones has not had a sack since Week 1 but he has, however, been able to create consistent pressure through the first five weeks of the season. They re-enter a front seven that got even better with the return of Jordan Phillips from injured reserve a couple weeks ago.

A healthier front seven for the Cardinals does not bode well for the Packers’ banged up offensive line. Royce Newman has struggled mightily at right guard as he is tied for the most sacks (4) allowed at his position. Right tackle Billy Turner had a rough weekend against Montez Sweat. Starting center Josh Myers is on injured reserve and their star offensive tackle David Bakhtiari has yet to take to the field this season as he recovers from an ACL tear from the end of last year. Pro Bowl guard Elgton Jenkins has filled in nicely for Bakhtiari at left tackle. J.J. Watt and company could have a very big day against Aaron Rodgers considering the Packers’ offensive line situation.

NFL: Arizona Cardinals Training Camp Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

3. Potentially Sean Harlow’s first career start on Thursday with Rodney Hudson on IR and Max Garcia questionable

With Max Garcia having not practiced the last two days with an Achilles injury, I think it is very fair to assume he will not play on Thursday. Then again, J.J. Watt and DeAndre Hopkins have not either so monitoring their practice status for Wednesday is a must. For now, that means the Cardinals will have yet another player starting at the center position with the next person in line being Sean Harlow.

Harlow was a fourth-round selection by the Atlanta Falcons in 2017 but has only played in six career games (five as a backup this season). He has practiced at center in the collegiate level at Oregon State as well as in the NFL (Falcons, Seahawks) but has not played the position in an actual game. If he does in fact start, he will have a huge challenge on his hands with Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kenny Clark coming to town. Clark has created the second-most pressures (29) at his position this season according to Pro Football Focus.

Arizona Cardinals v Cleveland Browns Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

4. Green Bay’s thin wide receiver corps and eye-catching stats that will prove beneficial for the Cardinals’ secondary

Davante Adams is the Packers’ leading receiver with 52 receptions, 744 receiving yards, and three touchdowns. Those stats will not matter for the Packers because both their No. 1 and No. 2 (Allen Lazard) wide receivers are highly unlikely to play after landing on the COVID-19 list. Guess who’s runner up to the Packers in receiving yards? Running back Aaron Jones with 186 on the season. That means Randall Cobb, Equanimeous St. Brown, and rookie Amari Rodgers will be their top three receivers unless Marquez Valdes-Scantling becomes healthy enough to play.

The Cardinals are the stingiest team against tight ends this season, allowing a league-best 156 yards and zero touchdowns to the position. I say inside linebacker Isaiah Simmons has come along very nicely since being taken No. 8 overall in the draft last year. Although tight end Robert Tonyan could be the primary beneficiary with the Packers’ top two receivers out, he only has 155 yards and two touchdowns on the season. Those four wide receivers listed above have a combined 288 receiving yards. With their inexperience and lack of production as a unit without Adams, I fully expect the Cardinals’ secondary to have one of their best games of the season.

Houston Texans v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

5. A win against a red-hot Packers team should silent doubters

Will the Packers be without many of their key players? No doubt about it, they will be short-handed. But the Cardinals were without their head coach, quarterbacks coach, and three starters in the thrashing of the Cleveland Browns in Week 6. The last I checked, Aaron Rodgers is still playing for the Green Bay Packers so they are still plenty good. The best teams can overcome adversity to win games. So, it is time to stop with the excuses. Both teams are on fire not because of sheer luck but because they “are just f*ing better” than the rest of the league. Of course the Rams, Buccaneers, and Cowboys are among the best teams too.

I will give respect where it is due. Aaron Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. It does not matter what weapons he has because Rodgers often finds a way to win. Remember Jeff Janis and Jared Abbrederis in the 2015 NFC Divisional game against the Cardinals? Yeah, unfamiliar players rose up to the occasion. Even though I pointed out the flaws of this Green Bay Packers’ team, they are 6-1 and are riding a six-game win streak for a reason. Safety Adrian Amos (47 tackles) and former Cardinals linebacker De’Vondre Campbell (2INT, 65.3 QB rating allowed) are playing really well for that Packers’ defense. However considering the Cardinals are almost back to full health and have incredible depth at almost every position (maybe except center), I do believe Arizona will have the edge in this matchup but not without a fight from a really good Packers squad.