Green Bay at Arizona Game Preview

Breakdown preview of the Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals battle in week-three of the NFL season.

Green Bay Packers (1-1) at Arizona Cardinals (0-2)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 ET
SURFACE: Grass
TV: FOX, Kenny Albert, Brian Baldinger
SERIES: 71st meeting. Green Bay Packers lead the series, 44-22-4. Lest anyone believe that heat could be a factor Sunday in Sun Devil Stadium, where the 2 p.m. temperature at kickoff could be in triple figures, recall the Packers' last visit. On Sept. 24, 2000, the Packers drove 80 and 85 yards for early scores, wearing out the Cardinals defense, and scored on seven of their 11 possessions in a 29-3 mauling of the Cardinals, their worst home loss in 29 games. The only heat that was a factor was that which the Cardinals caught after their lame performance.
2003 RANKINGS: Packers: offense 16th (10th rush, 22nd pass); defense 19th (21st rush, 17th pass). Cardinals: offense 6th (18th rush, 5th pass); defense 12th (16th rush, 14th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: Cardinals rookie WRs Anquan Boldin and Bryant Johnson need to provide a lift to a passing game that has failed to take pressure off the running game. If the Packers can stack eight defenders in the box with no fear of the pass, Arizona's good run-blocking line has no chance to open holes for RB Emmitt Smith. Packers QB Brett Favre is off to a slow start, but could get WR Donald Driver back. If Arizona again fails to generate a pass rush, Favre will pick apart a secondary devoid of solid cover corners. Green Bay will also attack the Cardinals' smallish linebackers with its power running game.

FAST FACTS: Packers: QB Brett Favre has a passer rating below 80 (57.6) after two games for the first time in his career. ... The team is 3-0 in Arizona. ... The team is 22-3 when scoring first under coach Mike Sherman. Cardinals: The team has a minus-9 turnover margin and is on pace to be minus-72 for the season. ... RB Emmitt Smith needs one 100-yard rushing game to tie Walter Payton for the most all-time (77).

 

PREDICTED SCORE: Packers 31-21

PERSONNEL NEWS
Packers:
   --WR Donald Driver practiced in pads Thursday as he continues his amazing comeback from what was a fairly serious neck injury Sept. 7. The Packers still aren't saying if he will play Sunday against Arizona.
   --FB Nick Luchey (calf) sat out a second day of practice Thursday and should be considered extremely doubtful.
   --DE Aaron Kampman (ankle) sat out a second day of practice Thursday and his status is up in the air. He was listed as probable.
   --S Antuan Edwards suffered a thigh bruise in practice Wednesday and sat out Thursday. The Packers say it isn't serious and he wasn't added to the injury report.
   --TE Wesley Walls (hamstring) returned to practice Thursday, a good indication that he will play Sunday.
   --S Darren Sharper (groin) practiced again Thursday. He hasn't played a full game yet but this week there's a good chance that he will.
   --WR Robert Ferguson (knee) returned to practice Thursday but was vague about how much he did. His status remains uncertain.
   --LB Na'il Diggs (knee) worked in pads Thursday and should be fine.
   --WR Antonio Freeman is ready to start alongside Javon Walker if Donald Driver and Robert Ferguson can't play. He caught four of the five balls thrown to him in his debut against Detroit.
   --QB Brett Favre ranks 28th in passer rating after two games at 57.6. "We are 1-1," he said. "We are what we are. As an offense we haven't hit on all cylinders. I definitely haven't. I'm not going to sit here and blame it on who's in and who's not in. I expect a lot out of myself, as does this team and the people."
   --FB Najeh Davenport has had problems holding onto the ball both as a rusher and as a receiver. As a result, his status as Ahman Green's primary backup is in jeopardy. "We'll play (Tony) Fisher more," RB coach Sly Croom said. "We've got to use all three of them, but Fisher will definitely be a little more into it on earlier downs."

