Spicy garlic. That’s the sauce that I recommend this week on your Buffalo Wild Wings food. With November here, it seems like a good time to go the spicy garlic route. Now, what does this have to do with football? Everything! You can’t have your football weekend without great food, and nothing goes with football like Buffalo Wild Wings. And beer. Beer’s good, too. Now that we’ve got the menu taken care of, let’s get to the rest of the main course, and that’s this weekend’s games I’m watching.
First off, I’ll start where I’ll finish my weekend, in Green Bay. I started on Thursday night in San Diego, and one thing I know, it’s going to be colder in Wisconsin than it was in Southern California on Thursday night. But this Packers-Cardinals matchup is really a tale of two teams living up to the Dennis Green statement… they are who we thought they were. Arizona is struggling and Green Bay is finding a stride (sort of) in the midseason.
The Cardinals have lost 4 straight coming in, spoiling their red hot blast out of the gates this year. There’s been a multitude of problems, but one of the biggest seems to be the Cardinals offensive line. Arizona can’t run the ball, nor can they protect the quarterback. John Skelton is back as the starter, after Kevin Kolb injured his ribs on a scramble against the Bills. Cardinals quarterbacks have been sacked 35 times this year, so you’d hope that a run game might take some pressure off that pass rush. No dice. On Monday night, in the 24-3 loss to the 49ers, Arizona rushed for 7 yards. As a team. 7 yards. That would get a profane response from Harry Doyle (of Major League fame), were he broadcasting the game. This weekend is the next chance to stop the bleeding.
Speaking of bleeding, that’s what the Packers have had plenty of this year. Bleeding. Sprains. Injuries. That’s been the story for Green Bay. Who’s healthy enough to play? The injury list this week features Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings, Cedric Benson, Charles Woodson, Jerel Worthy and Mike Neal. In other words, players that the Packers were really counting on to make a difference this year. Despite those injuries, Green Bay has won 3 straight, and no surprise, Aaron Rodgers is leading the way. During the winning streak, Rodgers has 11 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. The Packers get a bye after this one, so if they can get the win at Lambeau on Sunday, they’ll feel pretty good at 6-3 with a much needed chance to heal.
Also this weekend, we’ve got an interesting matchup in New York between the Steelers and the Giants. Hurricane Sandy did her best to try and spoil this one, but as our friends and neighbors rebuild from the devastation wrought by this week’s storm, a little football will serve as a welcome distraction at the Meadowlands.
The Steelers are hoping that it provides a much-needed win. Pittsburgh looked very ordinary early, but has started to show signs of being the Steelers team that we’ve all become accustomed to over the years. They’ve won two straight, and did an impressive job of limiting RG3 and the Redskins in a 27-12 victory last Sunday. The matchup this weekend seems to be in the air: Eli Manning against the top pass defense in the National Football League in the Steelers. An impressive feat for Pittsburgh, considering they’ve gotten there without the services of Troy Polamalu, who’s likely out for the fourth straight week with that calf injury. They’ve done the job defensively as well without the benefit of an overwhelming pass rush, either. 12 sacks this year from the Steelers D, but coverage has been extremely solid, and will pose a great challenge to Manning to solve that Steelers puzzle.
On the other side of the ball, when Pittsburgh has the football, they’ve not given it up without a fight. Time of possession is on their side in the Steel City, ranking 2nd in the league in T.O.P., holding it for over 34 minutes per game. The key to that time of possession advantage? Third downs. Simply put, nobody is better in the NFL than Pittsburgh on third down, converting over 50% of the time this year. The Steelers have done a good job in keeping those third downs to third-and-manageable for the bulk of the season, and Jonathan Dwyer and company will be leaned on again in the run game to make sure that they can continue that success.
They’ll need to be careful because they’ll face a Giants defense that is a ball hawking unit to be sure. 24 times this year, the Giants have taken the ball away from opponents, and they have relied on that solid turnover margin to propel the defending world champs to a 6-2 start this season. But it was an unusual week in New York, and the Giants have to hope that the altered schedule, and the distraction of Hurricane Sandy doesn’t provide too much to overcome on Sunday against the Steelers.
It’s November… the games really start to matter from here on out, so enjoy them and the wings from Buffalo Wild Wings. Trust me, it’s a spicy garlic kind of weekend!
– Kevin Kugler
Westwood One NFL play-by-play announcer Kevin Kugler tackles subjects that are interesting to him each week in his blog. The Football Insider Report is brought to you by Buffalo Wild Wings. Protect the Football. This weekend, Kevin is in Green Bay as the Packers host the Arizona Cardinals. Coverage begins at 12:30 PM Eastern Sunday on Westwood One Sports.