After Green Bay’s 33-7 victory at Arizona, here are three (mostly) indisputable facts I feel relatively sure about:
Sunday’s game put a capper on what is now an undeniable conclusion: Coach Mike McCarthy’s decision to shift to a 3-4 defense was a success. There were some growing pains and a few low points, but ultimately the Packers finished with the second-ranked defense in the NFL. After intercepting Cardinals quarterbacks three times Sunday, the Packers finished the season with an NFL-leading 40 takeaways. The trend continued even after season-ending injuries to linebacker Aaron Kampman and cornerback Al Harris. The defense faces a tough task against Arizona’s three-receiver set next weekend, but it played a big role in the Packers finishing the season with seven victories in eight games.
I have no problem with McCarthy’s decision to play his starters into the second half Sunday. Barring unusual environmental circumstances -- bad weather, poor field conditions -- there is no more risk to using a player in the third quarter of Week 17 as there is in the first quarter of a playoff game. I certainly appreciated McCarthy’s approach more than that of Arizona’s Ken Whisenhunt, who benched some starters early but left others -- including All-Pro receiver Larry Fitzgerald -- on the field surrounded by backups. McCarthy left no doubt about his intentions.
In his second season as the Packers' starter, quarterback Aaron Rodgers finished with the NFL’s fourth-best passer rating (103.2) and the sixth-most yardage (4,434). He also tied four players, including Minnesota’s Brett Favre, for the second-fewest interceptions (seven) among qualified quarterbacks. Most importantly, Rodgers brought his career record as a starter to 17-15. His fourth-quarter performance last month at Pittsburgh would have been legendary had the Steelers not scored on the game’s final play. It’s this simple: The Packers enter the playoffs led by one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks this season.
And here is one question I’m still asking:
There’s little doubt that cornerback Charles Woodson will start this Sunday. But will he be limited by the shoulder injury he seemed to aggravate against the Cardinals? Woodson will be a critical component of the Packers’ scheme to stop Arizona’s dynamic passing game. He’ll need all of his faculties. Woodson told reporters that the injury won’t be an issue, but you never like to see your best player wincing on the sideline a week before the playoffs begin.