GB Packers-Cardinals Brace for Aerial Assault

Scott Wells vs. Cardinals D-line (Getty)

The Arizona Cardinals and Green Bay Packers enter Sunday's game with a similar game plan: don't fix what's not broken. Here are keys to the game, a prediction, a look inside the camps and more.

GAME SNAPSHOT

KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:40 p.m. ET
GAMEDATE: 1/10/10
SURFACE: Grass
TV: FOX (Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver)

PREDICTION: Cardinals 27-24

KEYS TO THE GAME: If his pass protection holds up, look for Packers QB Aaron Rodgers to test the Cardinals' beat up secondary vertically early on. 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 WR Anquan Boldin (ankle) is certainly worth watching. Green Bay is thin in the secondary and Warner will target CB 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.

FAST FACTS: 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 1974-75. ... Warner's 98.9 career postseason passer rating is second all-time behind Hall of Famer Bart Starr (104.8)

PERSONNEL NEWS

Packers:

--CB Charles Woodson was declared ready to go by head coach Mike McCarthy for Sunday's first-round playoff game at the Arizona Cardinals. Woodson, who aggravated a shoulder strain last Sunday at Arizona, went through the full practice Thursday. Woodson's day also included being named NFC Defensive Player of the Month for December/January. It is the third such honor this season for Woodson, the only defensive player in league history to earn the award multiple times in the same season.

Charles Woodson
(Getty)

--NT Ryan Pickett was a full practice participant Thursday and is on track to return to the lineup Sunday for the first time in five games after he was hampered by a hamstring injury.

--LB Brandon Chillar practiced in full for a second straight day and should be fine to play this weekend after missing the last game because of recurring back spasms.

--S Derrick Martin has yet to practice this week, leaving his status in doubt for Sunday's game. The special-teams ace is dealing with an ankle injury that kept him out of the last game.

--LT Chad Clifton (knee) and DE Johnny Jolly (foot) advanced from limited to full status in practice Thursday, and both starters aren't in jeopardy of not playing Sunday since they've been getting extra rest for their lingering aches the last several weeks.

--FB Korey Hall has practiced in full this week, which bodes well for him to get back on the field after being out a game because of an elbow injury.

Cardinals:

--WR Larry Fitzgerald is nursing a sore left elbow but he said he will be fully healthy for Sunday's game. Fitzgerald's average gain per catch is down almost four yards this year as teams have doubled him to prevent big plays.

--TE Ben Patrick is expected to return to the starting lineup after missing two games with a concussion. Patrick is the team's best all-around tight end. He's a receiving threat in the red zone, and he's improved his blocking this year.

--RB Beanie Wells likely won't get a starting assignment this year, but he has been the team's featured runner for the last month.

--RB Tim Hightower is nursing a sore knee but he expects to play Sunday against the Packers. Hightower has practiced fully all week.

--DE Calais Campbell hopes to play despite a fractured left thumb. He's practiced a bit this week with a cast and hopes to find a wrap that will allow him to function on game day. Campbell has seven sacks while his backups, Alan Branch and Kenny Iwebema, are unproven.

INSIDE THE CAMPS

Packers:

The "Q" factor looms big for the Packers' showdown at the Arizona Cardinals in the wild-card round of the NFC playoffs Sunday.

After another Cardinals practice passed Thursday without Pro Bowl receiver Anquan Boldin on the field, the advantage tilted in Green Bay's direction to be able to handle 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 multi-receiver 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 head 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.

Larry Fitzgerald
(Getty)

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.

Cardinals:

The Cardinals likely won't know until hours before Sunday's game against the Packers about the availability of some key players.

Receiver Anquan Boldin hasn't practiced this week after suffering a sprained left ankle and knee in the season-finale against the Packers. Boldin said the injuries have improved, but it's not likely his status will be determined before Sunday.

If Boldin can't play, Steve Breaston will start with Early Doucet moving up to the third receiver role and Jerheme Urban taking the fourth spot.

At least the Cardinals have options at that position. Their depth is lacking at some other key spots. Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has been limited by a left knee contusion but practiced on Thursday. He reported afterward that he felt good but would have to see how the knee reacted over the next couple days.

If he can't play, 5-foot-8 Michael Adams will replace him, and the Packers picked on Adams last week when Rodgers-Cromartie left the game after suffering the injury on the third play.

Free safety Antrel Rolle practiced a little on Thursday, after missing last week's game with a thigh bruise. His availability is important because the backup is rookie Rashad Johnson, who hasn't started a game.

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