Aggressive Cardinals Will Test Passing Game

The Cardinals enter Sunday's game on a four-game losing streak, but they field a playoff-worthy defense. Thanks in part to a powerhouse pass rush, Arizona has allowed 130 net passing yards per game during the skid. That amounts to a huge challenge to an injury-plagued Packers offense.

The Arizona Cardinals have lost four consecutive games, but it would be foolish to expect the Green Bay Packers to cruise to victory by simply rolling out the football on Sunday.

"Oh, for sure," Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said on Wednesday. "This is a good football team. They're not far off from starting the year 4-0. A lot of pride, a lot of veteran leadership over there. At this point in the season, you start thinking about where you want to be in December."

The Cardinals' defense is no joke. They're fourth in the league in points allowed, fourth against the pass, fourth in completion percentage allowed and tied for first with Green Bay in sacks. In a 20-18 win at New England in Week 2, Tom Brady topped 300 yards but was 14-of-25 for 153 through the first three quarters, when the Cardinals built a 20-9 lead. In a 27-6 throttling of the Eagles in Week 3, Michael Vick threw for 217 yards on 17-of-37 passing.

Even during the four-game losing streak, the Cardinals' pass defense has been outstanding. In net passing yards (yards allowed through the air minus yards lost on sacks), Arizona allowed 131 yards to St. Louis in Week 5, 141 to Buffalo in Week 6, just 43 to Minnesota in Week 7 and 204 last week against San Francisco. That's a four-game average of 129.8 net passing yards.

The pass rush is outstanding, both with talent and a blitz-happy scheme. Inside linebacker Daryl Washington has eight sacks and six players have at least two. With that pass rush, the Cardinals' secondary can play extremely aggressive.

"When you're playing with a good pass rush and your veteran players, like they are in the secondary, you understand timing better and understand when the ball's got to come out," Rodgers said. "Both (safeties) Kerry (Rhodes) and Adrian (Wilson) have played a lot of football between them. There's a lot of experience there, a lot of reps, understanding of blitz concepts and route concepts and timing, so they do a good job of understanding those things, and they've got some guys on the outside who can cover, as well."

The Packers' receivers will be tested, much like they were at Seattle. It will be up to them to get open before the Cardinals' blitzers can get to Rodgers. On the other side of the coin, if Rodgers has time, he can use the defensive backs' aggressiveness against them with double moves.

"They do a lot of press coverage," Packers receiver James Jones said. "They jump a couple routes because they bring a lot of pressure. When you're bringing a lot of pressure and you're getting after the quarterback, they know the ball's coming out quick and they've got a time clock in their head, as well. We're going to have to be physical at the top of our routes. Aaron's going to have to get the ball out fast. We're going to have to expect some contact – you aren't going to be able to beat your guy as clean because they're bringing a lot of pressure. Just be physical when the ball comes, make plays and hopefully we can break some tackles."

Arizona's secondary is led by ace second-year cornerback Patrick Peterson. He's allowed just 51.1 percent completions and a passer rating of 66.2, according to Pro Football Focus.

"He's getting there," Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "Much like Daryl Washington, he's a young player that's growing into the position. We asked him to do a lot this year in coverage, and as a young player, he's still working on the fundamentals and techniques. He wants to be one of the best corners in the league and he's a guy that really works at it. I'm very pleased with Patrick's attitude and how he works."

Veteran William Gay is the other starter, rookie Jamell Fleming is the nickel and Michael Adams – who forced Rodgers' game-ending fumble in the 2009 playoff game – will enter in dime situations. Veteran safeties Wilson (12th year) and Rhodes (eighth) have seen it all, making up for waning athleticism. Wilson's at his best as an enforcer in the run game.

All told, opposing quarterbacks have completed 56.5 percent of their passes with nine touchdowns and eight interceptions in eight games.

It adds up to a tall order for Green Bay's passing attack, especially if a hamstring injury keeps Jordy Nelson out for a second consecutive game. Rodgers, who entered last week's game against ranked second in the league in accuracy, completed 62.9 percent of his throws against the Jaguars -- his second-lowest figure of the season. His 186 yards and 5.3 yards per attempt not only were season lows but his worst figures since getting knocked out of the Week 13 game at Detroit with a concussion.

"They're a tough group to match up against," Whisenhunt said. "When you've got a quarterback like that, who I think is one of the best in the NFL, who can, regardless of what you're doing, he can put the ball in places that are hard to defend. We know it's a challenge for us. We've got to try to simulate it as best we can in practice so we can give our guys work on it. I think that they're, regardless of what's gone on, you can see that they're a very good passing football team."

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