Another Playoff Shootout in the Cards

Ryan Grant; James Jones; Michael Adams (Getty)

The Arizona Cardinals-New Orleans Saints playoff game should go along with what most experts and fans predict.

It's easy to see why many experts are predicting a high-scoring game Saturday between the Cardinals and Saints.

The game features two of the NFL's best offenses, two of the best quarterbacks and two defenses that have struggled at times this season.

The Cardinals were inconsistent offensively in the final month of the season, but coach Ken Whisenhunt was confident his offense was close to finding its stride.

He was right. The Cardinals offense scored 45 points in last week's overtime victory over the Packers, and quarterback Kurt Warner had more touchdown passes (five) than incompletions (four).

But the Cardinals defense fell apart in the second half. The Packers scored touchdowns on five consecutive possessions. The Cardinals secondary missed a lot of tackles, something it can't afford to do against the Saints.

Whisenhunt said the breakdowns were "more about missed tackles after catches than anything. We were sloppy in our secondary play. We were around their guys and didn't tackle. That's something we can clean up."

They had better, because the Saints have a lot of talented receivers, tight ends and running backs. If the Cardinals' tackling doesn't improve, Arizona will lose.

The Saints are deep enough at receiver to test the Cardinals' nickel and dime packages, which didn't hold up last week against the Packers.

The man with the plan: Ken Whisenhunt
(Getty)

Nickel cornerback Michael Adams was picked on all game before he made the game-winning sack.

The Cardinals don't have many alternatives. Behind Adams is rookie Greg Toler, and it's questionable if the Cardinals would insert him into an important role.

"That has to be our emphasis this week, trying to tighten up our coverage," Whisenhunt said, "but we have to do better tackling ... in the secondary."

SERIES HISTORY: 26th meeting. The Cardinals lead 13-12, and the teams have split the last six games, dating back to 1996. This is the first time they have met in the playoffs. The Saints beat the Cardinals 31-24 in 2007, the last time they met. That game was in the Superdome. Both teams have changed dramatically since then, so the game two years ago is of little relevance. What's more interesting is these teams meeting in the playoffs. Not long ago, they were viewed as among the worst franchises in the NFL. Thanks to the Saints hiring Sean Payton and the Cardinals hiring Ken Whisenhunt, both franchises have flushed their losing cultures.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Coach Ken Whisenhunt will give Kurt Warner plenty of time and distance after the season in which to decide his future. But the coach doesn't see why Warner would retire.

"It doesn't excite me too much, that's for sure," Whisenhunt said of Warner's possible retirement.

--Wide receiver Anquan Boldin has undergone various treatments for ankle and knee sprains, including acupuncture. "My house looks like a training room right now," he said. Boldin is optimistic about playing Sunday, but he needs to get on the practice field to bolster his chances.

--Quarterback Kurt Warner has the second-highest passer rating in playoff history behind Bart Starr. He was asked if a player really could improve his play in the postseason.

"There is something about the playoffs that's different," he said. "You have to bring your game up. You have to bring up your consistency level. I think there is something about knowing that this is it, that every game you could be going home. It's just more fun."

--Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald can't imagine Kurt Warner retiring after playing so well this year.

"He's 38 years old. In NFL terms, that's dinosaur years, right? We all know he can play," Fitzgerald said. "I know after the game in the locker room, there couldn't have been a guy that was happier to come out with a win. I think those moments are special. I think those are ones that will keep him coming back."

--The Bills have received permission from the Cardinals to interview assistant head coach/offensive line Russ Grimm for their head coaching position.

The time of the interview has not been set. According to NFL rules, the Bills can interview Grimm this week, but with the Cardinals playing Saturday, time is an issue. The interview would have to be conducted at a place and time of convenience to the Cardinals. It could happen Wednesday or Thursday evening in Arizona, or on Sunday, the day after the divisional playoff.

Michael Adams and Rashad Johnson
(Getty)

BY THE NUMBERS: 104.6 -- Kurt Warner's passer rating in the playoffs, the second best of all time. Bart Starr is No. 1 at 104.8.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "You know what? Those young guys have been here for 21 games now, so it's time grow up. We're going into our 22nd game, so we are expecting them to play like an old, crusty vet right now. Like myself." -- NT Bryan Robinson, in his 13th year, on the need for rookies to play well in the postseason.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

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. Both held up well last weekend against the Packers.

The offensive line played its best game of the season last week. The Cardinals averaged 6.8 yards per rushing attempt, and Kurt Warner was sacked just once.

PLAYER NOTES

--DE Calais Campbell played well last week considering he wore a large cast on his left hand to protect a fractured thumb. A former starter, he played in pass situations. But he could take on a larger role this week.

--ILB Karlos Dansby played a part in the team's three forced turnovers last week. Dansby didn't make many big plays during the season, finishing with one sack, one interception and one forced fumble.

--S Rashad Johnson was removed from the nickel and dime packages and was inactive last week. Johnson, a third-round pick, has been a disappointment this season.

--CB Michael Adams made the game-winning play last week against Green Bay, but his struggles against the pass can't be ignored. He gave up several big plays and was called for four penalties. The Cardinals don't have many options, however. The fourth cornerback is rookie Greg Toler.

--CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has great cover skills, and he's going to gamble a little to make big plays. He has to pick his spots against the Saints, however, who could use his aggressiveness against him.

--QB Kurt Warner is deadly when he gets off to a quick start. The Cardinals could use some short, three-step passes early in order to get Warner in a rhythm.

--TE Ben Patrick played a large role in the game plan last week, both as a receiver and as a blocker. He has been hindered by injuries this season but is healthy now.

--RB LaRod Stephens-Howling took on a larger role in the offense last week, playing in third-down situations. Stephens-Howling is dangerous in open space, so the Cardinals will motion him out of the backfield and line him up in the slot.

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