GREEN BAY, Wis. – With a trip to the NFC Championship Game on the line, you know the main characters for the Green Bay Packers and Los Angeles Rams.
For Green Bay, it’s quarterback Aaron Rodgers, receiver Davante Adams, running back Aaron Jones and cornerback Jaire Alexander. For Los Angeles, it’s defensive tackle Aaron Donald, cornerback Jalen Ramsey, quarterback Jared Goff and receiver Cooper Kupp.
Looking beyond the obvious, here are two X-factors – one for each team – ahead of Saturday’s showdown at Lambeau Field.
Green Bay: WR Allen Lazard
Adams vs. Ramsey will be must-see TV. The All-Pros had spectacular seasons, with Adams setting franchise receiving records and Ramsey throwing a wet blanket on the likes of Seattle’s DK Metcalf, Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans and Arizona’s DeAndre Hopkins the past few weeks.
Adams has dominated all comers this season and he might win again on Saturday, too, but the Packers are going to need to contributions elsewhere. That would make this a fine time for Lazard to get rolling.
With Adams sidelined early in the season, Lazard caught six passes for 146 yards and one touchdown at New Orleans. A core-muscle injury sustained in that game required surgery, and he missed the next six games. He’s posted modest numbers since returning to the lineup. Of his 33 receptions for 451 yards and three touchdowns, 13 receptions, 254 yards and two touchdowns came in the first three games compared to 20 receptions, 197 yards and one touchdown in the final seven games. Lazard, as usual, has done the dirty work with aplomb, but now it’s time for him to return to his role as a playmaker.
Los Angeles: S John Johnson
Donald has 13.5 sacks and could win his third Defensive Player of the Year award. Ramsey has been spectacular. Fellow cornerback Darious Williams led the Rams with four interceptions and 14 passes defensed in the regular season, then had a critical pick-six in the playoff win vs. Seattle.
Under the radar is hard-hitting safety John Johnson, who paced the team with 105 tackles. Taken under his wing as a rookie by Eric Weddle, Johnson has blossomed into a force and leader in the secondary. A two-way player, he’s had a key role in the Rams allowing zero 100-yard rushers and only one 300-yard passer. He delivered a jarring blow to the rocked-up Metcalf last week.
“Everybody's going to give a hundred percent effort, but if you could find ways to simplify the game, it makes you play a lot faster,” Johnson said of Weddle. “I think that’s one thing that Eric gave to me, is just certain techniques that I can see something and react faster than I would in the past. Just like little tips and stuff, releasing stems and routes and formations that he gave me just to play faster and I can relay it to the whole defense, as well.”