BY: ED COLE
TEMPE, Ariz. – The NFL playoffs start in a few weeks.
The Arizona Cardinals look in championship form, especially with what they did to Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.
Arizona’s defense got to and sacked Rodgers eight times (they had nine sacks overall), and quarterback Carson Palmer was his usual outstanding self on this his 36th birthday, throwing for 265 yards and two touchdowns, in the Cardinals’ 38-8 mauling of the Packers.
The defense was on Rodgers all day long, giving him zero time to work with. It was a very rough day at the office for him, as his numbers – 15-of-28, 151 yards, one touchdown, one interception, 66.2 passer rating – point out.
In fact, the 178 total net yards Green Bay mustered up was their second-lowest output of the season (140 vs. Denver in Week 8).
The last time the Cardinals had nine or more sacks was 12/7/86 at Philadelphia when they sacked quarterback Randall Cunningham 10 times.
This is how powerful the defense was on Sunday: 28 of Arizona’s 38 points came off four Green Bay turnovers.
As you can imagine, head coach Bruce Arians was very pleased with his team’s overall performance.
“I thought it was an outstanding team win,” Arians said. “Everyone that dressed for us I thought played extremely well, very smart and very physical. Defensively, we wanted to shut down the run and then get after the quarterback (Rodgers), and I thought we did that pretty well.”
The talk all week was that the team was playing the remainder of the games this season for safety Tyrann Mathieu, who was lost to a season-ending ACL injury last weekend in Philadelphia.
Perhaps the biggest star on defense (and there were so many of them) was outside linebacker Dwight Freeney, who was a one-man horror show for Rodgers. Freeney sacked Rodgers three times, and earned $300,000 in the process.
Freeney says playing for Mathieu, and playing in a game like this, that got severely out of hand quickly, is a pass rushers dream.
“Absolutely,” Freeney said. “That’s the type of stuff we dream about, literally. Big leads and that’s some of the reason why I came back, because you can’t duplicate that type of feeling, replicate that type of feeling. Just being able to get after that quarterback, (and) having those types of games.”
It was such a dominant performance by the defense, and pretty much everyone got to eat on Sunday afternoon, including defensive tackle Calais Campbell, who was on Freeney’s heels in the sack department. He had 2.5 of his own (shared a sack of Rodgers with outside linebacker Markus Golden).
Campbell says what the defense did on Sunday was, without question, their best showing of the season.
“Oh yeah, I believe so,” Campbell said. “You want to play your best ball at the end of the season, and I think today was the best game we have played all season.”
Even though Rodgers was bopped around pretty good here at University of Phoenix Stadium, it gave him a chance to see a quality defense at work.
“They have a good defense,” Rodgers said. “Good scheme, very well coached, they have a lot of good players.”
Palmer has arguably the best defense in the NFL backing him, so when you have teammates that play with bad intentions, like his guys do; it makes Palmer’s job that much easier. That and having excellent talent to dish the ball to is just the icing on the cake for him and Arizona’s offense.
“Defensively, I wasn’t expecting that. I don’t think we were,” Palmer said. “With the loss of Ty(rann Mathieu), we just weren’t expecting that, but it was a phenomenal performance. The pressure, the plays made on the ball when we had chances defensively, I haven’t seen it like that before.”
The offense wasn’t to be outdone now. They more than doubled up Green Bay’s 178 total yards with their 381 total yards. It was running back by committee, with David Johnson, Andre Ellington and Kerwynn Williams all getting work.
Johnson was big in the passing game, catching three passes for 88 yards. Wide receiver Michael Floyd led everyone with 111 yards receiving, while wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown caught Palmer’s touchdown passes.
“That’s what we try to do (exploit defenses),” Palmer said. “That’s what everybody’s trying to do in this league, is get somebody on somebody. Today, it was Dave (Johnson) on a number of instances where we had chances to throw the ball down the field. But, when your defense is playing like that, you’re better off just making them tackle 235 pounds (Johnson).”
“The way we’re playing up front is phenomenal,” Palmer said. “There’s not another word for it. It’s as good as we’re playing on defense; the way we’re playing up front.”
By virtue of the victory, the Cardinals have captured a first-round bye in the playoffs. That’s huge, because it means the players they have that are banged up, can get some extra time to get better and get ready for the second season.
“We could use the rest,” Palmer said. “I think one of the best parts about this is B.A.’s (Bruce Arians) been here before. He knows how to get his team ready. Being a wild card, he knows how to get the team ready. Having a bye, and we’ll follow his lead. He’ll get us ready to play in that second round.”