Thursday Night Football has a reputation for being underwhelming. Just look at the seven Thursday games we’ve had thus far this season. Only two were really enticing matchups: Week 1's Cowboys-Bucs and Week 5's Rams-Seahawks. Luckily, in Week 8, we get another thrilling matchup between the 7-0 Arizona Cardinals and the 6-1 Green Bay Packers.
Both teams boast top-10 defenses and quarterbacks with MVP aspirations this season. However, the story that has overtaken the game is not the incredible amount of talent that will be on display, but rather the insane amount of injuries. The Packers will be without their best cover corner, Jaire Alexander, and possibly without their three best receivers as well. Davante Adams and Allen Lazard both find themselves on the team’s COVID list, while Marquez Valeds-Scantling is still questionable to return with a hamstring injury. The Packers will also be without defensive coordinator Joe Barry, who tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this week.
Despite the insane amount of casualties the Packers are facing, though, Green Bay has historically done very well when Rodgers is forced to work without some of his best weapons.
Aaron Rodgers is 6-0 in his career without Davante Adams, and has averaged over 300 yards and just under three touchdowns per game, and has only thrown one interception. However, with Rodgers missing three of his best pass-catchers, he may be forced to rely on players like Randall Cobb, Robert Tonyan, and Aaron Jones out of the backfield for catches. With Cobb likely being the only reliable threat at the receiver position tonight, expect him to play a big role in the offense.
All of the above isn’t to say that the Cardinals aren’t facing injury problems of their own. The Cardinals’ star receiver, DeAndre Hopkins, is questionable for tonight as well. The three-time All-Pro hasn’t practiced all week, and with this being a short week, Hopkins may not be at 100 percent if he takes the field at all. It has been reported that the Cardinals expect Hopkins to be available, but that doesn’t mean Hopkins is fully healthy.
The Cardinals will also be without pass-rusher JJ Watt, who will undergo season-ending shoulder surgery. While Watt hadn’t made an astronomical impact on the field, recording just one sack and one forced fumble this season, his presence as a “coach on the field”-type will certainly be missed.
Arizona will, however, see the return of star pass-rusher Chandler Jones this week. Jones has had a pretty polarizing season. After recording five sacks on Ryan Tannehill during the team’s Week 1 showdown with the Tennessee Titans, Jones has not been able to bring any opposing quarterbacks to the ground since. That’s not to say he hasn’t been effective as a pass-rusher, as in his five games played this season, he’s recorded 16 pressures, which would put him on pace for nearly 50 in a full 16-game season (10 more than his career-high). Jones missed the last two games due to COVID-19 complications, but hopefully that time off has rejuvenated the two-time All-Pro as he gets ready to take on an offensive line that has surrendered the ninth-most sacks in the league without All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari.
While it will still be awesome to see Kyler Murray and Aaron Rodgers go toe-to-toe tonight, don’t expect the fireworks to be as grand as advertised. Without several of their best passing options available, both quarterbacks may find it difficult to push the ball downfield consistently against these remarkable defensive units. If anyone is going to have a great day in terms of yardage totals, it might be Kyler Murray.
The Packers have been notoriously bad at preventing quarterback runs this season. Justin Fields ran for 43 yards on six attempts two weeks ago, while Taylor Heinicke almost hit the century mark (10 carries for 95 yards) last week. Murray is the biggest dual-threat QB the Packers have faced, so unless they went into practice this week fully intent on limiting Murray’s impact as a runner (which wouldn’t be a smart plan), Murray could find himself with tons of open field tonight. Whatever the line is for Murray rushing yards tonight, I’d definitely hit the over. But, as is the case with every prediction I make, Murray probably won’t run the ball at all now.
Tonight’s game will still be fun to watch even if Rodgers is forced to throw to some receivers pretty far down his team’s depth chart. Arizona is clearly the healthier team right now, though and they’ve shown that they don’t need Hopkins to go nuts on the stat sheet in order to have one of the most dynamic offenses in the league. It’s unfortunate that the Packers have to face a team like the Cardinals under these circumstances, but hey, never count out Aaron Rodgers.