Welcome back to the summer edition of PackerReport.com's "Sunday School." Each week, we'll take a look back on the Packers' most recent matchup and give you five key lessons. Today, we get inside Green Bay's impressive 41-34 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.
1.) Rodgers is ready for his close-up
Wow! I mean, really, is there anything left to say about Aaron Rodgers this preseason or his performance against the Cardinals? The stats stand on their own — 14-for-19, 258 yards, three touchdowns and a near-perfect 155.2 passer rating. But somehow, Rodgers actually looked more impressive than his stats.
This wasn't the Browns' or the Bills' defenses he was doing surgery on. This was a Cardinals unit that represented the NFC in the Super Bowl. It didn't matter. Rodgers was masterful going through his progressions and checkdowns. Tight end Jermichael Finley was his third read when he found him wide open in the back of the end zone for six. And Rodgers throws one of the prettiest deep balls you'll ever see, as witnessed by a 55-yard bomb to Donald Driver and a 76-yard score to Jordy Nelson, when Rodgers hit him in stride after a perfectly sold run fake left him open. In case anyone forgot that Rodgers is pretty good on the run, too, he stepped up in the pocket early in the first quarter, did a little stutter-step on a defender and took off for 34 yards, picking up a block from Driver on the way.
Am I gushing? I think I might be. But that's how good Rodgers has looked.
2.) Woodson never has played better
Maybe I appreciate it more because I'm a little older than he is. Maybe it's because I remember watching Darrell Green and Deion Sanders play cornerback late in their careers and know how rare it is for a player at that position in their mid-30s to still be dominating. Whatever the case, Charles Woodson was nothing short of amazing against the Cardinals.
His strip of receiver Jerheme Urban was absolutely criminal, ripping the ball down his body and through his legs before pulling it in and taking off the other way. Then, defensive coordinator Dom Capers decided to unleash Woodson as a blitzer. First, he swatted the ball from Kurt Warner's hand as he ran from the pocket on a second-down play that saw teammate Tramon Williams pick up the fumble on the bounce but step out of bounds before establishing possession. Woodson came back later in the half, hitting Warner and causing another fumble. This time, linebacker Aaron Kampman picked up the pigskin and ran 24 yards for a touchdown and a 24-3 Packers lead.
Can Woodson really be better in this new scheme than he was last year, when he tied for second in the league with seven interceptions? The answer just might be yes.
3.) Potential and production have met up in jersey No. 88
On the Packers' first play from scrimmage, they lined up in a two tight end set and Rodgers completed a 7-yard pass to Jermichael Finley. As deep and talented as they are at receiver, that they're making a point of putting Finley on the field tells you how much they think of him. That the Cardinals seemed unable to cover him tells you what kind of impact he can have on this offense.
The second-year player is living up to his brash statements of a year ago. He got open at the back of the end zone for the team's second touchdown of the night. Following an interception right before the half, Finley lined up wide on the final play and easily beat talented Cardinals corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie for a quick six to end the second quarter. This kid will be a difference-maker in 2009.
4.) Driver is still getting it done
Woodson isn't the only one drinking from the fountain of youth. Donald Driver seems to be pounding it like Gatorade, too. The 34-year-old receiver made a sweet block on Rodgers' 34-yard run early in the game, then snared a 55-yarder that set up Finley's first score. Through three preseason games, Driver has four grabs for 134 yards and two touchdowns.
Driver's touchdowns were in decline last year with the emergence of Greg Jennings, and they could be down even more with a red-zone target like Finley in the mix. But Driver's touches will remain up. His route-running and ability to make the first man miss show no signs of rust, and that he'll stick his head in to block a defender makes him the antithesis of the "prima donna" wide receiver. Another 1,000-yard receiving season lurks on the horizon for a player who has the fifth-most receiving yards in the league over the last five seasons.
5.) Don't be shocked if Smith unseats Bigby
Atari Bigby was a dreadlocked, heat-seeking missile that burst onto the scene in 2007 and blew up everything in site. Injuries robbed him of playing time and his playmaking ability last season. But this season, it seemed a healthy Bigby would return to form. That hasn't happened.
It's not to say that Bigby is playing poorly. Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald will make anyone look like they're struggling to cover him. But Bigby's game seems to be missing that extra something, aside from the pad-popping hits that defined him two years ago. Conversely, free agent Anthony Smith, a former Pittsburgh Steeler well-schooled in the 3-4 defensive scheme, has steadily improved throughout camp and three preseason contests. As good as his 38-yard interception return was, it was the way he read the play and moved in for the pick that stood out.
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W. Keith Roerdink has covered the Packers since 1992. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.