Five lingering questions from the Packers-Cardinals classic (Shutdown Corner)

Pardon us while out spinning heads slow to a medium-speed gyration, but we have questions in the wake of the instant classic Saturday night between the Green Bay Packers and Arizona Cardinals. It ended in a overtime, a 26-20 Cardinals victory that included twists and turns galore in the final 10-plus minutes of regulation, plus OT. So looking back on this game, we try to sort through some of the biggest things to happen — even skipping over a lot of big plays to do so — and what might have happened otherwise: Would Bruce Arians have gone for it? Tableau: It was 3rd and 10 from the Green Bay 19-yard line, and the Cardinals were driving to tie or take the lead with under five minutes left. The Packers led 13-10, and though the Cardinals had driven from their own 20-yard line, their best series to that point, even though it involved some real luck (Sam Shields dropped an easy pick) and the run game was non-existent. Carson Palmer hit David Johnson on a pass in traffic, and the rookie back tumbled backward and fell close to the sticks. To the naked eye, the spot looked a bit generous — Johnson probably should have come up a bit short. The official measurement had Johnson making the first down by a few chain links.   But what if the ball was spotted six inches backward? Would Arians have gone for it? The Cardinals head coach might have been one of the few coaches to truly consider it. The Cardinals had all three timeouts left, and he might have thought he needed to give his offense a jolt. It’s an incredibly tough call to make, and it ultimately didn’t matter. But it is fascinating to ponder. Arians later showed how aggressive he was willing to be — in this game, yes, but also all season — when he threw a pass to Larry Fitzgerald when the Cardinals could have milked the clock after the Packers ran out of timeouts. If Johnson had been ruled short, Arians probably still kicks the field goal to tie the game. But it was no given. What happens if the Packers pick it off? On the next play after Johnson’s conversion, Palmer telegraphed a pass for Fitzgerald and Packers rookie defensive back Damarious Randall got a hand on it. The pass was tipped up high into the air, and typically when that happens it’s a great thing for the defense. But it ended up working out perfectly for the Cardinals, bouncing right into the hands of Michael Floyd for the go-ahead touchdown. Two Packers defenders were in the vicinity, and with a more fortuitous bounce it’s an easy interception. Assuming they didn’t bring it back out of the end zone, would that have delivered a Packers win? Too hard to tell. The Cardinals had three timeouts left, plus the two-minute warning. But they also would have had to drive a long way, depending on what Aaron Rodgers and the Packers did with the ball. Why did the Cardinals defend the Hail Mary that way? The Packers’ Hail Mary 2.0 might have been even more phenomenal than the first version that beat the Detroit Lions. This one only tied it and sent the game to overtime, but it required perhaps an even higher degree of difficulty. Arians opted to send heavy pressure with seven rushers, overruling his defensive coordinator James Bettcher, who wanted more of a prevent look. But the Cardinals are a blitz-heavy team, and they stuck with their stripes here. Rodgers sidestepped the heat and rolled out to his left. Cardinals rookie rusher Markus Golden bore down on him, but Rodgers launched the ball brilliantly — off balance — to the end zone. Jeff Janis, who had three more catches in this game than in his two-year career previously, was in between Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson (one of the best in the game) and safety Rashard Johnson. But Janis — 101 yards receiving on the drive — won the battle,leaping high for the miracle catch to send it to OT. Once more, Arians’ aggressiveness worked against him. That’s the way he’s coached all season — going full tilt — so you like the consistency there. No one would have blamed Arians had he been a little safer and smarter on the final play of regulation, but Arians’ approach feels far more effective in this case than how the Lions approached their defense of Rodgers’ Hail Mary try earlier this season, which was to sit back, rush three, cover the sidelines (LOL) and hope it worked out for the best. It didn’t. Neither did this, but we’re OK with going after it. Did the Packers consider going for two? The Packers had just stung the Cardinals with the miracle to Janis. It was 20-19, Cardinals, at that point. There was no time on the clock. The Packers’ defense had been on the field 67 plays, and 37 in the second half. Three of the previous four defensive possessions were Cardinals scores, and the fourth was a horrible red-zone pick by Palmer that essentially was as giveaway. The Packers’ D was gassed. Should Mike McCarthy have gone for two? It’s hindsight now, but yes. Win it or lose it there. You can talk all you want about controversial coin flips all you want, but Rodgers didn’t even touch the ball in overtime. The game was set up to win on something quick like that with two mentally and physically worn-out teams, and the edge — momentum and home-field advantage-wise — shifted toward the Cardinals. Mason Crosby kicked the extra point, and it went to OT where the Packers had a shot had they gotten the ball first, but McCarthy could have taken the opportunity to steal one right there. Don’t let it come down to chance. Going for two is roughly a 50-50 shot (the Packers were 5 for 9 on two-point tries the past two seasons, which is 55 percent), and it’s better to have a coin-flip proposition — see what we did there — with the ball in your hands than without. They controlled the action at that moment and opted to keep playing. Bad move. There was a built-in excuse with the longer XP attempt this season, and McCarthy could have put the ball in his best player’s hands for the win. Rodgers was hot, and he never would touch the ball again. McCarthy had the chance to flip aggression on its head, to steal the thunder from Arians, who played it to the hilt throughout and won because of it. Who was to blame for the breakdown on the 75 yard TD? This was a blown assignment for sure. The Packers got aggressive and got burned. “We blew a coverage, and he got open,” Packers cornerback Casey Heyward said. McCarthy called it a “broken” coverage. You get the idea. Clay Matthews led a five-man blitz, and neither he nor Mike Neal could bring down Palmer after gettings hands on him. It looked like it was supposed to be a zone pressure with Julius Peppers dropping off and most defenders’ eyes in the backfield. Fitzgerald, who had 170 of his 176 receiving yards after halftime, got wide open across the formation after going in motion after Palmer was flushed up in the pocket. Palmer made the against-his-body flip to Fitzgerald, who did the rest of the work. Matthews hustled back to try to make the tackle, but both he and Sam Shields whiffed on their attempts. Safety Morgan Burnett also couldn’t track Fitzgerald down, and linebacker Jake Ryan didn’t have the speed to catch up. It took a shoestring tackle by Heyward to bring him down at the 5-yard line, and the shovel pass to Fitzgerald ended it two plays later. Tough time for a blown coverage for the Packers, with some guys doing one thing, and others doing something else. – – – – – – – Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Eric_Edholm

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