2008 Playoffs Occupy Capers

What worries the Packers' defensive coordinator is the Cardinals' penchant for producing big plays through the air. Kurt Warner produced home run after home run last postseason, including the Super Bowl against a virtual clone of the Packers' scheme.

The NFL playoffs begin on Saturday, but the 2008 playoffs were on defensive coordinator Dom Capers' mind on Thursday night.

"We know we have a challenge," Capers said on Friday, two days ahead of Sunday's Packers-Cardinals playoff game in Glendale, Ariz. "This receiving corps, they're as good as there is in the league. And you don't have to watch much tape. Last night I looked at all three of their playoff games heading up to the Super Bowl last year, and those receivers, especially (Larry) Fitzgerald, were making big, big plays. That's why they were able to win three and go to the Super Bowl."

The operative words against the Cardinals are "big plays."

In the Cardinals' 30-24 victory over Atlanta in the wild-card round, Kurt Warner hit Fitzgerald for a 42-yard touchdown and Anquan Boldin for a 71-yard touchdown.

In the Cardinals' 33-13 victory over Carolina in the divisional round, Warner hit Fitzgerald for a 29-yard touchdown.

In the Cardinals' 32-25 victory over Philadelphia in the NFC championship game, Warner hit Fitzgerald for three touchdowns, including a 62-yarder.

And in the Super Bowl, the Cardinals almost won the game when Warner hit Fitzgerald for a 64-yard touchdown with 2:37 remaining.

In the four playoff games, Warner led all quarterbacks with 15 completions of 20-plus yards — Ben Roethlisberger was next with nine — and six completions of 40-plus yards. Those 15 long completions were the most since Jake Delhomme's 17 for Carolina in 2003.

And in one of the most dominating postseasons ever, Fitzgerald had nine receptions of 20-plus yards. Antonio Freeman was one of several players who held the playoff record with seven, and nobody else had more than three last postseason. He also had four receptions of 40-plus yards. Nobody else had more than two. He moved the chains on 21 receptions. Nobody else had more than 10 first-down catches. He set postseason records for receptions (30), yards (546) and touchdowns (seven).

"He's a rare guy," Capers said of Fitzgerald. "He's got the combination of size and athletic ability and jumping ability and really strong hands, and Warner knows that. They've got a lot of confidence that even if you've got two people on him, they'll take their chances."

One game was of special interest to Capers: the Super Bowl against Pittsburgh, which runs a defense that practically mirrors what Capers is running in Green Bay. Warner was brilliant in the Super Bowl, completing 31-of-43 passes for 377 yards and three touchdowns. He had four completions of more than 20 yards, including three in the fourth quarter alone. His one mistake was the famous 100-yard interception return for a touchdown by James Harrison on the last play of the first half that turned a possible 14-10 Cardinals lead to a 17-7 Steelers advantage.

The Cardinals have four players with at least 55 receptions.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
"Arizona's going to be in great, great shape going into the locker room at halftime," Capers said in looking back at the Super Bowl. "But all of a sudden, it totally flips on one play. And they still come down and score to go ahead (late) and it takes a last-minute drive for Pittsburgh to go win the game. You saw Fitzgerald there when they needed it, split that seam and take that thing the distance to put ‘em up. That's the way this team plays, and that's always your concern when you're trying to defend them. You can't ever relax because you might have two, three, four good series, and then, bam, in two plays they score a touchdown."

At 36, there isn't a blitz that Warner hasn't seen, and while he joked this week in a conference call that he wishes he could throw the ball like counterpart Aaron Rodgers, there isn't a throw he can't make with ease. It doesn't hurt that his head coach and play-caller is Ken Whisenhunt, who spent countless practices over his three seasons as Pittsburgh's offensive coordinator facing that scheme. Playing the Packers in back-to-back games means Whisenhunt and Warner will have a good read on Capers' plan.

The Cardinals' offense hasn't been as explosive this season, but the potential is there. That was apparent when Capers watched the film of the Cardinals' victory over Minnesota on Dec. 6. Arizona's first touchdown drive needed one play and 2 yards, thanks to receiver Steve Breaston's 64-yard punt return. Its next touchdown drive covered 58 yards on two plays, capped by Warner's 39-yard touchdown to Boldin. Its third touchdown was a five-play, 77-yard drive capped by a 34-yard touchdown pass to Fitzgerald. The Vikings were offside on the first play of the drive to nullify an interception.

"That's the way the game is, so you can't ever relax against these guys," Capers said.

Mix in the Cardinals' ability to strike at any time with the not-so-distant memories of Roethlisberger completing 10 passes for at least 20 yards in the Packers-Steelers game on Dec. 20, and it's no wonder Capers was spending extra time trying to figure out how to stop Warner and Co. with a secondary with suspect third and fourth cornerbacks.

"They're definitely going to come out aggressive," cornerback Tramon Williams said. "I'm expecting that. This last game, they didn't really take many shots. That's not like them."

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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 packwriter2002@yahoo.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.

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