Friday, January 8, 2010
Final Word: Packers-Cardinals
By Mike Sando ESPN.com
Three nuggets of knowledge about Saturday's Packers-Cardinals wild-card game:
Can Larry Fitzgerald carry the Cardinals' offense with Anquan Boldin hobbled?
Making the Packers see red. We've hit several times upon the Cardinals' diminishing returns in the deep passing game. For whatever reason, Arizona simply isn't making as many big plays through the air. That isn't good for the Cardinals, but it doesn't have to be the end of their playoff world. Arizona has become highly efficient at turning red zone opportunities into touchdowns. The Cardinals led the NFL in that category this season with a 70.4 touchdown percentage. Only three other teams -- Indianapolis, Minnesota and Miami -- converted even 60 percent of the time. Arizona scored nine touchdowns in its final 10 red zone possessions of the season. The Packers, despite fielding a strong overall defense this season, ranked 28th in stopping teams from scoring touchdowns in the red zone. Only the Rams, Texans, Bears and Giants posted worse percentages than the Packers' 60.9 this season. Arizona must maximize its opportunities Sunday.
Warner time. Quarterback Kurt Warner gives the Cardinals a proven playoff performer. He posted a 112.2 rating in the playoffs last season, boosting his career postseason rating to 98.9 in 11 games. Only Packers legend Bart Starr has a higher postseason passer rating among quarterbacks with at least 150 playoff pass attempts. Last season, Warner broke his own NFL record for passing yards in a single postseason. He has passed for at least 365 yards in five postseason games, a record, and he owns the three highest totals for passing yards in Super Bowls. For years, NFL teams pointed to 100-yard rushing performances as potential indicators for team success. Here is what you need to know about Warner: His teams are 44-3 when he finishes a game with a passer rating in triple digits.
Injury situations appear key. The Cardinals have somehow posted a 5-1 record since last season without receiver Anquan Boldin. Larry Fitzgerald has 37 catches for 651 yards and nine touchdowns in those games, topping 100 yards in the past four games without Boldin, including in Week 9 at Chicago. The Cardinals might have Boldin for this game, but it's unlikely he'll be near full strength after suffering ankle and knee injuries in Week 17. I'm skeptical about whether Fitzgerald can carry the offense against this Packers defense. Fitzgerald had only three 100-yard games this season, including one over the final eight games and zero in the past four. He caught 14 passes for 123 yards over the final four games. Beyond Boldin, the Cardinals could be vulnerable in the secondary and at defensive end while Antrel Rolle, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Calais Campbell deal with injuries.