McCarthy does the right thing

The Green Bay Packers played the Dallas Cowboys Thursday night without a few key players on defense, which was a good move by Mike McCarthy, says's Doug Ritchay.

Not sure what many are thinking in Packers Nation this weekend after the Packers fell at Dallas, 37-27, in the NFL's latest installment of "Game of the Year," but don't start looking for the tallest bridge or building to jump off of.

Sure, Thursday's loss was disappointing. It should be if you have an ounce of competitiveness in your body, but it doesn't guarantee any team any thing. The season has just reached the three-quarter poll, so there are another four games remaining. Much can happen, including injuries.

What we learned Thursday is when the Packers are not healthy they aren't as good as Dallas at Texas Stadium. But coach Mike McCarthy approached this game, personnel-wise, in the right manner. He could've activated Charles Woodson and Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, who both are nursing injuries, if he thought this was a must-win, but truly it wasn't. McCarthy erred on the side of caution, knowing another 10 days before the hapless Raiders visit Lambeau Field will go a long way in the Packers' finish to the season and position them best as possible for the postseason.

Don't misunderstand me because winning at Dallas would've been huge. To have Dallas travel to Green Bay in January would've been "ginormous." Imagine how 'T.O.' would've done in bone-chilling weather.

Nonetheless, if the Packers have to make another trip to Dallas in January, the conditions won't favor either team. The fans will be all Dallas, but the field conditions, weather, etc., won't favor either team.

The biggest concern I have with another Dallas-Green Bay matchup is the 37 points the Packers surrendered. It should've been 44, but 'T.O.' carelessly mishandled a would-be TD reception and the ball fell into the arms of Al Harris in the end zone.

Without 'KGB' and Woodson, the defense was different. Receivers were running wide open in the secondary. There seemed to be more zone coverage to try to protect Jarrett Bush and other defensive backs.

However, McCarthy was prepared to play without Woodson.

"We prepared all week as if Charles wasn't going to play," he said. "Our plan did not get executed as well, particularly in the coverage part of it. As far as playing differently because of Charles, that was not the case."

I beg to differ. If you lose Woodson and add Bush, things will be different. You don't sit Bush on an 'island' like you do Woodson. You give him help either by scheme or with help.

Woodson and Harris do so much for that defense. They're lock-down corners, who allow defensive coordinator Bob Sanders to try many things, knowing the outside is covered.

Furthermore, without 'KGB' and his 9.5 sacks, the Packers missed one of their best pass rushers, which means Tony Romo had less to worry about in the pocket.

Dallas picked apart a defense, which showed it has no depth. If the Packers aren't healthy in the postseason, it might be a shorter run than anybody envisioned. When healthy, Green Bay's defense is a top-10 unit, but when not healthy, it's a defense that can be scored on at will by a quality team.

Which is why McCarthy's decision to sit two key defensive players was a good decision. If they played, they may never get to 100 percent or reach a level where their play doesn't get hindered.

The decision to risk a loss over allowing Woodson and 'KGB' another 10 days of rest was smart. What did worry me was how the Packers played early. They looked star-struck in a 'big-game' atmosphere. The young players haven't been through this and they responded like they were wetting their pants.

The second half was better, but you can't give away a half in the NFL.

"We're disappointed because this is an environment that we have not played in as a young football team," McCarthy said Thursday night. "I thought it was very important for us to come in and win this football game because we will be playing in a lot of championship atmospheres as we move forward.

"This is an opportunity that we need to learn from, because we did not play our best football."

No, the Packers didn't, but they also didn't have all the cards they've been playing with this season. With everybody healthy in January, this team has a better chance to beat the Cowboys. And if Green Bay does, McCarthy's decision to sit two key defensive players now will look like a brilliant move in late January, especially when thousands of Packers fans are looking for hotel rooms in Arizona.

Doug Ritchay is a frequent contributor to and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at

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