The Breakdown: Cardinals 'O' vs. Packers 'D'

After losing six straight, the Cardinals get another break, traveling to Lambeau Field to face the 2-4 Packers and their depleted, injury riddled secondary. They should dominate on offense. Then again, that's what we said about the Raider game last week.

Wide Receivers:

Anquan Boldin, Troy Walters, and Bryant Johnson are normally a match-up nightmare for any secondary, provided Matt Leinart is able to get them the ball.  This is especially true this week against a very suspect Packers secondary.

Charles Woodson routinely grades out high on everyone's "most overrated" list.  The former Heisman Trophy winner had a remarkable early career in Oakland, was beset by turf toe and a host of other injuries, and has since been highly regarded in league circles, but looked at as a shadow of his former self and an injury risk by most members of the press.  So, where does the truth lie?  Somewhere in-between.  Woodson still has solid coverage skills and has become more of a force against the run as evidenced by his high tackle total and three forced fumbles this year.  The Packers signed him to a huge contract in the off-season in the hopes that he would become the "shut down" corner that every team covets.  He hasn't become that, but he's the one bright spot in a very below average back four.  He's still not good enough to man-up on Boldin.

When the Packers thought they were good enough on cornerbacks to cut the maddeningly inconsistent and penalty addled Ahmad Carroll, they were probably being too optimistic.  Al Harris needed to move from his nickel role to a starting spot and Green Bay doesn't really have anyone behind their starters (though the book is still out on fourth round rookie Will Blackmon).

A team realistically needs to have three quality (and possibly four, when Larry Fitzgerald comes back from his hamstring injury) cornerbacks to handle Arizona's wide receivers.  And the Packers don't have the horses.

In addition, the safety duo of Marquand Manuel (Ken Hamlin's back-up in Seattle last year and he of the "poor angle" in Super Bowl XL) and Nick Collins haven't done anything thus far this season to show that they're excellent two-way defenders.  Yardage can be had deep and after the catch against this secondary and the Cardinals are going to need it, given that they're unlikely to gain any ground on Green Bay's stout front seven.

Offensive Line:

While there aren't any marquee names on the Packers defensive line (although Aaron Kampman and his 7 sacks are starting to garner attention), their play as a unit has been stellar thus far.  At one point, Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila was considered one of the premiere right ends in the league.  While he does have three quarterback take-downs this season, that reputation has diminished and offenses have found that they can eliminate some of the ferocity of his pass rush by repeatedly running straight at him.  The unfortunate part of that equation for the Cardinals is that they haven't been able to run at anyone in any direction but backwards all season.  As a result, look for KGB to make Sunday a long game for left tackle Leonard Davis.

The tackles are not well known, but Ryan Pickett and Corey Williams do a good job of occupying blockers and allowing their talented and athletic linebackers to flow to the football.  Williams has two sacks this year as well, proving that the Packers have done a good job bringing pressure with just their front four.

More bad news for the offensive line: The Packers like to blitz.  And, given the fact that Leinart is a rookie starting only his fourth NFL game, they're likely to blitz even more than usual.  The line will need to pass protect better than they have (Oliver Ross, protector of Leinart's blind side, I'm looking at you...) and will also need to keep at least Edgerrin James and possibly Leonard Pope in to help in passing situations.

With the tremendous advantage the Cardinals hold in the passing game against Green Bay's secondary, and the unlikelihood of them being able to run the ball on the Packers' front seven, the line, Pope, and James need to make sure their young quarterback stays upright and can step forward in the pocket. 

They haven't done well in this area all year, but there's a first time for everything, right?

Running Backs:

This is not the game where Edge breaks out of his season-long funk and goes wild for over a hundred yards and three touchdowns.  The Packers are too good along the defensive line and happen to have all-stars like A.J. Hawk and Nick Barnett in their linebacking corps.

Barnett and Hawk are solid tacklers, excellent athletes, and are explosive when they make contact with the ball carrier.  They are also exceptional two-way defenders that cover well and maintain their zones.  And, they happen to be pretty adept at blitzing the quarterback.

It's true that most of Edge's complete ineffectiveness can be chalked up to the offensive line's inability to create holes and seams for him in the running game.  Wide bodied linemen like the Cardinals have are better suited running dive, off-tackle, and off-guard plays where they can use their size to their advantage, as opposed to slants and stretch plays (which James runs much more effectively) that expose their slow feet and lack of athleticism.  However, Edge has not been as explosive, as decisive, or as strong after initial contact this year as he has been in past seasons.  Therefore, some of the blame needs to fall on him and the onus needs to be put on him to start earning some of the $30 million the Bidwells shelled out this spring to secure his services for the next four years.

That having been said, he's only going to earn his money this week by getting tackled behind the line of scrimmage or for no gain.

Game Plan:

It has become painfully obvious to the Cardinals faithful (I'm sure some of you are still out there) that the only way Arizona will be able to move the ball is by throwing it.  Fortunately, the Packers are thin in the secondary and the Cardinals have a number of potent weapons at their disposal.  They should start and finish the game by throwing the ball.

Where they're likely to have the most success, though, is with intermediate and deep passes.  The linebackers for the Packers are far too good, far too athletic, and far too physical for Walters, Boldin, and Johnson to make a living running short routes, especially in the middle of the field.  They should be able to find plenty of open real estate in all intermediate routes in all areas of the field (right, left, middle) behind the linebackers and in front of the safeties.  This will be especially successful for the Cardinals if they can manage to get the ball in Boldin's or Johnson's hands in this part of the field, letting them loose on the poor tackling Packer secondary. 

And, they would also have success throwing the ball deep to all parts of the field (over the top on the cornerbacks and overmatched safeties), but Leinart would need to be in a position to get his receivers the ball.  Unfortunately for Arizona, on his back with a defender on top of him is not a good throwing position for Leinart.  Early on, however, the Cardinals may be able to throw deep off of playaction (just because they can't run the ball doesn't mean they won't) freezing Green Bay's safeties and throwing the ball up for Boldin or Johnson to muscle it away from the cornerback.  All in all, don't look for too many deep throws from Leinart, unless it's early or the Cardinals are playing with a big lead.

When they do run the ball to mix things up, it's entirely possible that they might be able to have some success.  Anything's possible, right?  With the Packers focused on stopping Arizona's flying circus, they might forget that the Cardinals have running plays in their playbook.  This may, again MAY open things up a little for the Cardinals to run a few draw plays to Edge, taking advantage of the fact that Kampman and KGB will have already over pursued the play in an attempt to sack Leinart.

Overall, the Cardinals have a considerable advantage in the passing game.  The bad news is that it's up to the offensive line to protect Leinart long enough to exploit that advantage.


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