The Green Bay Packers hope to end their two-game losing streak when they travel south to face the Carolina Panthers in Week 16. The Packers enter the game with a 6-8 record while the Panthers are just 2-12. The Packers are coming off an embarrassing 34-20 loss to the Buccaneers last Sunday while the Panthers are coming off a rain-soaked 9-7 win over the Atlanta Falcons. Here are six key matchups that will determine who will win Sunday’s Packers-Panthers game.

The Packers lead the all-time series between these two teams 10-6-0 in the regular season. These two clubs first met in the regular season in 1997. The Packers won the last meeting 24-16 in 2020 in Green Bay. The Packers won the only postseason game between the teams, a 30-13 win in the 1996 NFC Championship Game.

Here is a look at six key factors that will determine who wins Sunday’s game in Carolina:

Packers Key Matchups: Number One, Get the Defense Back on Track

The Packers defense has been torched in the last two games by non-elite quarterbacks. The strategy of defensive coordinator Joe Barry has been poor, and he appears to have lost the confidence of his players.

Playing soft coverage and giving a seven-yard cushion to receivers on 3rd-and-4 just makes no sense but Barry continues to do that. His strategies and failure to adjust when things aren’t going well are just not working.

The Packers defense needs to play a good game and regain some of their lost confidence. They cannot allow Bryce Young to be the next non-elite quarterback they make look like a Hall of Famer.

Key Matchups: Number Two, Don’t Forget to Run the Football

The Green Bay offense came out running the football on their opening drive against the Bucs and it worked. Aaron Jones helped them march down the field although the drive stalled at the Bucs four-yard line.

Jones ran the ball eight times for 44 yards on the opening drive but the Packers as a team only handed the ball to running backs seven more times for the rest of the game.

The Panthers run defense is more vulnerable than their pass defense. Carolina is allowing an average of 117.9-yards per game which ranks them 20th in the league while the pass defense ranks third.

The Packers must not get away from running the football in this game. If Jones is on a play count and A.J. Dillon is still out or limited by his broken thumb, then the Packers can run with Patrick Taylor or Emanuel Wilson if he’s ready to be activated off the IR.

Mixing things up and continuing to run the football exploits the weaknesses of the Carolina defense and sets up the play-action pass. It also gets Jones involved in the game, which helps the offense immensely.

Packers Key Matchups: Number Three, Get Pressure on Bryce Young

Young continues to struggle as he adjusts to the pro game. He’s had a few good games but remains inconsistent like most rookies.

The Packers have to put pressure on Young and make sure the first overall pick in this year’s draft doesn’t beat them with his legs.

The Packers sacked Mayfield five times last week but when they didn’t sack him, he picked the secondary apart. The previous week, Tommy DeVito escaped pressure and gained 71 yards rushing when the defense failed to stay in their rush lanes.

The Packers should use Quay Walker to spy on Young and prevent him from running for key yards.

Opposing teams have sacked Panthers quarterbacks 54 times. Injuries and inconsistent play have decimated the guard position. That should open things up for Kenny Clark and Karl Brooks to get pressure from the interior.

Rashan Gary, Preston Smith, Lukas Van Ness and Kingsley Enagbare should get home from the edge.

Young is prone to mistakes when he’s under pressure and the Packers need to get to the quarterback on Sunday to shut down an inconsistent Carolina offense.

Key Matchups: Number Four, Don’t Let the Panthers Run the Ball Effectively

The Packers run defense remains a problem. They enter this game ranked 30th in the league and are allowing an average of 138.8-yards per game on the ground. Opponents are gaining 4.6-yards per carry which ranks them 28th.

Carolina’s top runner is Chuba Hubbard. He has gained more than 700 yards this season and is averaging 3.9-yards per rush.

The Packers cannot allow Hubbard and the Panthers to get into second or third and short situations. Making Young beat you with his arm and slowing down the running game are important for the Packers. Hopefully, Clark, T.J. Slaton, Walker, and De’Vondre Campbell are equal to the task.

Packers Key Matchups: Number Five, Contain Adam Thielen

The Panthers leading receiver former Vikings wideout Adam Thielen. He’s played well against the Packers during his career including a pair of 12 catch performances.

The Packers hope to have Jaire Alexander back in the lineup for this game. Eric Stokes returned last week but was beaten regularly by the Bucs receiving corps.

Safety Darnell Savage did not practice Wednesday and may not play Sunday.

Thielen functions as Young’s security blanket. He has 89 catches this season, more than double the amount of the next most productive Panthers receiver. The Packers need to contain Thielen and not let him make too many catches.

Key Matchups: Number Six, Score in the Red Zone

The Packers offense needs to be more efficient in the red zone. Last week, they scored two touchdowns in five trips inside the opponent’s 20.

The Packers are tied for 22nd in the league, scoring touchdowns 50 percent of the time they get into the red zone.

Carolina’s defense ranks 31st in red zone defense, allowing other teams to score touchdowns 71.1 percent of the time.

With Jones back in the lineup, Jordan Love should have more options when he gets close to paydirt.


Is the defense tuning out Barry? Can they bounce back from two horrible performances that made average quarterbacks look elite? The defense should be better, but it’s hard to see them dominating.

This is a game the Packers should win. They need to win it to keep their fading playoff hopes alive.

They will get it done, but it may not be pretty.

Packers 24, Panthers 20



Follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers

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