Randall Cobb scores

The Green Bay Packers took advantage of big plays and suckage by the Arizona Cardinals to score a two-touchdown victory and get to 6-3 at the bye.

13:26, 1st quarter — The Cardinals go three and out on their first possession as the Packers continue not only their early defensive success, but also their habit of getting a sack on the first possession.

The Packers’ nickel defense successfully forced a 3rd-and-8. On that down, with Jerel Worthy sitting because of a concussion, the Packers have Clay Matthews, Erik Walden, Mike Neal and Dezman Moses in their rush package.

On certainly one of my favorite plays of the game, Mike Neal beats former Packers guard Daryn Colledge to sack John Skelton and force a punt.

12:11, 1st quarter — Even though the Packers get to start their opening possession on the Arizona 20-yard line after a good return by Randall Cobb, they not only don’t score, but also manage to improve the field position for the Cardinals before handing it back.

On 1st down the Packers are going for the jugular with a double move by Jordy Nelson. Unfortunately, the Cardinals are blitzing six. The Packers have six to block, but one of them is James Starks. Everyone else is open, especially Jermichael Finley in the middle of the field, but Aaron Rodgers looks for Nelson and sees it covered.

He would have time for nothing else because T.J. Lang was put on his back, Jeff Saturday was run through like a turnstile and Starks attempts to cut a blitzing linebacker, who simply leaps over him. This means three Cardinals reach Rodgers and two share the sack.

After a 2nd down run by Starks netted 4 yards, Rodgers escaped the pocket to his left and misfired for Cobb. This would bring out Mason Crosby for a 44-yard kick. Crosby pulled the kick left and missed to a chorus of boos. Maybe Crosby and Finley can start a bowling team.

10:20, 1st quarter — The Cardinals picked up one 1st down on their next possession when a dump to LaRod Stephens-Howling would get 14 yards. This got them to midfield, but they would go no farther. On 3rd-and-5, Skelton looked for Larry Fitzgerald out of the backfield. Fitzgerald initially makes the catch up the far sideline, but Brad Jones knocks the ball loose as Fitzgerald falls out of bounds.

5:30, 1st quarter — The Packers go 84 yards in 11 plays to go up 7-0.

The majority of the yards on the drive — 61 — are on the ground. Rodgers scrambled four times for 37 yards, while having a real hard time pulling the trigger on this drive. Alex Green also had a 21-yard scamper out of the shotgun formation.

The Packers scored on 3rd-and-goal from the 13. They had a quick screen to Cobb called on the play, undoubtedly expecting a blitz. The Cardinals backed off the blitz, but it didn’t matter. Rodgers led Cobb upfield so that he had a good head of steam as he split the blocks of Donald Driver and Finley, and Cobb put the spin move on safety Adrian Wilson to get into the end zone.

One play before the TD, Jordy Nelson twisted his ankle, turning his surprising appearance into a cameo.

15:00, 2nd quarter — The first play of the 2nd quarter helps to momentarily turn the tide for the Cardinals. After forcing another Cardinals’ punt, the Packers use a 17-yard out to James Jones and a 6-yard jaunt up the middle by Alex Green to get to their own 40. On 2nd-and-4 from there, Rodgers tries a simple out to Cobb from the slot.

However, Rodgers throws the ball a little low and behind Cobb, who has to go to the ground to get it. William Gay, who Packers fans may remember fondly from the Super Bowl, jumps on top of Cobb, rolls over him, and somehow comes up with the ball. It’s ruled an interception.

Prior to 2010, this would have been a catch and down by contact. However, in today’s NFL, completing a reception, especially when going to the ground, is a complicated process. I believe the official rule goes something like this — “When a receiver goes to the ground in the process of making a catch, he must first demonstrate control of the ball, and maintain that control after hitting the ground, coming up from the ground, and handing it to the referee, after which, it will be determined that a catch may have taken place.”

Since Cobb was unable to maintain possession and the ball never hit the ground, the refs have no alternative but to reward Gay with an INT that technically he didn’t “catch.”

I submit this makes the Packers the first team in history to have a “catch” rewarded to their opponent when they actually intercepted the ball and an INT awarded to their opponent when they actually caught the ball in the same season. It may, however, ease Packer fans’ pain to consider that Charles Woodson got this exact same pick against the Jets in 2010.

