Packers: Five players key to victory in NFC Championship Game

Green Bay Packers, Aaron Rodgers - Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Green Bay Packers, Aaron Rodgers - Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /
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Green Bay Packers, Rashan Gary
Green Bay Packers, Rashan Gary (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

4. Rashan Gary and the Smiths

Judging by the last few weeks of the season and the start to the playoffs, the Packers have a budding star on their hands.

Rashan Gary has elevated his game and value to the Packers in so many ways. Gary holds up strong against the run, he has a varied skill set as a pass rusher and has given the Packers a three-headed monster on the edge.

As Gary has picked up his game, so has Preston Smith. Smith spent the better part of the first half of the season a shell of the player he was last year. That changed in the second half. Smith has looked more like himself and even when he can’t get home, he has used his length to knock passes down.

Za’Darius Smith followed his breakout season of a year ago with another Pro Bowl performance.

Smith led the team in sacks and seems to make, at minimum, one impact play a game. That is probably skewed a bit as the attention paid to Za’Darius opens up so many more opportunities for everyone else.

If the Packers want to beat Tom Brady, these three will have to constantly be in the backfield. Brady can move in the pocket but isn’t a mobile quarterback and isn’t a threat to run. So if the Packers can get to third-and-long, these three can pin their ears back and get after him.

Bruce Arians loves to run deep routes so there will be plenty of opportunities for these three.

Getting after the quarterback will become a moot point if the defense can’t stop the run though. If they want their chance to get after Brady, they’ll need to keep up their improved play against the run and keep the Bucs in long down and distances.