Packers vs. Panthers: Prediction, five questions with Cat Crave


Ahead of the Green Bay Packers’ Week 15 matchup with the Carolina Panthers, we spoke to Cat Crave site expert Brandon Scott.

Aaron Rodgers‘ return has revived hope among Packers fans, but a tough road trip awaits. To get a Panthers perspective on Sunday’s game, I spoke to Cat Crave expert Brandon Scott.

This is another must-win game for the Packers. The playoffs have come early. But the Panthers, too, are in the hunt for a spot in the postseason and will make life difficult for Mike McCarthy’s team on Sunday.

Scott gave his thoughts on this week’s game.

How do you believe Aaron Rodgers can exploit the Panthers’ defense?

Scott: Despite their improved play the Panthers secondary remains vulnerable to passes both underneath and down the field. While Carolina has made efforts to improve their secondary with safety Mike Adams and nickel corner Captain Munnerlyn the unit as a whole is subject to being exploited by Rodgers.

After not allowing a 100-yard receiver over the first half of the season, four opponents have topped the century mark in the last five games. At least three times in the last three games receivers have added large gains of over 40-plus yards with another opportunity dropped by Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph last week.

Rodgers’ experience will also be beneficial for the Packers as he is more capable of dealing with the Panthers pass rush. Ensuring the proper protection calls are made and being able to judge where the pressure will be coming from with pre-snap reads are other benefits Rodgers provides for Green Bay, in addition to potential big plays through the air.

Despite ranking No. 7 against the pass, the Panthers have allowed 276.4 yards through the air per game in their last five. Is this is a sign the unit isn’t playing at the same level it was, or are there more factors to these numbers such as game script?

Scott: A little of both really. While the pass defense has improved, it is far from a shut down unit and new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks has attempted to aid the secondary by creating pressure up front. Earlier in the year, opposing teams were not expectant of the increased pass rush from Carolina but as the season has progressed opponents are more prepared to deal with his blitzes. As a result, the sack numbers have declined a bit but Wilks is evolving too by creating pressures from other areas and occasionally changing the look of their defensive front.

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Other factors too have played into the recent surge in passing against Carolina. Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn was unavailable at New York due to an illness and linebacker Shaq Thompson, who plays a lot of nickel in Wilks’ scheme missed last week with a foot injury. These have all contributed to the rise in passing yards allowed.

What is the key matchup that could decide this game?

Scott: Rookie running back Christian McCaffrey against the Packers defense. Much of the national media attention focused on McCaffrey has been surrounding his inconsistency running the football and the perception of not being able to carry the load inside the tackles.

However, watching his weekly impact on games with or without the football, McCaffrey is far from unreliable and has been an excellent addition to the Panthers offense. Even when he doesn’t get to carry the ball, opposing defenses must respect his abilities and often wind up out of position as a result. More recently, the reemergence of quarterback Cam Newton in the run game has only added to the triple threat backfield of Newton, Jonathan Stewart and McCaffrey.

Over the last five games this trio has averaged five and one-half yards per carry, rushing for 837 total yards and nine touchdowns. McCaffrey’s ability to impact the passing game on screens and as a check down for Newton will also be key to their success. Green Bay has struggled defending backs running routes out of the backfield and that is another area where McCaffrey excels.

Who is a Panthers player that Packers fans should look out for?

Scott: Defensive end Mario Addison.

Everyone knows about linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, in addition to the return of Julius Peppers back to Carolina on defense but Addison is enjoying a monster season. After finishing last year with at least one sack in six of his last seven games, Addison picked right up where he left off.

Recording a sack in nine of 13 games played this season has him tied with Peppers, as both are one-half sack shy of double digits. His ability to get to the quarterback and create consistent pressure as a part of the Panthers defensive line rotation has been a key part of their success this year.

Finally, what’s your prediction for the game?

Scott: Rodgers has made it clear he isn’t coming back to save the team but to play quarterback as he knows how. An experienced veteran and leader on the field the Packers are rarely ever out of contention with him in the mix. Sunday will be no different. The Carolina defense will generate some stops but Green Bay is going to put up points and the Panthers need to as well. If their recent success on the ground continues then Carolina will keep pace, eventually pulling ahead and hopefully without enough time for a patented Rodgers comeback.

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Rodgers’ ability to extend plays with his legs in crunch time is vital to their success and he may be hesitant to do so returning from injury. The Panthers contain him and the Packers, winning their second consecutive home game in exciting fashion.