The Cardinals would only take a couple plays to score. Immediately after the INT, Skelton would take a shot on the deep post to Andre Roberts. The Packers brought M.D. Jennings up to play the run and Morgan Burnett is more concerned with Larry Fitzgerald on the other side. So, Casey Hayward is essentially alone on Roberts. Hayward allows Roberts to close ground with him and then turns his hips too soon in anticipation of an out move. Roberts instead cuts in on the post and Hayward has to do the infamous spin around to catch him. Hayward still would have had a play on the ball if he goes for it, but he concentrates on Roberts and fails to get the ball from him once it arrives.

This would put the ball at the Green Bay 3. Two straight runs by Stephens-Howling would get the Cardinals into the end zone to make it 7-7.

7:50, 2nd quarter — The Packers keep control of the game with a 12-play, 80-yard drive for a TD to go back up 14-7.

The Packers start this drive with six straight runs — two by Cobb and four by James Starks. The advantage Starks has had over virtually every Packers running back since Ahman Green is that he doesn’t hesitate to run to the edge if nothing is there inside. He demonstrates this on a 9-yard scamper around the right end immediately after Bryan Bulaga limped off the field.

Cobb, meanwhile, is looking more and more like Percy Harvin with his ability to make explosive runs out of the shotgun formation. In fact, on his 12-yard run on this drive, only great hustle by Cardinals’ defensive tackle Calais Campbell stops Cobb from taking that run to the house.

The Packers faced 3rd-and-10 from the Arizona 33 after an out to Driver bounced right off his hands. Rodgers tries Driver again out of the slot and Driver manages to come down with it after it bounces off his pads. He might be about a foot shy of the first, but the linesman who spotted the ball was trailing the play by about 5 yards and not in a great position to correctly spot it.

The Packers scored on the next play, when Rodgers attacked a Cardinals’ blitz by lofting a fade to Cobb out of the slot. Cobb gets revenge on Gay by making the catch for the TD.

2:00, 2nd quarter — After a Cardinals’ three and out, the Packers go 75 yards in eight plays to take a 21-7 lead.

On the very first play of this drive, Rodgers made what he would call his best play of the game by jumping on a Starks’ fumble that would have set the Cardinals up in Packers territory. Anyone who remembers how Drew Brees hurt his arm in San Diego gasped at the sight of Rodgers diving for the ball. Since no harm, no foul, it ends up being a great play.

Alex Green got the call from there and two well-blocked screens to him advanced the ball to the Arizona 29. After a quick pass to Jarrett Boykin got 1 yard, Rodgers burned another Cardinals’ blitz with a fly route to James Jones.

Jones elevated above Cardinals corner Jemell Fleming and managed to bring the ball in after it deflected off Fleming’s upraised arm. This is another great catch by Jones, who is obviously having his best NFL season. When was the last time I repeated how glad I am Jones isn’t in Miami right now?

Yeah.

This would conclude the scoring for the half. The Cardinals would take advantage of the zone defense to get near midfield before half, but a Mike Daniels sack — once again against Daryn Colledge — would put them in long yardage, leading to a punt.

13:57, 3rd quarter — Casey Hayward continues to make plays for the Packers as he bats a ball into the air that is intercepted by Walden.

Even though the Packers started the half near midfield, thanks to a great return by Cobb, they went three and out and punted it right back to the Cardinals.

On the Cardinals’ first play of the half, Skelton would try a stick route by tight end Rob Housler. Sitting in zone, Hayward would attack the route, causing the ball to ricochet off Housler high into the air. Walden would be the beneficiary, giving the Packers the ball at the Cardinals’ 17.

The Packers go three and out from there and come away with a Crosby field goal to make it 24-7.

Rodgers seems surprised that the Cardinals are sitting back here instead of playing aggressive like they did in the first half. He has plenty of time on both the 2nd and 3rd down throws, but this time apparently conscious of taking a sack, he throws it away on 2nd and tries the quick fly to Jones on 3rd, which he overthrows.

8:21, 3rd quarter — The Cardinals go 87 yards in eight plays to make some semblance of an effort at 24-14.

Clay Matthews limped off the field on the second play of this drive, which certainly helped the Cardinals’ fortunes for the remainder of this quarter.

The Packers are in zone and the Cardinals seemed to have had the revelation that throwing the ball is going to be their only chance in this game. They have their best success with play-action passes, including a 17-yarder to Michael Floyd and a 23-yarder over the middle to Andre Roberts.

