Green Bay Packers v. Panthers: 7 Things to Watch for

As the Green Bay Packers take on the Carolina Panthers, here are seven things to keep your eyes on as the game unfolds. 

The Green Bay Packers have clinched the NFC North and are currently the NFC's No. 1 seed entering the final three games of the season. If they can win out, then the NFC playoffs will go through Lambeau Field. Step 1, however, is beating the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
 
Although Carolina is just 4-9 on the season, this is still a well-coached team under first-year head coach Matt Rhule and a team with plenty of young talent. Not to mention that as Matt LaFleur pointed out on Thursday, seven of the Panthers' nine losses have been by only one score. 
 
Every week on Twitter, I bullet point what I'll be watching for during each Packer game. And with this week's game being on a Saturday, I thought this was an excellent opportunity to do the same thing here at CheeseheadTV, but in greater detail. So let's dive in.

No McCaffrey, but watch out for Mike Davis

All week, Rhule alluded to Christian McCaffrey not being able to play in Saturday's game, and on the most recent injury report, he was listed as doubtful. McCaffrey is certainly someone who could wreak havoc on this Packers' defense, and although Mike Davis is no McCaffrey, he can still cause plenty of issues.
 
Davis is averaging over four yards per carry and has 371 receiving yards this season. For reference, Aaron Jones has 285 receiving yards, although he has missed two games. Green Bay is giving up 50.8 receiving yards per game to running backs, the most in football, and 8.92 yards per catch, which is the third most. 
 
For a Panthers team that will want to control the clock and keep Aaron Rodgers on the sidelines, I won't be surprised if we see a heavy dose of Mike Davis between the tackles and in the passing game as well. 

Pressure on Bridgewater

Teddy Bridgewater isn't going to do anything too spectacular, but he also isn't going to make a ton of mistakes. The best way for the Green Bay Packers to disrupt him and this Carolina offense is to pressure him. Now, I know that's not ground-breaking information by any means, but it is something that he has not handled well this season.
 
When under pressure, Bridgewater is completing only 57 percent of his passes, with just one touchdown to six interceptions, and has a passer rating of 53.3. By most metrics, the Panthers' offensive line is around league average, either slightly above or below, depending on what you're looking at. 
 
So while the Packer pass rush may not have a field day as they did against Philadelphia, they should find some success, and doing so could very well lead to some turnover-worthy opportunities and stalled drives. 

Panthers and the deep ball

Bridgewater doesn't take many shots downfield, but he and his receivers have been fairly effective when he does. DJ Moore is fifth out of 50 eligible receivers with 382 deep receiving yards -- passes that travel at least 20 yards -- while Robby Anderson ranks 22nd with 238 yards. For more context, Davante Adams has 331 yards, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling has 302.
 
There is also Curtis Samuel to worry about, who doesn't have nearly as many targets as Moore and Anderson but has been very efficient when thrown to, catching six of eight passes for 154 yards with two touchdowns on deep balls. 
 
The good news for the Packers is that they are one of the best when it comes to not giving up the big passing play, and you can thank Mike Pettine for that one. This is a battle of strength verse strength, but with Jaire Alexander and hopefully a bounce-back game from Kevin King, it's a  matchup that Green Bay should be able to handle. 

Special Teams

I don't foresee the Panthers just rolling over; I expect them to put up a fight. With that said, Green Bay should absolutely win. But do you know how you let an inferior opponent hang around? Special teams mistakes. Something that the Packers are becoming very familiar with. 
 
Over the last month, the special teams unit has either given the opponent the lead or let them back into the game. There was the punt return by Jacksonville that gave them a second-quarter lead. In Indianapolis, a fumbled kick return took the ball away from Rodgers and put the Colts in scoring position. There was another punt return against Philadelphia that cut the lead to only one score. And last week, a 71-yard kick return ended in three points and made it another one-score game.
 
These are the kinds of mistakes that will cost you games, and it's a trend that needs to stop.

Another Big Day for Big Bob?

Robert Tonyan is having an incredibly efficient season, catching 46 of his 52 targets for 553 yards with nine touchdowns. He actually has more touchdown receptions than incompletions. While the Carolina secondary is far from great, they have been solid this season. We know that Davante Adams is going to put up numbers, but with the Panthers' struggles against tight ends, perhaps Big Bob is WR2 on Saturday.
 
Tight ends are averaging over eight targets per game against Carolina, the second-most in football and their nearly six receptions are the most. The Panthers have given up nearly 60 yards per game and six touchdowns as well. Odds are if Big Bob is getting eight targets, he's finding the end zone at least once. 

