Welcome to the weekly Zone Coverage Packers mailbag, where I answer all your burning NFL and Green Bay Packers-related questions, submitted via Twitter to @m_widmeier.
Who’s the easiest possible opponent for the Packers in the divisional round?
Green Bay will see one of four teams in the divisional round with the Los Angeles Rams, Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers, and Philadelphia Eagles all on the table.
While we won’t phrase it as the “easiest” possible opponent for the Packers given how difficult it is just to get to this point, the best matchup for Green Bay is the Eagles.
Philadelphia busted their tails winning four of their last five to wrap up the No. 7 seed and the last spot in the NFC. However, their 9-8 season featured them beating zero teams that made the playoffs in either conference.
On paper, the Eagles just don’t have the firepower to keep up with the Packers. They are an efficient running team, which has been kryptonite for the Packers in years past — and a few times this season. But a lot of the dirty work on the ground is done by quarterback Jalen Hurts, and Green Bay has done well against mobile quarterbacks this year.
In a three-game stretch during the year, Joe Barry’s defense faced Kyler Murray, Patrick Mahomes, and Russell Wilson. They only gave up 34 total points and did a wonderful job keeping all three quarterbacks in the pocket and under wraps.
Out of the four possible opponents for the Packers, each brings some noted strengths to the table, but the Eagles would be the most favorable matchup.
What should the expectations for Za’Darius Smith be now that he’s back?
Za’Darius Smith returned to the practice field this week, and it’s a tremendous sign for the Packers and their defense. Their All-Pro edge rusher hasn’t played since Week 1 against the New Orleans Saints and underwent back surgery shortly after that. His return gives Barry plenty of options.
As far as expectations go, I would keep them somewhat light. First off, Preston Smith and Rashan Gary have been phenomenal on the edge this year, and it’s hard to imagine either having their snap count severely reduced, even with Za’Darius Smith’s resumé. He’s coming off back surgery in a year where he played in only one game. There will be some sort of ramp-up time needed that will involve live game reps.
Expect Barry to mix it up and even slot Smith on the interior of the defensive line to get him in the game. Imagining a front four of Preston Smith, Za’Darius Smith, Kenny Clark, and Gary is a dream scenario for many Packers fans. It could very well become a reality if Barry wants to think outside the box. Why not keep offenses guessing?
Smith will likely be on a pitch count of some sort. But as has been witnessed in his first two years in Green Bay, the freakish talent is there. Just temper any game-breaking expectations for No. 55.
Who could be a breakout player for the Packers in the playoffs? I like Josiah Deguara.
At this point of the season, a breakout player is tough to peg. Many players are who they are at this point.
Deguara is a notable name to throw out there because he has really come on ever since Robert Tonyan‘s injury against Arizona in October. A lot of it comes down to exploiting matchups and advantageous looks, though.
Lowry posted five sacks this year and has flown totally under the radar. He had two in the last three weeks for the Packers as well. While I don’t like labeling him as a “breakout playoff candidate,” Lowry strikes me as someone who could unexpectedly make some major impact plays for the Packers’ defense.
As for Lazard, look at what he did in the final push of the regular season.
Lazard has five touchdowns in the finals five games, tied for second in the NFL during that span. He has emerged as a reliable target that Aaron Rodgers trusts.
Green Bay will throw, regardless of what the weather looks like on game days. Defenses in the postseason will do their best to lock down Davante Adams even more, which should in turn open up plenty of looks for Lazard.
He’s getting hot at the right time, and Rodgers is giving him plenty of targets. Don’t be surprised if Allen Lazard continues to make big plays in big moments.