WR Larry Fitzgerald (AP Photo)
Following a 33-7 loss to the Green Bay Packers, the Arizona Cardinals once again find themselves searching for respect in the playoffs. Similar to a year ago, many experts have picked Green Bay to knock off the defending NFC champions. Brad Wilbricht outlines what to watch during Sunday’s wild-card matchup as the Cardinals begin their quest for a second consecutive Super Bowl berth.
By design the Arizona Cardinals showed next to nothing in last week’s regular-season finale against the Green Bay Packers. This week it will be quite the opposite as the Cardinals need everything working in their favor to beat a surging Packers squad. Green Bay has prevailed in seven of its last eight contests and already defeated Arizona on two occasions this season, although both outings were somewhat meaningless.
Week 17’s blowout looked eerily similar to the fist half of the two teams preseason matchup back on August 28. The Packers took a 38-10 lead into halftime with most of the damage coming against the Cardinals starters. While Arizona made a valiant comeback losing 44-37, much of that came against Green Bay backups. The Cardinal faithful are hopeful the roles will be reversed this Sunday as the Packers have performed extremely well against Arizona this year.
Green Bay is arguably one of the most complete teams entering the postseason but was hindered by one fatal flaw throughout the year. The Packers offensive line allowed 51 sacks on the season, dead last in the NFL. Meanwhile the Cardinals ranked sixth in the league after compiling 43 sacks. Green Bay’s pass protection has improved dramatically of late but Arizona defensive coordinator Bill Davis will have plenty of blitz packages ready for QB Aaron Rodgers and company.
One major area of concern for the Cardinals defense lies in the secondary, particularly if CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie isn’t at full strength. The Packers feature countless weapons on the perimeter including the play-making skills of wideouts Greg Jennings and Donald Driver. Furthermore, the size of backup WR Jordy Nelson and TE Jermichael Finley have given Arizona fits. Green Bay also utilizes screen passes regularly and could find plenty of open field if the Cardinals decide to live and die by the blitz.
CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
On offense, Arizona needs to continue its transition to a more balanced attack. The Cardinals made it all the way to the Super Bowl a year ago with a one-dimensional offense but is unlikely to accomplish that feat two years in a row. Rookie RB Beanie Wells emerged during the second half of the regular season and hopes to build on that momentum in his first career playoff game.
In addition to Rodgers-Cromartie, Pro Bowl WR Anquan Boldin enters the postseason nicked up. Boldin has suffered through numerous injuries during his seven-year career but usually winds up on the playing field. While Arizona has plenty of depth at the wide receiver position, Boldin’s absence would certainly allow the Packers to dedicate more resources towards Larry Fitzgerald. QB Kurt Warner will need as many weapons as possible at his disposal as he goes up against a Green Bay defense ranked second in the NFL.
Regardless of the outcome, the winner of Sunday’s wild-card game will certainly be a cause for concern for either the New Orleans Saints or Minnesota Vikings in the divisional round. The Cardinals proved last year they thrive in the underdog role and the Packers are playing their best football of the season at the right time of year.
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