Ball Security

We know that Aaron Rodgers likely isn't going to provide any turnover-worthy passes to the Panthers, but where the Green Bay Packers do need to be on alert is when they have the ball and are looking to pick up more yards. This Carolina defense leads the NFL with 13 takeaways via fumble recoveries, which is two more than the second-place Ravens. Watch out for that Peanut-Punch. 

Brian Burns and Rashan Gary

During last year's draft, many fans wanted the Packers to select Brian Burns, but instead, Green Bay went with Rashan Gary. At this point in their short careers, Burns has been the more productive player, although he's also been on the field much more as well. 
 
Gary has been picking up steam in recent weeks, recording at least four pressures in three of the Packers' last five games. As I mentioned, due to the difference in playing time, Burns' overall numbers are more impressive, but they're nearly identical from an efficiency standpoint.
 
By Pro Football Focus' pass-rush productivity metric, which measures the rate at which a player pressures the quarterback on a per-snap basis with a heavier weighting towards sacks, Burns ranks 18th among edge-rushers with a rate of 7.9 while Gary ranks 19th at 7.8.
 
It's not as if these two will be squaring off against each other, but I imagine many will be checking the box score at the end of Saturday's matchup. 

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Born and raised in Green Bay, WI and I still call it home. After my family, watching the Packers, sharing my opinions on the team through my writing and interacting with other fans is my greatest passion. You can find me on Twitter at @Paul_Bretl. 
 

5 points

Comments (20)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
Mojo's picture

December 18, 2020 at 12:26 pm

Since you mentioned PFF as it relates to Gary v. Burns, according to PFF they have Burns with a 2020 defensive grade of 82.7 (8th out of 110) edge guys and Gary with a 58.4 grade (77th out of 110).

Burns has nearly twice as many sacks, 77 tackles to 41 and even more passes defended.

The spin is Burns has played more downs than Gary. In other words he's more available. Isn't that a good thing?

In nearly every respect Burns has outperformed Gary, Burns was the player I was hoping GB would take in the 2019 draft.

This isn't meant to be a knock on Gary, or that he can't improve, but the early indications are Gutey should have taken Burns and got off his fascination with Gary's high-school tape.

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Jonathan Spader's picture

December 18, 2020 at 01:14 pm

I really doubt it's HS tape that made Gute draft Gary. Gute is obsessed with RAS. The underwear Olympics is what made Gute fall in love with Gary. Gary for me has still underperformed compared to where he was drafted. Hopefully he continues to progress.

My draft crush was Ed Oliver who went at #8 and hasn't done much for the Bills.

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fastmoving's picture

December 18, 2020 at 04:52 pm

Pretty sure Gary will end up better than Burns if all is said and done. And its rather a knock on you than on Gary and Gute.
Just count the snaps. If you compare them than, Gary is a Hero. Simple as that

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Paul Glotz's picture

December 18, 2020 at 12:44 pm

Good Stuff!
8th thing to watch....With 3 contests to go, #12 is 844 yds. away (282yds./game) from passing John Elway and pushing into the top 10 QB's in NFL history in passing yards. That would also simultaneously put Aaron Rodgers as the only QB in NFL history to currently rank both top 10 passing AND top 10 rushing yards. A feat that only John Elway can boast for a few more games.

Move over John, there's a new Sheriff in Town!

MVP! MVP! MVP! MVP! MVP! MVP! MVP! MVP!

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splitpea1's picture

December 18, 2020 at 12:33 pm

Only carelessness can cause us to lose this game. Even if the Panthers manage to hang around , they've yet to produce any game-winning drives with Bridgewater at the helm. So I'm expecting more of what we've seen the last three weeks, except that Pettine has hopefully seen the light and considers using the younger LBs. And maybe we can get through this game without a special teams gaffe; that in itself would be a tiny reason to celebrate.

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TarynsEyes's picture

December 18, 2020 at 12:56 pm

"Even if the Panthers manage to hang around, they've yet to produce any game-winning drives with Bridgewater at the helm."

Possibly true, but the teams GB will face in the playoffs won't be of the same deficiency. If the Panthers manage to hang around, one can assume that the GB defense is still just hanging around, and its prior actions were more a mirage against the poorer offensive opponents.

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HighPlainsDrifter's picture

December 19, 2020 at 10:05 am

That statement cannot be "Possibly true". It is either factually accurate or it is not. It is either true or it is not.

If you relied on facts and statistics you could easily verify the truth of the statement. Of course, we know that you prefer to go by your own uninformed observations.

