Welcome to another edition of Opposition Research, where I’ll be taking a look at the final Packers opponent for the regular season, the Arizona Cardinals. This W17 match-up is unique, since each team has clinched a playoff berth and 6 of 8 scenarios have the two teams battling it out again a week from now. Who’s going to play and for how long are the great unknowns, and with the coaches keeping mum, I’m going to wing it and assume that we’ll get a real game for at least a quarter. With that in mind, let’s do this.
Coming into this game, the Cardinals… have enjoyed a Victory Monday, as reward for beating division punching bag St. Louis 31-10 and as part of HC Ken Whisenhunt’s recent policy of resting players in preparation for the playoffs push. Arizona took some time to warm up, but put St. Louis away before the half, up 17-0. In the effort, Kurt Warner became the second player ever behind Fran Tarkenton to throw 100 TDs for two different teams. New-minted Pro Bowlers S Adrian Wilson and CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (along with CB Greg Toler) combined for 3 picks of QB Keith Null.
Like many other teams, the Cardinals are combing over the Pro Bowl rosters, wondering why more of their guys didn’t get the nod. In addition to Wilson and Rodgers-Cromartie, WR Larry Fitzgerald and DT Darnell Dockett (who was mic’d up for the STL game) made the NFC squad. (Was Warner snubbed? Some say he deserved Rodgers’ spot.)
The fans at home are… thanking the Chicago Bears for giving the Cards a chance at a bye, but wondering if the #3 seed would do the Cards a favor (probably not, since it would bring a trip to cold Philly instead of New Orleans’ dome). They’re also thinking about whether their defense can handle short fields during the playoffs if K Neil Rackers is injured.
Something to chew on… the NFC West can punt the ball. SF’s Andy Lee may be the starting punter for the NFC, but the three guys behind him (ARI’s Ben Graham, STL’s Donnie Jones, and SEA’s Jon Ryan) all come from inside the division.
(A smart-ass Packer fan sitting in DC hopes that the Packers give Graham many opportunities to show off his skill in W17 – and beyond.)
When looking at the Packers on film… Anyone remember the preseason clinic put on by the Packers? Larry Fitzgerald does…calling it a “whupping of epic proportions.” Larry also said that he gets cut-ups of Greg Jennings each week to try to emulate how Greg gets his YAC -- and this guy could be headed to Canton. (This is a great piece by Greg Bedard on Fitz and Greg --- and the resulting story.)
If Rodgers plays for a significant portion of the game, Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic recommends hitting him as much as possible – especially if the Packers will make a return trip to the desert.
What We’re Up Against: The problem with a game like this is that we’re not sure who we’ll face. We could be facing Kurt Warner and the phenomenally potent receiving duo of Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin (who even Aaron agrees will eat Tramon Williams for breakfast)…or we could be facing Matt Leinart and the tandem of Jerheme Urban and Early Doucet. If it’s the former, Kris Burke at Bleacher Report said it well:
Arizona's offense is very explosive. Just when you think its struggling and you go for the K.O., BOOM! Larry Fitzgerald catches a 70-yard laser for six points… Sometimes the Packers can muscle the Cardinals' wideouts, but even they can't magically grow a couple inches taller.
Revenge of the Birds rightfully called this week a “cat-and-mouse chess match.” Pete Dougherty’s scouting report covers all the bases, noting that regardless of what coaches say during the week, the lineups will alter based on whether the Cardinals have something to play for. Ignoring the game implications, Mike Vandermause questions the hypocrisy of a coach who preaches winning all season only to field an inferior lineup in a meaningless game.
One injury of note – Arizona’s starting LT Mike Gandy was placed on IR last week, and replacement Jeremy Bridges is a definite downgrade. St. Louis got to Warner twice from the left side (RLB Paris Lenon and RDT LaJuan Ramsey), so this should open up opportunities for CM3. Warner’s not a very mobile guy, and even if he’s been “killing blitzes” (per Bob McGinn’s scouting report), a speed rusher like Matthews might be able to get home against a tackle that “lacks quick feet and isn't very physical, either.” (Please note, McGinn’s report is awesome this week, especially as it relates to DRC, who he says the Packers will attack with short passes, making him tackle, “something he isn’t excited about doing.” Hee.)
With respect to whether we’ll even see Arizona’s starters, Ken Whisenhunt may have said it best:
It's going to be awful hard to keep Kurt or Larry (Fitzgerald) or Anquan off the field. I'm just telling you that right up front. Those guys want to play, especially when they feel like they are in a little bit of rhythm.
Given the uncertainty of the lineups in this game, the statistics are unlikely to be borne out to any honest degree. All I’ll say is that it’s nifty that the Packers are rated #1 in overall DVOA by Football Outsiders, and that Arizona’s pass defense is middling against both tight ends and running backs…they’re also surprisingly weak (#26) against top WRs.
Meanwhile, I was curious who has torched the Cards when playing in Arizona…Housh for 165? Justin Forsett for 149? Owen Daniels for 94? Uh… Jermichael Finley? Ryan Grant? Whoever’s lined up against DRC? Get ready for a big day.
- Fitzgerald says he owes his ability to bounce back from a vicious hit during the MNF loss to the 49ers to ARI strength coach John Lott, whose contract is up after this year. While the Cards have ponied up the money (more than $1 million each) for Whisenhunt’s assistants Russ Grimm and Todd Haley, apparently the offer the team made to Lott was so low he hired an agent. Yeesh.
- Arizona got to 10 wins for the first time in 33 years (since 1976). In that same span, they’ve had 18 seasons with 10+ losses. The Packers in that span? Add 10, subtract 10. The Pack have had 8 seasons with 10+ losses, and this is the 11th season with 10+ wins (9 in the Favre era).
- This game looks to be one of those “player X needs Y yards to achieve Z” scenarios. Donald Driver is 4 yards from a 7th 1,000 yard season (Anquan Boldin is 14 yards shy of the mark), Larry Fitzgerald needs 6 catches to reach 100 on the season, and Warner will hit 4,000 yards if it takes him 278 yards to get his receivers to their goals. Jermichael Finley is 6 catches away from the Packers single-season receptions record for a tight end. By the way, Rodgers needs 260 to deep-six the one Packers passing record Favre never could: Lynn Dickey’s mark for 4,458 yards in a single season.
I’ve got no earthly idea what we’re going to see on Sunday, but we’ll have an idea right before kickoff if we’ll see a game where anyone really cares about the outcome. If the Cards play their starters, whoosh, it should be a good game.
Personally, I’d like to see a repeat of the third preseason game. I could watch those highlights again and again. In fact…here are Rodgers’ highlights once more for you…and Kampman’s TD. Ah, that’s nice.
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