Cardinals rewind: What we learned in win over Packers
azcentral sports' Kent Somers takes a look at what we learned in the Cardinals' 38-8 win over the Packers on Sunday.
He breaks down the team's performance on offense, defense and special teams.
What did we learn?
At the NFL level, coaches spend a lot of time scheming to take advantage of individual matchups. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians and his staff do as good a job of it as anyone in the NFL. On Sunday, they liked the idea of getting running back David Johnson one-on-one with linebacker Jake Ryan. The Cardinals seemed to run a few more empty-back sets than usual, which made it easier for Johnson, an excellent receiver, to run his pattern. He exploited that matchup with a 44-yard gain. He finished with 88 yards receiving. Michael Floyd led the Cardinals with 111 receiving yards and he continues to make the tough catches. As Larry Fitzgerald noted a few weeks, Floyd plays with a orneriness reminiscent of Anquan Boldin. The offensive line played well again. The Cardinals rushed for 121 yards and averaged 4.7 yards a carry. Johnson’s 14-yard run in the second quarter came on the team’s favorite run, called power. Several players, including Fitzgerald, guard Mike Iupati and tight end Darren Fells threw excellent blocks. If the Cardinals are blessed with good health, this offense will be difficult to stop in the playoffs. There are just too many players who can do too many different things.
Sure, the Packers had injury problems up front that the Cardinals exploited. But that’s what good teams do: take advantage of weaknesses. Tackle Calais Campbell was an unblockable beast, especially in the first half. He had 2 ½ sacks and drew two holding calls. In the secondary, the Cardinals were confident they matched up well against the Packers’ receivers, who lack speed. The Packers threw cornerback Patrick Peterson’s direction maybe twice all afternoon. They tested cornerback Justin Bethel constantly, and he held up well, considering his lack of experience. And the Cardinals could not have expected more out of safeties Tony Jefferson and D.J. Swearinger, whose roles increased because of the absences of Tyrann Mathieu and Rashad Johnson. The Packers would have liked to take advantage of those changes, but they didn’t. By the second half, the Cardinals were in a feeding frenzy, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers was chum in the water. There are things on which to improve: properly peeling off to stop a back on a screen, for instance. Not getting caught with 12 men on the field twice. But this is a mature, smart group that plays well together. It, too, will be difficult to handle in the playoffs.
In ranking the most exciting plays in football, the punt would be about 47th. But if you get a chance to watch Justin Bethel play gunner, take it. He’s special. He played well again in that role on Sunday. Kicker Chandler Catanzaro made a short field goal attempt and five of his seven kickoffs were touchbacks. Punter Drew Butler turned in one of his best games. He had a net average of 43 yards, with a long of 54. He had punts that were downed at the 4, the 11 and the 13.
Player of game
It could be any number of guys but I’ll go with Campbell. Six tackles, including 2 ½ sacks. He had three tackles for loss and drew two accepted holding calls.
Cornerback Justin Bethel intercepted a pass in the end zone late in the first half and the Cardinals drove 80 yards for a touchdown. Instead of seeing their lead cut to 10-7, the Cardinals led, 17-0, at halftime.
View from the press box
Coach Bruce Arians didn’t say after the game if he will rest any of his starters next week against the Seahawks. The Cardinals could claim the No. 1 seed if they win and the Panthers lose to Tampa Bay. The kickoff time for the Panthers’ next game was moved to coincide with the Cardinals’, so both teams will kick off at 2:25 p.m. If I’m the Cardinals, I wouldn’t get hung up on getting the No. 1 seed. In fact, the Cardinals might be better off with a No. 2 seed. I’d give some key players, such as quarterback Carson Palmer, at least part of Sunday afternoon off.
Cardinals (13-2) vs. Seattle (9-6), Sunday, Jan. 3 at University of Phoenix Stadium. 2:25 p.m.
Cardinals vs. Packers game photos: