GREEN BAY – A few years ago, they won games with offense. These days, the Packers are playing to the strength of their defense, a trend that began in the second half of last season.
"I think the phrase defense wins championships is very important. Offense can take you a long way. You have to have an excellent defense in this league to win a championship," Packers Coach Mike McCarthy said on Monday, as he reviewed his team's 28-7 win over the Cowboys on Sunday.
The win was punctuated by a suffocating Packers defense and a bulldozing running game that consumed 37:48 time of possession. It has long been a winning postseason formula.
"We have work to do. That was clearly established in the second six games. When we stop the run, we're tough to handle, particularly on third down," McCarthy said.
On a day when McCarthy reclaimed the play-calling duties, the Packers might have exposed the identity with which they'll choose to play through the remainder of the season. The Packers' rankings clearly reflect the trend.
The Packers are No. 8 in rushing; it's the team's top ranking. At No. 18 on defense, the Packers are five spots higher than they were following a 37-29 loss at Carolina on Nov. 8. Since then, the Packers have allowed slightly more than 15 points per game and are No. 6 in the league in points allowed.
Everything about the Packers' defense and the team's running game is trending upward, and a commitment would seem to have been made on Sunday to feature the combination of both.
"The makeup of our team is definitely different from Week 1. We have to do whatever we need to do to win," McCarthy said.
McCarthy's play-calling leaned heavily on balance.
"The run/pass combination was the plan going into the game. The video was good," he said, deflecting further play-calling questions.
"That's the way we'll operate from here going forward. We did some good things on offense," McCarthy said, then adding of former play-caller Tom Clements: "Tom's role hasn't changed, minus the play-calling."
Much about the Packers, however, has changed.