Gameday Notebook: Doing More with Less

Despite having his playing time reduced, A.J. Hawk is on his way to his best season since his rookie year. Plus, a big challenge on special teams, injuries and much more in our 21-point game preview, which we guarantee is the biggest and best in the world.

Less A.J. Hawk, apparently, is more A.J. Hawk.

His snaps reduced by about 10 per game over the last two seasons, the Green Bay Packers' veteran inside linebacker is having one of the best seasons of his career. In eight games, he's got a team-high 71 tackles. That puts him on pace for 142 tackles, which would be his most since piling up 155 as a rookie in 2006. From 2007 through 2011, Hawk averaged 115 tackles.

"Obviously, I don't feel positive about that," Hawk said of his reduced playing time. "I want to play every down. People ask me, ‘Does it help you, playing less? Are you a better player when you're not on the field as much?' No, I'll never agree to that. I'll never say that's true. But maybe I've turned the corner a little bit. I've kind of said, ‘You know what? When I'm in, I don't care. I'm going to go crazy.' Maybe I do have a little more energy when I am in, but I still want to be in there 100 percent of the time."

It's not that Hawk is making more tackles, it's that he's making more impact tackles.

ProFootballFocus.com has a stat called "stops" which corresponds to the Packers' grading system of wins and losses. For instance, holding a first-and-10 play to 3 yards or less constitutes a "stop." Hawk has 25 stops this season. Last year, Hawk had 28 stops. In 2010, he had 35 stops.

"At the end of the day, it all comes back to his opportunities," position coach Winston Moss said on Friday. "I've always said that, regardless of production, I think he's been able to, for the most part, take advantage of his opportunities. He's made some plays and I'm looking forward to him doing the same thing in the second half."

The Packers have been without Desmond Bishop all season and his backup, D.J. Smith, is on injured reserve, as well. Moss, however, said "nothing is different" with Hawk's role in the defense.

"Same position, same calls, same scheme," Moss said. "He's letting go, he's having fun, he's enjoying it. I see that he's enjoying it more this year, for whatever reason. That's good to see."

"He's always been a very low-key guy," Moss continued. "He comes in, he does his work and he doesn't have much to say. (Now), there's just more interaction with his teammates. He's not different but it just seems like there's more of a comfort (level), if you want to say. That's good to see. If that contributes to him being more impactful, more power to him."

Coach Mike McCarthy hired Moss upon his arrival in Green Bay in 2006, and the Packers selected Hawk with the fifth pick of the 2006 draft. So, Moss and Hawk know each other well, but it's been an evolving relationship and it's part of the reason why Hawk is having more fun.

"I think we're both kind of feeding off each other and enjoying being around each other even more," Hawk said. "I grew up as a super shy kid, still am, but when I get to know people, I'm just myself. I'm just an idiot. I feel like I'm 15 years old still. I don't feel like I'm getting older. I think he sees that and he likes that I'm more comfortable with him and he's more comfortable with me. I'm having a good time."

One shining light on offense

With 15.9 points per game, the Cardinals are a dreadful 31st in the league. It's been a merry-go-round of mediocrity at quarterback because of injuries, the top two running backs are on injured reserve and the offensive line is a mess.

Through it all, there's Larry Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald owns franchise records for receptions (738), yards (10,126) and touchdowns (76). He was the fastest player in NFL history to 700 career receptions — a full year ahead of Dallas' Jason Witten — the second-fastest to 10,000 receiving yards (behind Randy Moss) and ranks fifth among active receivers in yards (11 yards ahead of Donald Driver).

This season, as defenses have made Fitzgerald the obvious focal point, he's caught 45 passes for 511 yards and three touchdowns.

"He has the size, speed, route running, body control, hands. And he's one of those guys who grew up around football in Minnesota with Cris Carter and guys like that," Williams told FoxSports.com's Alex Marvez. "He just has the total package. You definitely have to have the right mind-set to go out and battle the whole game."

Special teams

In Week 2, Packers punter Tim Masthay was named the NFC's special teams player of the week after his performance against Chicago's Devin Hester. The Packers could use a similar performance against Arizona's Patrick Peterson.

While Peterson has been relatively quiet this season, he tied an NFL record last year with four touchdowns on punt returns.

"I think he's outstanding," Packers special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said. "I think he is clearly one of the best. Very explosive, he's strong, he doesn't fair catch and he's a threat every time the ball's in his hands. I see some of his run style like Devin Hester. I think he's strong, I think he's got tremendous balance and he's got great burst through a seam or hole."

Peterson isn't the only issue for the Packers. Since 2008, Arizona has blocked a league-high 15 kicks — including a whopping 13 field goals. The Cardinals have "just" one blocked field goal this season after leading the league in 2009 (three), 2010 (three) and 2011 (five).

Painful starts to season

When the Packers won the Super Bowl in 2010, they did it with eight preferred starters finishing the season on injured reserve. It's not quite that bad this season, with three starters on injured reserve (including running back Cedric Benson, who's designated for return). Still, 12 players who at one time or another sat atop the depth chart have missed at least one game: Desmond Bishop (eight), Greg Jennings (five), James Starks (four), Benson (three), Nick Perry (two), B.J. Raji (two), Sam Shields (two), D.J. Smith (two), John Kuhn (one), Jordy Nelson (one), C.J. Wilson (one) and Charles Woodson (one). Bishop, Jennings, Benson, Perry, Shields, Smith, Kuhn and Woodson will all miss this game, and Nelson might join them on the sideline.

