NFC North Final Word: Packers-Cardinals

Three nuggets of knowledge about Saturday’s Packers-Cardinals wild-card game:

We’ve spent time discussing the matchup between Green Bay’s nickel defenders and Arizona’s receivers without mentioning the marquee matchup: Packers cornerback Charles Woodson and Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald. The Packers have moved Woodson around their defense a fair amount this season, allowing him to develop from pure cover corner to a top candidate for the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year award. But speaking to reporters in Green Bay this week, Woodson left little doubt about the Packers’ intentions. “We’ll mix it up,” Woodson said. “We’ll try to throw them off balance a little bit and put me in some different positions. It ain’t going to be a secret: Most of the day I’ll probably be on Fitzgerald.” Football fans of all allegiances should take a minute to enjoy that matchup.

Sunday’s game could be a milestone affair for the Packers’ quarterback position. The last time someone other than Brett Favre started a playoff victory was before current starter Aaron Rodgers was born. That’s right. Green Bay’s last postseason victory without Favre occurred on Jan. 8, 1983. On that day, Lynn Dickey led the Packers to a 41-16 victory against St. Louis at Lambeau Field. Rodgers was born Dec. 2, 1983. The last time the Packers won a road playoff game with a quarterback other than Favre? You have to go back to Jan. 14, 1968. On that day, the Packers and Bart Starr defeated Oakland 33-14 in Super Bowl II at the Orange Bowl in Miami. Wow.

This game will feature two of the NFL’s top four quarterbacks against the blitz this season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Rodgers finished No. 2 on that list with a 117.4 passer rating against the blitz. Arizona’s Kurt Warner was No. 4 at 111.8. (Elias defined a blitz as five or more pass-rushers.) Sacks don’t count against passer rating, however, and so we should point out that Rodgers was sacked 9.4 percent of the time against blitzes. Warner took a sack on 5.8 percent of those instances. As the season progressed, both teams moved to shorter drops and quicker releases. That shift, along with each quarterback’s success when he got the ball off during the regular season, could make blitzing a risky proposition in this game.