5 biggest takeaways from the Packers' 26-20 loss to the Cardinals
And just like that, the Green Bay Packers' 2015 season is over. Here are the five biggest takeaways from their 26-20 loss in Arizona:
1. Good defense ... until the last minute
In regulation, Green Bay held the Cardinals to 288 total yards of offense and 20 points. In a playoff game on the road against a great team, that is a nice accomplishment for the Packers. Just like Green Bay's defense had done for most of the regular season, Dom Capers' group gave the team a chance to win.
But it was what happened in the span of one minute in overtime that will leave a bad taste in the mouths of some fans. As Casey Hayward explained to reporters after the game, it was a blown coverage by the defense that allowed Larry Fitzgerald to get wide open for a 75-yard completion. And just like that, Arizona was at the five-yard line. Two plays later, the Packers were out of the playoffs.
Green Bay picked a terrible time to have a breakdown in coverage, and it's those moments that can cost a team the game. But in the big picture, Saturday's game further demonstrated that this was the best Packers defense in years.
2. Winning the battle in the trenches
Green Bay averaged 6.1 yards per carry. The Cardinals averaged 2.1 yards per carry.
Arizona's defense had just one sack. The Packers finished with three sacks.
In every facet of this game, Green Bay's offensive and defensive lines dominated. On offense, it shows what a difference it was for the Packers to get their five starters together again. Despite the injuries that existed in that frontline group, Green Bay toughed it out and controlled the line of scrimmage. On defense, the Packers' big men upfront didn't allow any holes to open up in the run game and often manhandled the Cardinals.
3. Emergence of Jeff Janis and Jared Abbrederis
Green Bay played most of the game without its top four wide receivers. If you were to have put together a depth chart in training camp, it would have had Jordy Nelson first, then Randall Cobb followed by Davante Adams and Ty Montgomery. After Cobb's early-game chest injury, the Packers were down to James Jones and two players who rarely play: Janis and Abbrederis.
All that Janis did with the opportunity was catch seven passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns, including the Hail Mary that forced overtime. Abbrederis wasn't as much a part of the highlight reel, but he delivered nicely with four catches for 55 yards. Meanwhile, the veteran Jones, who was being defended by top cornerback Patrick Peterson for most of the game, finished with no catches.
The debate will begin whether Janis should have been playing more all season, especially considering the injuries that Green Bay's wide receiver group had. But at least in this game, Janis' performance kept the Packers in it when they desperately needed someone to step up.
4. Falling short again
Five full seasons have passed since the Packers won the Super Bowl. Not only have they not won it since, they've not even made it back. For some franchises, that wouldn't be an issue. But for one that has had Aaron Rodgers in his prime, it's a problem.
Rodgers turned 32 years old in December. He should be nearing the end of his physical prime, if he hasn't already. That's not to say Rodgers will no longer be a great quarterback, but as he gets into his mid-30s, it's natural for any player's speed and agility to decline.
When Rodgers was being fitted for his Super Bowl ring in February 2011, he was 27. It could have reasonably been stated at the time that Green Bay was about to go on a major run, or even become a dynasty under Rodgers. Now, the Packers just have to hope they can get to another Super Bowl in the coming years. The outlook has certainly shifted in the past five years.
5. Interesting offseason awaits
Where does Ted Thompson go from here? He's remained hesitant to deviate from his draft-and-develop philosophy, and it could easily be argued that it's cost Green Bay a chance to stay on top of the conference.
Mike Daniels would have been priority free agent No. 1, but Thompson re-upped the contract of the defensive line's rising star. The Packers will have to make free-agent decisions on Casey Hayward, Mike Neal, B.J. Raji and Andrew Quarless, among others. None of those players can make or break a franchise, but losing them would require their spots on the depth chart to be replaced.
Ultimately, Thompson needs to find a way to guide Green Bay back to the Super Bowl. A free-agent pickup could go a long way in making sure that the team isn't overly reliant on young players. It's been said for several offseasons recently, but the pressure is certainly on Thompson in the coming months to give McCarthy more talent to work with.
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