The Green Bay Packers defeated the Arizona Cardinals 31-17 at Lambeau Field on Sunday.
Aaron Rodgers statistics weren’t jaw dropping on Sunday. In fact, if you take away his four touchdown passes, Rodgers’ day – 14-of-30 passing for 218 yards – was pedestrian.
Despite only connecting with his receivers 14 times, Rodgers and the offense made the most of each completion. Whether it was Randall Cobb with touchdown catches of 13 and 21 yards, or James Jones with a touchdown catch of 28 yards or Tom Crabtree for 72 (more on this later), the offense ran up plenty of points.
Even with four touchdown passes, it was Rodgers’ heads up play in the second quarter that made the difference.
When running back James Starks fumbled, the nearest Packers' player was receiver Jarrett Boykin, who didn’t even see the ball on the ground while he maintained his block.
On what Rodgers called his “best play of the game, unfortunately,” QB1 sprinted to the ball, dove headfirst and secured the ball before any Cardinals’ players could recover the fumble.
Rodgers’ recovery kept the Packers drive alive and seven plays later, receiver James Jones made a brilliant touchdown catch which proved to be the decisive score of the contest.
The Matthews Effect
While Clay Matthews continues to post sack numbers, his presence on the field is much more difficult to quantify. With Matthews, the defense is a solid force. Without him, the unit is mediocre.
On both sacks the Packers defense recorded Sunday, Matthews stunted inside after the snap allowing defensive ends Mike Neal and Mike Daniels, respectively, to register sacks on Cardinals quarterback John Skelton.
The attention Matthews received on both plays allowed Neal and Daniels clearer paths to the quarterback.
Matthews’ motor and presence on the field are a big reason why the Packers defense has recorded 28 sacks through nine games this season compared to just 29 all of last season.
When Matthews left the field with a hamstring injury in the third quarter, quarterback John Skelton and the Cardinals offense put together back-to-back scoring drives where they marched down the field on the Packers defense.
The first drive of 87 yards closed with a Larry Fitzgerald touchdown catch, but on the following drive of 74 yards, the Packers defense stiffened near the goal line and held Arizona to a field goal.
The field goal turned out to be the final scoring drive of the day for the Cardinals, but the defense was clearly less effective with Matthews on the sideline.
Finding The Right Mix
A Mike McCarthy-run offense will likely never possess a power running game, but on Sunday a combination of players proved to be the key for the Packers putting together their best rushing performance of the season.
Individually, no rusher gained over 61 yards, but collectively, the unit gained 176 yards on the ground.
In what was the most rushing attempts by the Packers this season (39), four separate players patched together an excellent performance.
James Starks led the way with 61 yards, followed by Alex Green with 53. Aaron Rodgers got in the act with a few nice runs totaling 33 yards and utility man Randall Cobb netted 29 yards on three carries.
The team is still holding out hope for the return of Cedric Benson, who is eligible to return in December, but until then, Mike McCarthy will have to continue to be creative as he patches together a respectable ground game.
Happy Birthday Tom Crabtree
After dropping an easy catch in the first half, Tom Crabtree’s birthday vastly improved in the second half.
The Packers’ offense was dismal throughout the third quarter, but Crabtree’s catch to end the period erased the memory of a cheerless quarter.
To start the second half, the offense ran 13 plays for a meager 23 yards and no first downs until the final play of the third quarter where Aaron Rodgers found Crabtree streaking out of the backfield for the Packers longest touchdown of the season.
Crabtree hauled in the quick pass and outran the entire Cardinals defense for a 72-yard score.
Counting his spectacular special teams play in Week 2 against Chicago, Tom Crabtree is averaging 23 yards per catch and a touchdown every other time he touches the ball.
The Packers list of injuries continued to grow on Sunday.
In his first game back from a hamstring injury, Jordy Nelson didn’t even put together a full quarter of football before an ankle injury forced him from the game.
Nelson limped off the field after his left ankle rolled under his right leg while trying to cradle a low pass from Aaron Rodgers. The Packers’ trainers wrapped Nelson’s ankle in ice and he was unable to return.
Prospects didn’t seem bright for right tackle Bryan Bulaga. Bulaga found his way to the sideline after he tripped himself up and awkwardly twisted his hip on a running play. Eventually, Bulaga rode a cart to the locker room and did not return.
Clay Matthews was also injured on Sunday. Twice Matthews left the game, but after immediately returning the first time, Matthews was unable to do so the second time. Matthews injury was characterized as a hamstring, but he was able to jog to the locker room with trainers.
Tight end D.J. Williams also left the game with a hamstring injury.
Wide receiver Randall Cobb took a nasty hit on a punt return, which forced him out of an offensive series, but was able to return. The second year receiver fought off an injured shoulder as he put together a dazzling day with two touchdowns and 202 all-purpose yards.
The Packers enter their much needed bye week on a four game winning streak and sporting a 6-3 record.
Of the remaining seven games this season, five are against NFC North opponents. With three of those five divisional games on the road, the Packers’ strength and resolve will be tested as they look towards defending their division title.
Max Ginsberg is a regular contributor at CheeseheadTV, blogs at PurplePantsGreenJersey.com and can be reached via Twitter @MaxGinsberg or at maxginsberg[at]yahoo.com.