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Green Bay Packers (11-5) at Arizona Cardinals (10-6)
Kickoff: Sunday, 3:40 p.m.
TV: Fox: (Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver).
Series: 71st meeting. Packers lead 44-22-4. Fresh off a 33-7 rout of the host Cardinals in the regular-season finale, Green Bay has won six of the past seven meetings since 1988, including a 4-1 record in Arizona. The teams are meeting in the playoffs for the second time. The Packers beat the then-St. Louis Cardinals 41-16 in an NFC first-round game at Lambeau Field during the strike-shortened 1982 season, on the strength of four touchdown passes from Lynn Dickey to tie a club record in the postseason.
Packers: WR Patrick Williams, S Derrick Martin, CB Trevor Ford, FB Quinn Johnson,T Breno Giacomini, T Allen Barbre, NT Anthony Toribio, DE Michael Montgomery.
Cardinals: QB Brian St. Pierre, FB Nehemiah Broughton, S Rashad Johnson, LB Reggie Walker, G/T Herman Johnson, DE Jeremy Clark, WR Anquan Boldin, TE Stephen Spach. Breaston, a 1,000-yard receiver last year, will start in place of Boldin.
Keys to the game
If his pass protection holds up, look for Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers to test the Cardinals' secondary vertically early. Arizona will counter with aggressive blitz packages. When the Cardinals do bring the heat they had better get to Rodgers, who isn't making many mistakes with 14 touchdowns and two interceptions the past eight weeks. The Packers saw a watered-down Cardinals offense last weekend. Warner got a chance to rest up, although the status of receiver Anquan Boldin (ankle) is certainly worth watching. Green Bay is thin in the secondary and Warner will target cornerback Tramon Williams opposite Charles Woodson along with nickelback Jarrett Bush. However, the offensive line struggled in a pair of losses to San Francisco this season and Green Bay's 3-4 scheme could cause more issues.
Rodgers was sacked nine times over the past seven games after being sacked 41 times through the first nine. ... The Cardinals are only the 10th team since 1990 to reach the playoffs the year after losing in the Super Bowl. ... Arizona won consecutive division titles for the first time since 1974 and 1975. ... Warner's 98.9 career postseason passer rating is second all-time behind Hall of Famer Bart Starr (104.8). ... The Packers' first-string offense racked up 668 yards in just five quarters of two previous meetings against the Cardinals in Arizona this season (357 first half of preseason; 311 in three quarters last week). ... The Packers finished sixth in offense (14th rushing, seventh passing) and second in defense (first rushing, fifth passing). The Cardinals finished 14th in offense (28th rushing, 12th passing) and 20th in defense (17th rushing, 23rd passing). ... The Cardinals have four Pro Bowlers (safety Adrian Wilson, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, defensive end Darnell Dockett and receiver Larry Fitzgerald). The Packers have four, as well (safety Nick Collins, cornerback Charles Woodson, linebacker Clay Matthews III and quarterback Aaron Rodgers).
Brad Jones hits Kurt Warner.
Maxx Wolfson/Getty Images
If anything can be gleaned from Green Bay's full-throttle approach for the better part of both of those meetings is that Aaron Rodgers will throw the football early and often against Arizona's 23rd-rated pass defense. The Cardinals probably will be looking to take away the quick throws over the middle, so head coach/play caller Mike McCarthy won't be bashful to go vertical and test a secondary that isn't the picture of health entering the postseason.
Defensively, Green Bay's Dom Capers held back on blitzing Kurt Warner during his cameo appearance Sunday, but that won't be the case in this one. Expect a carbon copy of the aggressive game plan Capers took into the teams' preseason encounter, when the Packers harassed Warner into two sacks, two fumbles and an interception in only a half of action. They can't afford to let Warner sit back in the pocket and let him play pitch and catch with Larry Fitzgerald, Boldin and others in an anticipated spread attack by the Cardinals.
Green Bay could catch a break, though, with Boldin possibly out because of ankle and knee injuries sustained in the last game. That might force Arizona to try to pound the football with the tandem of Tim Hightower and Beanie Wells. Yet, the Packers, who led the league in run defense for the first time in franchise history, haven't surrendered 100-plus rushing yards to an opponent in eight of the last nine games.
Inside the game
The "Q" factor looms big for the Packers' showdown at the Arizona Cardinals in the wild-card round of the NFC playoffs Sunday.
The Cardinals went all week without Pro Bowl receiver Anquan Boldin on the field, tilting the advantage in Green Bay's direction in the battle against Arizona's pass-centric attack.
Boldin is on the mend from ankle and knee injuries he sustained in a collision with Packers safety Nick Collins during Green Bay's 33-7 win over the Cardinals in the regular-season finale last Sunday.
"A guy like 'Q', you don't replace guys like that," Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner said of Boldin. "You can't just plug somebody else in and get the same productivity and the same leadership and the same competitiveness and all of the things he brings to the table."
Arizona without Boldin on Sunday would be the great equalizer for the Packers' short-handed secondary, which has been without Pro Bowl cornerback Al Harris since he sustained a season-ending knee injury Nov. 22.
The Achilles' heel of Green Bay's No. 2-rated defense has been a lack of depth in the secondary after Harris was hurt, but the Packers were fortunate to face only one team down the stretch that had the firepower with multiple receivers to attack the weak spots.
Incidentally, a 37-36 loss at the Pittsburgh Steelers on Dec. 20 — a game in which Ben Roethlisberger picked apart the Green Bay defense for 503 passing yards and a last-second touchdown dart for the victory — was the Packers' lone defeat in their final eight regular-season games.
The Cardinals are similar to the Steelers with Warner at the controls of an offense that employs a lot of multireceiver formations, but they didn't show their full hand in the meaningless matchup against the Packers last weekend.
Arizona surely won't be vanilla in the rematch Sunday.
"We fully anticipate Arizona to spread us out," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "That's what Kurt Warner likes to do, and that's what he does very well. We saw a number of snaps last week in spread formations, and I'm sure coming off the Pittsburgh (game), everybody is looking at the empty formations" to throw at the Green Bay defense.
If the Cardinals have to play without Boldin, the Packers will be able to match up starters Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams against All-Pro Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston. That would take the pressure off shaky nickel back Jarrett Bush and probably eliminate the need to go to a dime package with one of two untested players in rookie Brandon Underwood or Josh Bell, thus giving defensive coordinator Dom Capers more leeway to roll in No. 5 linebacker Brandon Chillar to help turn up the pass-rushing heat on Warner.
If Boldin plays, however, the potential mismatches tilt the advantage to Arizona.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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.