It's not much better for the Cardinals. In fact, it's worse. Starting running back Beanie Wells (toe; designated for return) and 2011 second-round pick Ryan Williams (shoulder) are on injured reserve. Starting left tackle Levi Brown (triceps) didn't play a snap, nor did the team's swing tackle, Jeremy Bridges (thumb). A second starting offensive lineman, guard Adam Snyder (thigh), will miss this game.

"I don't think it's any different than when I used to play there," guard Daryn Colledge said during his conference call on Wednesday. "You don't try not to use the injuries as an excuse. We're professionals. We have guys who need to step up and play well, and guys who are backing up and getting paid to play, so we don't want to use injuries as an excuse, but if you told me we were going to lose two tackles, two running backs, two tight ends, a guard, before the season started and we'd be sitting at .500 midseason, I would have probably told you that would be a lie. We have guys who are trying to get in there, guys who are trying to find their roles on the team and trying to make a spot for them, and they'll step up."

Key numbers

— The Packers have not allowed a point on a first possession. "It's one of those secondary statistics that I have to answer in a press conference," McCarthy said. "We try to stop them every drive. It's important for us to go out and try to establish what we try to do defensively, go through different personnel groups, make sure we're balancing up properly, try to take their strength away, how they're going to line up. That starts the first series all the way through the game."

— The injuries up front are one reason why the Cardinals have given up a staggering 39 sacks. More on that later. Green Bay's 26 sacks not only are tied first in the league with Arizona, but it's on pace to tie the team record established in 2001. The Packers had 29 sacks all of last season.

— The Cardinals have allowed 21 points or fewer in seven of eight games. The Packers have scored 21 or more points in seven of eight games.

— Green Bay's receivers have caught 19 touchdown passes. Denver's receiver corps is a distant second with 12. The Packers are on pace to tie last year's franchise record, which obliterated the 26 touchdowns by the 1994 receiver group. The Cardinals have allowed nine touchdown passes; only five teams have allowed fewer per game (1.1).

— The Packers' offense is good where it counts and the Cardinals' defense is good when it counts. Green Bay ranks second in red-zone touchdowns (72.0 percent) and is up to 12th on third down (41.9 percent). Arizona's defense ranks 12th in the red zone (42.9 percent) and fifth on third down (32.7 percent).

The other sideline

— A month ago, the Cardinals won the 500th game in franchise history, and their all-time mark is 500-703-39. Incredibly, Whisenhunt is the club's all-time leader in wins with 44. The Cardinals have won twice as many playoff games under Whisenhunt (four) as they had won before he took the job in 2007.

— Of Arizona's eight games, five have been decided by one score. They beat New England 20-18, beat Miami but lost to Buffalo on overtime field goals, beat Seattle by four and lost to Minnesota by seven. The loss to Buffalo snapped the Cardinals' NFL-record seven-game overtime home winning streak.

— Close games are the norm for the Cardinals. Last season, 13 of their 16 games were decided by seven points or less. Their record over the last season-and-a-half in one-score games is 11-7.

History lessons

— This will be the 70th regular-season meeting between the teams dating to 1921, when the Packers faced the Racine Cardinals and the teams were in the American Professional Football Association. They battled to a 3-3 draw in Chicago. The Cardinals were located in Chicago when they earned their last win at Green Bay, back in 1949. The Cardinals are 9-27 on the road in the series.

— The Packers' 43-22-4 lead in the series does not include two games in 1944. The Cardinals and Steelers joined forces due to World War II. The Packers won both games against the team known as Card-Pitt on their way to winning the NFL title.

— The Packers are 4-2 in games before the bye under McCarthy, including 45-7 over Dallas in 2010 and 33-27 over Minnesota last year.

— The NFL record for sacks allowed — 104 by Philadelphia in 1986 — probably is safe, but No. 2 on the dubious list is the 78 allowed by the Cardinals in 1997. Through eight games this season, they've allowed 39. Based on ProFootballFocus.com's study, right tackle Bobby Massie (fourth round, 2012) is responsible for 13 of them and left tackle D'Anthony Batiste (undrafted free agent, 2006) is responsible for 12. No other tackle in the NFL has allowed more than six, according to PFF.

Four-point stance

— An extra point to the special teams segment from earlier. Green Bay's Tim Masthay leads the NFL with 21 inside-the-20 punts. Arizona's Dave Zastudil is second with 19. Keep that in mind if both offenses struggle and the game comes down to field position.

John Skelton was the quarterback at Fordham. Fordham's most famous alum is legendary coach Vince Lombardi, who was one of the famed offensive line's Seven Blocks of Granite from 1933 through 1936 and coached the program in 1947 and 1948. "Coach Lombardi's legacy is very important to the football program and his presence is felt throughout the Fordham campus," Skelton said. "It is going to be special going into Lambeau Field and playing against the Packers in the place where Coach Lombardi had so much success."

— Game-winning drives are a touchy subject for Rodgers. He's got just seven of them in his career, including this year against New Orleans. Skelton had five last season alone and six in his 17 career games.

— We could talk about the differences in the offenses all day, but it boils down to this: Green Bay has scored 26 touchdowns and Arizona has scored 13.

Quote of the week

Or the best quote that we didn't work into a story ...

"The guys obviously reminisce and they reminisce more about it than I do just because they won it. You walk away from game like that knowing it was something special. I believe that if we would have won that game, we had an opportunity to win the Super Bowl that year. We knew that Arizona was one of the few teams that could put up as many points as we could that year, and they were the guys we had to get past. They obviously did a little bit better than we did." — Colledge, on the 51-45 shootout in a 2009 wild-card game.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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