Cardinals:
   -- DL Derrick Ransom, a starter most of the past two seasons at Kansas City, will get work immediately although he won't start. He will be in the rotation at DE against the Packers, in large part because of injuries. Ransom signed on Tuesday. He was primarily a DT with the Chiefs.
   -- DE Fred Wakefield (concussion), the left-side starter, still is out. He's not much of a pass rusher but he's better than what's behind him.
   -- DE Dennis Johnson, a second-year player, likely will start in Wakefield's spot if Wakefield is not cleared by game time. Johnson reportedly had strong pass-rush skills but has yet to show evidence of it in a game.
   -- QB Jeff Blake (bruised heel) remains gimpy but he is expected to be ready to start against the Packers. He has returned to practice.
   -- S Justin Lucas (ankle, concussion), a key backup who missed the first two games, has returned to practice.
   -- DT Marcus Bell (knee), who did not play in the two opening games, is back on the practice field. He's a valuable guy in the rotation.
   -- WR Larry Foster (ankle) is limited in practice and is not yet a sure thing to step back into his starting spot.
   -- WR Bryan Gilmore (knee) is practicing some but might not be ready to step back into his starting job by Sunday.
   -- OLB Raynoch Thompson (concussion) is limited in practice. He was expected to be a vital cog in how the team would manufacture a pass rush against Brett Favre.
   -- KR-WR Kevin Kasper (back) is not practicing and is not expected to play.
   -- CB Jason Goss, cut from the 53-man roster to make room for the signing of DL Derrick Ransom, has been signed to the practice squad.
   -- DE Alton Moore, an undrafted rookie in 2002 who missed the season with an injury, was cut from the practice squad to make room for CB Jason Goss.

INSIDE THE CAMPS


Packers:
   Will Donald Driver play Sunday in Arizona or won't he?
   That's the main question in Packerland as Green Bay prepares for its meeting with the Cardinals in Tempe, Ariz.
   Driver put on pads again Thursday and took part in practice, just as he did on Wednesday. Coach Mike Sherman closed practice to the media after the first 20 or so minutes for the second consecutive week, so an exact statement of what Driver did is impossible to ascertain. But indications were that Driver spent most of his time with the scout team.
   Just the fact that Driver is on the field at all is remarkable. In the opener against Minnesota Sept. 7 Driver was taken off on a body board after being down for 10 minutes. The injury has been diagnosed as a "neck strain," but he was wearing a neck brace as recently as on the sidelines during the Detroit game Sunday.
   "Practicing and getting hit are obviously two different situations," coach Mike Sherman said. "I won't allow him to get hit but we'll see how he does and then take it day by day."
   Driver, one of the most fearless receivers in the NFL, doesn't expect to change his game if he does play.
   "They're saying, 'Don't jump that high,'" Driver said. "But if the ball goes that high I'm going to have to go get it. You're always nervous about what's going to happen but you still have to play this game, regardless of the situation, without fear. And that's how I'm going to play."

Cardinals:
   It isn't that the Cardinals won't spend money, vice president of operations Rod Graves said, it's that they'll only spend it on a player they like who they believe really represents an improvement.
   A wise guy might take a look at the Cardinals' record and roster and ask whether there is anybody available who could be any worse. Graves maintains that the team has done its homework on players currently looking for a job, especially in the critical need areas of defensive line and cornerback, and has come up with no one they'd be comfortable dipping into their $12.5 million of salary-cap space to sign.
   Graves, in fact, said he is irked by continued reports that the team is cheap. He pointed out that during the offseason the Cardinals signed NFL career rushing leader Emmitt Smith, Super Bowl MVP Dexter Jackson and quarterback Jeff Blake, as well as contributing role players such as James Hodgins and James Darling.
   What he didn't say is the team had to sign potential starters at those spots after losing starters Jake Plummer, David Boston and Kwamie Lassiter to free agency, and knowing that they were not going to bring back running back Thomas Jones, who eventually was traded.
   They currently have more salary-cap space available than any team, but Graves said the money will be spent wisely. He said the Cardinals are planning to offer contract extensions to key players whose deals are in their final season, including left tackle L.J. Shelton.
   He said having space available also allows the team to jump in and make a market-level offer when a player comes along who truly could help the Cardinals, in the estimation of its brain trust.
   "We have indicated that's what has been the plan all along," Graves said. "People throw out (the name of available defensive end) Marco Coleman. I would say I evaluated Marco Coleman in 2002, and again in the preseason and I would say let me see your notes on him. We didn't go after Marco Coleman because we had a basis for it.
   "When you are 0-2 everyone is vulnerable to taking a punch for one reason or another. We said from the beginning that until we win, we have to deal with whatever comes out. I've dealt with it every year I have been here. It's part of the job."
   The winless Cardinals have suffered nine turnovers, forced zero, and suffered their largest home loss in 22 years, 38-0, to Seattle before a crowd that barely reached 20,000 at Sun Devil Stadium. A large crowd is anticipated Sunday when Green Bay visits, but Sun Devil Stadium will be filled largely with transplanted Packers fans. Already there is speculation that coach Dave McGinnis won't survive the season. He is under contract through the end of 2004. The overall talent level of the team has been called into question.
   Still, Graves stays the course.
   "I would say the fact that we are in a position to respond (when a good player becomes available) is the greatest and best part of where we are right now," he said. "I feel like to a large degree we have not received enough credit. We're not going to be pressed into getting off plan. We can't create situations (of player availability) that aren't there."


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