Early Game Plan: Playing to Win

At least publicly, coach Mike McCarthy sees no reason to let up this week at Arizona ... even with a likely playoff rematch the following weekend. Why? Click here to see what the coach had to say on Monday.

As baseball legend Ernie Banks would say, "Let's play two!"

With the NFC playoff picture taking shape, there's a good chance the Green Bay Packers will face the Arizona Cardinals in the regular-season finale on Sunday and make a return trip to Glendale, Ariz., to face the Cardinals again the following weekend.

On the surface, the Packers would be wise this week to run the ball into the line 60 times on offense, play nothing but their base 3-4 defense, keep their key players on the bench and save all of their time and energy for the following week's playoff game.

At least on Monday, that doesn't appear to be coach Mike McCarthy's approach.

"I'll just say this," McCarthy said one day after his team clinched a playoff berth by demolishing the Seahawks 48-10. "Every game plan that you have going into a game, you don't run every one of your plays. I think any NFL football team in all three phases could play a doubleheader from a game-planning standpoint if they needed to. I'm not worried about showing anything. You play football games to win games, and that's not going to change."

Pressed on whether it would be to his team's advantage of "save" some of the game plan for the presumed playoff rematch, McCarthy wasn't buying that line of thinking -- at least for public consumption.

"I guess it depends on your view," he said. "I think frankly a lot of this gets overhyped, game-planning and so forth. Football is about fundamentals, and the people that do that win games. Putting this individual against that individual, yeah, you try to do that, but also, the opponent has the ability to grab the chalk and get on the board too and take that away from you. That component never changes. If we do play them in two weeks, great, we'll be ready. If we don't, we're going to make sure we're ready for them this week. That's our approach."

McCarthy's larger point that games are won or lost by the team's "base concepts" makes sense. Other than an odd-ball package like "Psycho" that defensive coordinator Dom Capers sprang on the Bears a couple weeks ago, there's probably nothing the Cardinals couldn't figure out by looking back at the Packers' previous 15 games.

"Everybody is known for something at this point in the season," McCarthy said. "We're not going to change the way we approach games, the way we play games, and I'm sure our opponent's not going to, this week or next week."

Another thing McCarthy needs to consider as he makes his game-planning and personnel decisions is momentum. The Packers are 6-1 following their 4-4 start, and plenty of good things came from that last-play loss to Pittsburgh. A couple years ago, the New York Giants played the undefeated New England Patriots to the wire in the season-finale, even though that game had no bearing on the Giants' playoff position. New York, of course, went on to win three consecutive road playoff games -- including at Green Bay for the NFC championship -- before beating the Patriots in the Super Bowl.

It's that fine line of keeping the momentum going while avoiding an injury to a key player like Aaron Rodgers or letting a key player like Ryan Pickett heal that is the conundrum that McCarthy -- and the Cardinals, for that matter -- will face this week.

"We have a lot of momentum the second half of the season, so you want to keep that going," McCarthy said. "The health of your football team is really the one aspect you can't control. Now, you can lessen the risk factor of injury by trying to save a certain individual, and I'm aware of all that. We've talked about all those different options and so forth, and those are things you look at and we'll do what's in the best interests of our football team."

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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 and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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