Fitzgerald would cap the drive with a 31-yard TD catch on a simple stick route from the bunch formation. Four Packers would have the opportunity to tackle Fitzgerald, but Burnett slipped down, Tramon Williams was stiff-armed and overran it, Jennings badly overran it, and Dezman Moses could not drag Fitzgerald down short of the end zone after initially overrunning the play himself.

0:50, 3rd quarter — The Packers would go three and out again as the 3rd quarter continues to be their enemy.

After two plays got 9 yards, the Packers would be faced with their nemesis — 3rd-and-1. They try the same play they ran earlier in the game with a hand off to Green from the single back. If Green takes this to the outside, he probably easily gets the yardage, but he tries the middle where Kerry Rhodes is unblocked and gets help from tackle Dan Williams.

The Cardinals would follow that defensive stop with more of the same. They steadily drive, mostly through the air, never facing 3rd down until reaching the Packers’ 2-yard line. On 3rd-and-1 from the 2, the Cardinals try Stephens-Howling around the right end — the same play he scored on in the first half. However, Mike Daniels and Erik Walden have that edge of the defense and both drive their men into the backfield. This allows Brad Jones to shoot between them and fill the gap. Howling is stuffed in the backfield until Daniels and A.J. Hawk finish him off for a loss.

The Cardinals kick a short field goal to pull within one score at 24-17.

0:00, 3rd quarter – The 3rd quarter doesn’t end up being a complete loss for the Packers, as they make a big play on final play of the quarter to seize back control of the game.

After a 6-yard run up the middle by Green, the Packers finally hit a big play on a play fake and burn the two-deep zone. Both safeties overplay the outside receivers and leave the middle of the field wide open. Former Packers linebacker Paris Lenon seems amazed when Tom Crabtree runs right by him rather than blocking him or going to the flat. Rodgers leads Crabtree so he can maintain his stride. Crabtree just barely outruns the defense to the end zone. It is a 72-yard TD that puts the Packers ahead 31-17.

While needing another score to get back into the game, the Cardinals would go three and out on their next two possessions. On the second of those, facing just a 3rd-and-2 from the Arizona 33, the Cardinals tried a swing pass to Stephens-Howling that got crushed by Erik Walden for a 6-yard loss.

After a weekend in jail near the tail end of a disappointing 2011 season, I had written off Walden. I was WRONG. This guy is playing better now than he ever has.

The Packers were in run-the-clock mode on offense during this quarter. This involved a heavy dose of James Starks. The Packers got one 1st down on a 14-yard run by Starks around the right end and another on a juggling catch on a ball behind him by Cobb. Those 1st downs would enable the Packers to run down the clock.

The Cardinals would pierce Packers territory just once this quarter and that was when their final drive reached the Packers’ 32. On 3rd-and-1 from there, the Cardinals tried to pick up the 1st with a draw to Stephens-Howling, but Mike Neal got off a block and tackled him for a 2-yard loss. On the resulting 4th-and-3, Skelton tried the slant to Roberts, who had gotten the best of Hayward through much of this game, but Hayward knocked the ball out of Roberts’ hands and snuffed out any chance for a rally.

The Packers did what they needed to do these last two weeks in defeating Jacksonville and Arizona, overcoming a deluge of injuries in the process and getting to 6-3 at the bye. Unfortunately, with new injuries to Clay Matthews and Bryan Bulaga, the Packers aren’t necessarily looking at being even close to full strength after the bye.

The injuries have allowed the young players on defense to continue to develop and improve their games. Frankly, I see that side of the ball ascending, but until we see it against better offenses, we won’t know for sure how much that side has improved.

The Packers can certainly take heart in not only overcoming their injuries, but they also just won a game where Aaron Rodgers didn’t play that well. Rodgers overcame his accuracy problems by making big plays, but in the divisional battles of the second half of the season, the Packers will need him to play better, which I am confident he will.

The Cardinals had better luck when they went back to their two-deep defense with a four-man rush. So, the Packers can expect to see a lot MORE of that. However, the Packers still have the weapons to cause that defense issues, especially if Greg Jennings ever comes back or Jermichael Finley ever gets going. The easiest way to beat that defense until then might be for the Packers to run the ball as they did against the Cardinals. Starks and Green appear to complement each other nicely, with Green being the better shotgun back, while Starks is the better back with a lead block.

I believe the Packers remain the deepest, most talented team in the NFL when healthy. The question remains — will they ever be that again this season or can they still win if they aren’t?