Packers vs. Cardinals: Keys to the game

For the Packers to earn their first Lambeau Field victory of the season, they must shut down Edgerrin James and limit Anquan Boldin.

The Green Bay Packers were supposed to be a lousy football team this season. The Arizona Cardinals were supposed to be one of the most-improved teams this season.

As the teams meet Sunday at Lambeau Field, it hasn't quite turned out that way. The Packers are only 2-4, but with a little luck, they could be 3-3 or 4-2. They are certainly one of the most-improved teams in the league since Week 1.

The Cardinals, at 1-6, are a disaster. "We thought we were going to be a lot better off than we are," said defensive end Bertrand Berry, who with safety Adrian Wilson, leads the team with four sacks. "It's extremely disappointing. One and six is not a good feeling, no matter how you look at it. It is very frustrating but we have to find a way to get this thing turned around."

For the Packers to earn their first Lambeau Field win in the Mike McCarthy era, here are five keys to the game.

1. Sitting on the ‘Edge'

The Cardinals have been bad seemingly forever, but they gained instant credibility when they signed Edgerrin James away from the Indianapolis Colts.

James entered the season coming off consecutive 1,500-yard seasons. This year, he's rushed a league-high 161 times for 432 yards and a league-worst 2.7 yards per rush. The only time he's been held to less than 4.2 yards per rush in a season was in 2002. Even awful Oakland had its way with James, holding the former All Pro to 34 yards on 13 carries.

Green Bay's ranks 10th in the league against the run and 11th in yards allowed per rush. Linebackers Nick Barnett and A.J. Hawk are coming off big games against Miami, and they must do the same on Sunday. While James is struggling, he's too good a back to relax against.

2. Be bold against Boldin

Stopping the run will help the Packers take away the Cardinals' top offensive weapon, receiver Anquan Boldin, and their impressive rookie quarterback, Matt Leinart.

At 6-foot-1, 223 pounds, Boldin is a big, physical target. Despite his team having no running game and his sidekick, Larry Fitzgerald, likely to miss a third straight game with a hamstring injury, Boldin ranks second in the NFL in receptions with 44 and fifth in yards with 561. His coming-out party against the Chicago Bears — 10 catches for 129 yards — was no fluke. In his two full seasons — he missed six games in 2004 with a knee injury — he caught 101 and 102 passes.

"I'm seeing a lot of double teams," Boldin said. "Teams are trying to find ways to take me out of the game, whether it be a bracket, double team, bringing a safety down, shooting a linebacker outside, or whatever it may be. They're just trying to find ways to take me out. When we have a guy like (Fitzgerald) on the other side, it makes it difficult to do that."

He'll be a handful against a Packers pass defense that was scorched by Joey Harrington, of all people, last week at Miami, though McCarthy downplayed the statistical unsightliness of the performance.

"People look at those numbers and they say, ‘That's the way we're going to go after their defense.' That will continue until we stop it," McCarthy said. "It's an area of emphasis, but as far as being concerned, I think we've improved."

3. My favorite Martins

The Packers avoided the injury bug through training camp and the first few weeks of the season, but they haven't been so lucky lately. With Robert Ferguson out for the season and impressive rookie Greg Jennings likely to miss another game with an ankle injury, the Packers will start Ruvell Martin opposite Donald Driver.

Martin actually started last week, too, since the Packers opened the game in a three-receiver set. He caught two passes, including a key 19-yarder on the clinching touchdown drive.

"It's one of those things where you learn maybe on the run," he said. "As things happen, you go over it on the sidelines, figure out what's going on, and you make the appropriate adjustments. But for the most part, it's playing football. We're expected to make common sense plays, like knowing where to go as far as scrambles and stuff like that."

He'll need to do more, and the Packers will need a solid game out of their second-best receiving option, tight end David Martin, to score enough points to win the game.

4. In a zone

Green Bay's zone-blocking running game didn't do much against Miami's strong defense last week until Ahman Green's 70-yard touchdown run.

Arizona's run defense is pretty average (18th against the run and 18th in yards allowed per rush), and McCarthy hopes Green's big run has a lingering affect on his offense.

"I think that it is a play in the game that we can draw more from than just one win," McCarthy said. "To win that football game, as far as the confidence we are able to pull from that game as a football team, the confidence we are able to pull for our run-blocking unit from that play, there are a number of things from that game that we'll be able to draw from."

5. Efficient Favre

There were a lot of questions surrounding Brett Favre entering this season. He threw 29 interceptions last season, and while many of those were thrown under desperate circumstances, too often he hurt the team more than he helped.

This season, Favre is a year older and many years wiser. He hasn't been intercepted in his last two games, encompassing 35 passes at Miami and 39 against St. Louis. In six games, he's been picked off five times, putting him on pace for 13 interceptions. His career low is 13, set in 1992 and matched during his MVP seasons in 1995 and 1996.

Since interceptions thrown are actually more of a win-loss indicator than turnover margin, it's no surprise Favre's efficient play is a big reason why the Packers have been in position to win in four of six games. If Favre can overcome his depleted arsenal of weapons and make the right reads on Sunday, the Packers will be in good shape to finally give McCarthy his first Lambeau Field win.

Lawrence is a regular contributor to Send comments to

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