Green Bay Packers (10-5) at Arizona Cardinals (10-5)
Kickoff: 3:15 p.m., Sunday.
TV: Fox (Sam Rosen, Tim Ryan)
Series history: 69th regular-season meeting. Packers lead 42-22-4. Green Bay has won five of the past six meetings since 1988, including a 3-1 record in Arizona. The Packers' last visit to the desert, however, resulted in a 20-13 loss in 2003. Green Bay won the teams' most recent meeting, 31-14 at home in 2006. This is the Packers' first in-season game at University of Phoenix Stadium, though they beat the Cardinals there 44-37 in a preseason matchup on Aug. 28.
The Packers' 14-1 record in their last 15 regular-season finales is the best in the NFL since 1994. ... Rodgers is the first quarterback in NFL history to pass for more than 4,000 yards in each of the first two years in which he started a game. ... Warner has joined Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton as the only players in NFL history to throw at least 100 touchdown passes for two different teams. ... The Packers rank fourth on offense (14th rushing, eighth passing) and second on defense (first rushing, 10th passing). The Cardinals rank 12th on offense (26th rushing, 10th passing) and 20th on defense (18th rushing, 22nd passing). ... The Packers have a league-best plus-22 turnover margin. The Cardinals are tied for 22nd at minus-5.
Packers: Out — S Derrick Martin (ankle); Doubtful — LB Brandon Chillar (back). Questionable — FB Korey Hall (elbow); DE Michael Montgomery (ankle); NT Ryan Pickett (hamstring). Probable — LB Nick Barnett (illness); T Chad Clifton (knee); CB Trevor Ford (knee); DE Johnny Jolly (foot); CB Charles Woodson (shoulder).
Cardinals: Questionable — DE Kenny Iwebema (head); FB Dan Kreider (neck); WR Sean Morey (head); TE Ben Patrick (head); K Neil Rackers (groin); S Antrel Rolle (thigh); RB Beanie Wells (groin). Probable — LB Will Davis (knee); WR Larry Fitzgerald (elbow); CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (toe); CB Greg Toler (elbow).
Keys to the game
The Cardinals' gameplan could be determined by the Vikings' result earlier in the day. If Arizona still has a chance to earn a first-round bye, QB Kurt Warner and his receivers will likely play deeper into the game. If not, both teams will have a vanilla approach with a potential rematch right back in Arizona next weekend. The Packers will be especially wary of pass protection for QB Aaron Rodgers, which should lead to a heavy workload for RBs Ryan Grant and Brandon Jackson.
Inside the Cardinals
The Cardinals have a more diverse offense this season because they are able to run the efficiently. What they haven't been able to do, however, is get the ball deep to Larry Fitzgerald or any other receiver.
Running backs Tim Hightower and Beanie Wells have found room to run in the second half of the season, partly because teams are choosing to keep safeties over the top to help on Fitzgerald.
That has opened things for the run game, but the Cardinals need to get more explosive plays out of their passing attack. Fitzgerald is averaging 11.4 yards a reception, about 4.5 yards less than last year. His longest reception this year is 34 yards. Last season, Fitzgerald had seven receptions in the regular season that were longer than that. In the playoffs, he had five receptions of more than 40 yards, four of them for touchdowns.
The Cardinals have compensated for the lack of the long ball by being efficient in the red zone. They have scored touchdowns on a league-leading 69.8 percent of possessions inside the opponent's 20-yard line.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals' defense ranks 20th in the NFL in yards allowed, one spot below last season. If that were the only significant statistic, the conclusion could be made that Ken Whisenhunt's decision to change defensive coordinators had no impact.
But the Cardinals have shown significant improvement in several other defensive categories, a big reason the club has been more consistent this season.
The Cardinals are fourth in third-down efficiency (35 percent), a 9.4 percent improvement over last season. They are eighth in red zone efficiency (45.2 percent), an 18.4 percent decline. And on average, they are yielding about a touchdown less per game than last season.
The poor showing in those categories last season led Whisenhunt to fire coordinator Clancy Pendergast and promote linebackers coach Bill Davis. It's hard to argue with the results.
The Cardinals have had some poor games, faltering badly in losses to the Colts and Panthers. But they've been much better than last season. In 2008, the Cardinals gave up at least 30 points five times. It's happened just twice this year.
Davis is partly responsible because he's taken fewer chances than Pendergast. The Cardinals still blitz, but they've been better at playing situational defense. In third-and-long situations, they've done an excellent job of playing conservative and making the tackle short of the first downs.
It's helped, too, that they've shored up the secondary. Replacing cornerback Rod Hood with Bryant McFadden has been an upgrade. Free safety Antrel Rolle has grown into the position after moving from cornerback two years ago. The defensive line is deeper, so the starters get a couple of breathers in every game.
The question now, however, is if this defense can play as well as last year's defense did in the postseason.
Pendergast had great schemes designed in the playoffs, and the players executed them.
What game plan? Packers coach Mike McCarthy and Cardinals counterpart Ken Whisenhunt aren't letting on much as to how they are approaching what the odds favor will be a glorified scrimmage before the teams meet again six or seven days later back at University of Phoenix Stadium in Round 1 of the playoffs. The teams will know by kickoff of the late-afternoon game whether the Minnesota Vikings followed through with an expected victory over the New York Giants, thus ensuring a Packers-Cardinals rematch, or whether another meltdown by the Vikings opens the door even more for Arizona to jump up to the No. 2 seed in the NFC bracket.
Assuming the latter scenario doesn't materialize, it would be hard to imagine that either Green Bay or the Cardinals will show much. From the Packers' perspective, McCarthy probably won't deviate from his usually protective approach with players. Thus, seeing the precious commodities of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, receivers Greg Jennings and Donald Driver, running back Ryan Grant and cornerback Charles Woodson for more than a half would be shocking. Game-planning for the encounter that will really matter will have to wait until next week.
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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 email@example.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.