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TarynsEyes's picture

December 19, 2020 at 10:56 am

As ignorant as ever and failing to understand a basic point. The 'possibly true' was directed toward the statement that Bridgewater hasn't had a game winning drive. I cannot accept or deny it as fact just because a poster said so, The poster offered no 'factual' evidence and thus became something that you should have confronted him about and not me. My answer was correct in as it being 'possibly true' and you took at as fact without any facts to back it up just to attack me. What ever rocks your boat. Such statements are trivial and has no value to search if factual, but you being a fact-checker should, by all means, check it and then yourself.

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HighPlainsDrifter's picture

December 19, 2020 at 12:30 pm

"Directed toward the statement that Bridgewater hasn't had a game winning drive" is exactly what i was referencing. That statement cannot be "possibly true". Again, it is either true or it is not. You could have easily checked to see if it is true before attacking the commenter who posted it.

Or you could have accepted it, as you do so many other things without supporting facts. For example, you believe that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was fake, and that those poor victims were crisis actors, simply because Alex Jones tells you so.

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TarynsEyes's picture

December 19, 2020 at 12:59 pm

You're now going out of your way to be an asshole, and grabbing bs from your ass. I'd ask the moderators here to ban you, but it seems bringing political bs, and made up shit at that, is fine depending on who it's being used and thrown against.

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jlc1's picture

December 18, 2020 at 01:35 pm

Well carelessness is what the Pack's special teams do for a living. So expect this game to be close with the Panthers definitely hanging around.

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Coldworld's picture

December 18, 2020 at 02:43 pm

Lazard has been lightly used since his return, but I could see both he and Tonyan capitalizing on the problems the Panthers have had containing TEs over the middle. If he is fully back, don’t sleep on Lazard in this match up.

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TXCHEESE's picture

December 18, 2020 at 02:59 pm

Green Bay is the better team, but one thing that makes me nervous about these late season games against teams that are out, or nearly out of the playoff race, is the go for broke attitude they tend to get. I would not be surprised if you don't see more gadget plays, going for it on fourth down etc. from the Panthers than they would normally try.

I'm hoping for a great ground game from the Pack that will take the wind out of the Panther's sails and hopefully take their will away in the 2nd half.

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Lphill's picture

December 18, 2020 at 03:21 pm

In the TD punt return from Philly you can see 5 packers bunched up instead of spread out in lanes, that has to be coaching . Why they are afraid to remove the coach and replace him with an assistant is puzzling. I guess they are waiting until a mistake actually costs them a game , then it will be too late.

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fastmoving's picture

December 18, 2020 at 05:01 pm

Yeah, toooo late than and the world would be over.
But wait, we survived more than we thought what would be possible. The future looks bright.
We got smart and strong guys in charge who are not afraid of anything. We can be really proud.

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Stroh's picture

December 18, 2020 at 05:28 pm

That's foolish, or worse! It could easily be the players made mistakes! Coaches certainly wouldn't coach them to do that! Quite the opposite actually.

Try thinking for a change!

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

December 18, 2020 at 09:01 pm

I'm sure they didn't coach them to do that. Still, 4 guys out of 11 failed to execute their assignment. It could be those four are just daft, but most organizations would hold the supervisor responsible for such recurrent situations.

Coaches have to effectively communicate, not just communicate.

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HighPlainsDrifter's picture

December 19, 2020 at 09:52 am

You're assuming that Lphill knows what he is writing about. Does anyone think that this guy actually goes back and watches individual plays?

He has posted this same screed at least ten times. A couple of weeks ago he had about twenty posts (only a slight exaggeration) about JK Scott. He's the king of beating the dead horse.

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Swisch's picture

December 19, 2020 at 05:43 am

Paradoxically, I want the Packers to play hard to win every game; yet, I don't want them to get too focused on being the top seed.
While going all out tonight, I hope the Packers try some new things on defense, including an array of blitzes; tighter coverage; and more integration of younger guys.
Most of all, mix things up; prepare to be unpredictable for the playoffs.
I truly want that top seed, but not at the cost of playing it too safe.
Let's not wait until we lose a game or two before to try to get better
We can be aggressive and daring and exciting and energetic, without being reckless.
We can try new things and still win, and actually have a better opportunity at winning -- tonight and in the games ahead.
P.S. So what are people doing tonight? Christmas shopping? Ice skating? Curling up next to a fireplace with a good book?

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Ferrari-Driver's picture

December 19, 2020 at 01:04 pm

I hope we don't have to look forward to another Mike Pettine "prevent defense" with a six point lead with four minutes to play in the fourth quarter.

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