Playoffs: Cardinals-Packers Midweek Roundup

If the Cardinals are going to beat the Packers in the wildcard round of the playoffs Sunday, they likely will need to start fast offensively and avoid turnovers. In losses to the Colts, Panthers and 49ers (twice), the Cardinals committed turnovers early in the game and fell behind.

The Cardinals' offense is based on rhythm, a function of having Kurt Warner as the starting quarterback. If he's comfortable and has time, he can pick apart the defense.

For the past two years, the offense often has needed a big play to provide a jump start. There have been fewer long pass plays this season, as teams try to take away the deep ball to Larry Fitzgerald.

The Cardinals have compensated by running the ball better and being efficient in the red zone. They led the NFL in scoring touchdowns in the red zone, doing it 70.4 percent of the time.

When it's functioning well, the Cardinals' offense is diverse. Running backs Tim Hightower and Beanie Wells form a nice duo, and the receiving corps, headed by Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald, is as deep as any in the league.

But Hightower and Wells have both had ball security issues this year, including losing fumbles early in games. Warner has struggled at times to find his rhythm, and teams have been successful by playing a conservative zone, while getting pressure on him with a minimal amount of blitzing.

The Packers have that ability, too. The Cardinals likely will go to their spread offense, and try to get their premier receivers matched against cornerback Jarrett Bush, who plays the slot.

If Warner has time, that's a matchup the Cardinals could exploit.

"I think that we were playing pretty good football (at the end of the season)," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "They (Packers) are playing at a high level, but I think our team will show up and compete on Sunday."

SERIES HISTORY: 71st meeting. Packers lead, 44-22-4, and have won six of the last seven, including last week in the season finale. The Cardinals didn't play many starters beyond the first quarter while the Packers kept most of theirs in through three quarters. The Cardinals starters have been blown out twice by the Packers this season, including in the preseason. They trailed, 38-10, at halftime of that game. The Cardinals not only held back from a personnel standpoint, but also from a scheme point of view. Their game plan was very plain, and the Cardinals are confident those games aren't indicative of how this Sunday's game will go.

NOTES, QUOTES

--QB Matt Leinart struggled last week in relief of Kurt Warner, who played only a quarter. Leinart completed 13 of 21 passes but had two interceptions. After the game, coach Ken Whisenhunt expressed confidence in Leinart, as did GM Rod Graves a few days later.

"I still very much believe in Matt and I believe that he will be a successful quarterback for us," Graves said. "If we go back and reflect on his performance in his second year, he certainly showed things in that time period that would encourage you about him not only being a starter, but eventually being an outstanding NFL quarterback."

--Whisenhunt said he left receiver Larry Fitzgerald in the game last week so he could try to get his 100th reception and 13th touchdown receptions. He fell three short of the 100 reception mark but did catch his 13th touchdown, a career high.

"We talked with Larry during the game about that, and Larry wanted to continue to play," Whisenhunt said. "Those are important milestones to him. We certainly respect that."

--WR Anquan Boldin passed the 1,000-yard mark in receiving in the game. It's the fifth time he has down it in seven NFL season, setting a franchise record. Boldin played the first series of the second half and suffered a sprained left ankle after a reception.

"I wish I had taken Anquan out one play earlier," Whisenhunt said.

--Leinart was named the Cardinals Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year nominee. Each team selects a nominee for the award, which was won last year by quarterback Kurt Warner. Through his foundation, Leinart has pledged $500,000 to Cardon Children's Hospital in Phoenix, and the children's cancer unit. Leinart also pays for 16 underprivileged kids to attend Cardinals home games, as well as four troops returning home from overseas.

--The Cardinals won't address any additional player contract issues until after the season, said GM Rod Graves.

"We don't want to distract our guys in any way," he said.

BY THE NUMBERS: 54 -- That's how many points the Packers have outscored the Cardinals by in the first half of two games this season, including one preseason game.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It doesn't surprise me that there were two different approaches to the game. They're a good football team. It will be a challenge for us, but when we do things the right way, we're a pretty good football team, too. We're excited about the matchup." -- Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt on last week's 33-7 loss to Green Bay.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Coach Ken Whisenhunt chose to rest many of his starters last week but was criticized for having receivers Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald in the game in the second half. Fitzgerald played into the fourth quarter because he wanted to finish the season with 100 receptions. He finished with 97. Boldin was injured early in the third quarter when he was tackled after catching a high pass from QB Matt Leinart.

--The Cardinals need to start getting some big plays out of inside linebacker Karlos Dansby. Dansby has been productive, but he hasn't made any game-changing plays lately. He's forced only one fumble this year, has one interception and one sack.

--The Cardinals try not to devote too many resources to pass blocking on the edge, hoping tackles Jeremy Bridges and Levi Brown can handle ends one-on-one. But Bridges will be facing outside linebacker Clay Matthews and might need help from backs and tight ends.

PLAYER NOTES

--S Rashad Johnson plays in dime situations, but the rookie has struggled at times. The Cardinals miss Matt Ware, who was placed on injured reserve last month because of a knee injury.

--CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has great cover skills but he's not a willing tackler. That could be a weakness the Packers try to exploit by running stretch plays to DRC's side.

--QB Kurt Warner must be conscious of where cornerback Charles Woodson lines up. Woodson often will be inside against multiple receiver sets, and occasionally will blitz from there.

--TE Ben Patrick has missed the past two games with a concussion but should be healthy for Sunday. His availability is key because he's the best all-around tight end on the club. He's a solid blocker and an effective receiver, especially near the goal line.

--C Lyle Sendlein has played well all season. He's physical and he's smart. Sendlein struggled last year in his first season as a starter because he played with a bad left shoulder. He had that repaired in the off-season and has been much better this season.

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