Cardinals must be wary of ‘extraordinary’ Woodson

The Green Bay Packers pounded the Arizona Cardinals in August when it mattered not. They pounded them again last week when it mattered only a little. Now the teams will meet for a third time at Arizona in a game that matters a whole lot.

 
The winner of today’s playoff game will advance to the next round and keep its Super Bowl dream alive. The Cardinals know what they have to do to be that team.
 
"We have to play better than we played in the previous two games," Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt understated to reporters this past week.
 
Here are five story lines to follow in the final game of this wild-card weekend:
 

Arizona’s walking wounded

Three Cardinals starters are questionable after injuries in last week’s game. Wide receiver Anquan Boldin (high left ankle sprain, left knee sprain), cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (bruised left kneecap) and free safety Antrel Rolle (bruised thigh) all missed parts, or all, of practice this week. In addition, defensive end Calais Campbell has a broken thumb and is wearing a cast.
 
Losing Boldin would be a blow to Arizona’s passing attack. Without him, Steve Breaston would be the starter opposite Larry Fitzgerald and Early Doucet would step in as the No. 3 man.
 
"You don’t replace guys like that," quarterback Kurt Warner told reporters.
 
"You just can’t plug somebody else in and get the same productivity, the same leadership and the same competitiveness."
 

Third down, Packers

Trying to stop Green Bay from moving the chains and keeping drives alive will be a challenge for Arizona. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers led the NFL in third-down passing this season. His statistics were eye-popping: 67.5 completion percentage, 14 touchdowns and no interceptions.
 
"I don’t like throwing interceptions, and I don’t like not converting third downs," Rodgers said. "It’s a heightened sense of focus and something we work on in practice Wednesday, Thursday and Friday."
 

Watch out for Woodson

Green Bay cornerback Charles Woodson is 33 and in his 12th season, but he has played lights out. He is a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year after tying for the league lead in interceptions (nine), including one he returned 45 yards for a touchdown in last week’s game.
 
Woodson just doesn’t line up and cover wide receivers. In Green Bay’s 3-4 defense, he’ll blitz from the slot, play the role of "rover" in the middle, and sometimes play safety.
 
"I think Charles is extraordinary," Packers coach Mike McCarthy told Arizona reporters during a conference call. "He has really given (coordinator) Dom Capers and our defensive staff a lot of flexibility as far as the way we can use him."
 

Covering Fitzgerald

Although Fitzgerald will be the biggest playmaker on the field, don’t expect him to be matched up against Woodson the whole game. When Woodson moves inside to the slot, the challenge of covering Fitzgerald will fall to cornerback Tramon Williams, who became a starter when Al Harris suffered a season-ending injury, or Jarrett Bush, who replaced Williams as the nickel back.
 
Bush has allowed several pass plays of 20 or more yards. He often appears to be in good coverage position but struggles to make a play on the ball.
 

Warner’s blind side

When Mike Gandy suffered a season-ending injury last month, Jeremy Bridges became the Cardinals’ left tackle. He played well against Vikings end Jared Allen in Week 13. Now he faces another pass-rushing threat in Packers rookie outside linebacker Clay Matthews (10 sacks).
 
The Cardinals can give Bridges occasional help with a tight end or a running back chipping Matthews, but with all of the spread formations they use, Bridges will be matched up one-on-one against Matthews often.
 
This story appears in Jan. 10’s edition of Sporting News Today. If you are not receiving Sporting News Today, the only daily digital sports newspaper, sign up today.
 
Senior writer Dennis Dillon covers the NFL for Sporting News. E-mail him at ddillon@sportingnews.com.

The Green Bay Packers pounded the Arizona Cardinals in August when it mattered not. They pounded them again last week when it mattered only a little. Now the teams will meet for a third time at Arizona in a game that matters a whole lot.

 
The winner of today’s playoff game will advance to the next round and keep its Super Bowl dream alive. The Cardinals know what they have to do to be that team.
 
"We have to play better than we played in the previous two games," Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt understated to reporters this past week.
 
Here are five story lines to follow in the final game of this wild-card weekend:
 

Arizona’s walking wounded

Three Cardinals starters are questionable after injuries in last week’s game. Wide receiver Anquan Boldin (high left ankle sprain, left knee sprain), cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (bruised left kneecap) and free safety Antrel Rolle (bruised thigh) all missed parts, or all, of practice this week. In addition, defensive end Calais Campbell has a broken thumb and is wearing a cast.
 
Losing Boldin would be a blow to Arizona’s passing attack. Without him, Steve Breaston would be the starter opposite Larry Fitzgerald and Early Doucet would step in as the No. 3 man.
 
"You don’t replace guys like that," quarterback Kurt Warner told reporters.
 
"You just can’t plug somebody else in and get the same productivity, the same leadership and the same competitiveness."
 

Third down, Packers

Trying to stop Green Bay from moving the chains and keeping drives alive will be a challenge for Arizona. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers led the NFL in third-down passing this season. His statistics were eye-popping: 67.5 completion percentage, 14 touchdowns and no interceptions.
 
"I don’t like throwing interceptions, and I don’t like not converting third downs," Rodgers said. "It’s a heightened sense of focus and something we work on in practice Wednesday, Thursday and Friday."
 

Watch out for Woodson

Green Bay cornerback Charles Woodson is 33 and in his 12th season, but he has played lights out. He is a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year after tying for the league lead in interceptions (nine), including one he returned 45 yards for a touchdown in last week’s game.
 
Woodson just doesn’t line up and cover wide receivers. In Green Bay’s 3-4 defense, he’ll blitz from the slot, play the role of "rover" in the middle, and sometimes play safety.
 
"I think Charles is extraordinary," Packers coach Mike McCarthy told Arizona reporters during a conference call. "He has really given (coordinator) Dom Capers and our defensive staff a lot of flexibility as far as the way we can use him."
 

Covering Fitzgerald

Although Fitzgerald will be the biggest playmaker on the field, don’t expect him to be matched up against Woodson the whole game. When Woodson moves inside to the slot, the challenge of covering Fitzgerald will fall to cornerback Tramon Williams, who became a starter when Al Harris suffered a season-ending injury, or Jarrett Bush, who replaced Williams as the nickel back.
 
Bush has allowed several pass plays of 20 or more yards. He often appears to be in good coverage position but struggles to make a play on the ball.
 

Warner’s blind side

When Mike Gandy suffered a season-ending injury last month, Jeremy Bridges became the Cardinals’ left tackle. He played well against Vikings end Jared Allen in Week 13. Now he faces another pass-rushing threat in Packers rookie outside linebacker Clay Matthews (10 sacks).
 
The Cardinals can give Bridges occasional help with a tight end or a running back chipping Matthews, but with all of the spread formations they use, Bridges will be matched up one-on-one against Matthews often.
 
This story appears in Jan. 10’s edition of Sporting News Today. If you are not receiving Sporting News Today, the only daily digital sports newspaper, sign up today.
 
Senior writer Dennis Dillon covers the NFL for Sporting News. E-mail him at ddillon@sportingnews.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*