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Packers-Cardinals: Q+A With Examiner Scott Jones

To gain some insight for the Packers’ upcoming game against the Cardinals in round one of the NFL Playoffs, I caught up with Cardinals Examiner Scott Jones.  I asked him five questions regarding his team, and these were his responses:

Mark Strotman: The injury bug has hit the Cardinals hard as of late. If Anquan Boldin, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Calais Campbell can not go, who fills in and how much of a dropoff is it at each spot?

Scott Jones: Boldin’s injury is generating the most attention, but the Cardinals have fared very well in games when he has not played. In fact, since 2008, the Cardinals are 5-1 without him in the lineup (that includes one playoff game last season). Of course with Larry Fitzgerald in the lineup, Kurt Warner does have other options. In those six games since 2008 when Boldin didn’t play, Fitzgerald has totaled 651 yards and nine TDs on 37 receptions. He has recorded 100+ receiving yards in each of the last four games he has played without Boldin.

Pro Bowler Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie did not practice Wednesday and his status is uncertain. The second-year cornerback is a major force in the Cardinals defense and in his potential absence, Michael Adams will be asked to step up. Adams has one interception this season compared to six from Rodgers-Cromartie. My sense is that if there’s any way DRC (as the team has nicknamed him) will go, he’ll be out there.

MS: The Packers have trouble with mobile quarterbacks but have feasted on pocket passers. How much faith do you have in your offensive line and Kurt Warner to fend off Clay Matthews and the Packers’ rush?

SJ: Kurt Warner isn’t exactly the most mobile quarterback in the league for sure. However, he’s a savvy veteran who can read defenses quickly and get the ball to the open receivers despite a heavy pass rush. The Cardinals have only given up 26 sacks the entire season (the Packers gave up 51 by comparison), so barring injury to an offensive lineman, Warner should have time to throw.

The emergence of the Cardinals ground game in the second half of the season will take some of the pressure off Warner – but not completely. I’d watch for swing passes out of the backfield to both Tim Hightower and Beanie Wells.

MS: Who would the Packers be wise to key on in the backfield this Sunday, Beanie Wells on the ground or Tim Hightower in the backfield?

The health of Anquan Boldin will be key for the Cards passing attack, but not as important as you might think. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

SJ: As I just mentioned, a growing wrinkle in the Cardinals offense is the delayed screen and toss to either Hightower or Wells coming out of the backfield. A little known Arizona stat is that Hightower was the team’s leading receiver through the first two weeks of the season. Wells runs with an attitude and can literally run over defenders. The Cardinals typically mix both backs into the game depending on the situation. The team’s long-range plans obviously center around Wells, who led the team with 793 yards rushing and scored seven touchdowns. Hightower, who burst onto the scene last season, actually led the team with eight rushing touchdowns.

The key to the Cardinals rushing attack is that they hold onto the ball. Both Hightower and Wells have had their trouble keeping a handle on the football. The Cardinals have long sought a sustained ground game to match the high-voltage passing attack. Should Arizona get a lead, watch for a steady dose of both Wells and Hightower.

MS: Defensively, the Cardinals played as vanilla as they could. Will they come after Aaron Rodgers on Sunday against an average offensive line or drop 7 or 8 men into coverage to try and stop the passing attack?

SJ: The Cardinals have developed a strong pass rush, logging 42 sacks as a team. Pro Bowl defensive tackle Darnell Dockett tied for the team lead with seven sacks (with Calais Campbell) and Bertrand Berry had six. The key to this game will be how much pressure they put on Aaron Rodgers. If they give him too much time to throw, he knows how to find the open receivers.

Defensive coordinator Bill Davis does like to gamble and bring safety Adrian Wilson up the middle. Wilson has two sacks, picked off five passes and recovered a pair of fumbles this season. If Rodgers-Cromartie is able to play, it frees Wilson (who will be playing in his second straight Pro Bowl later this month) to wreck havoc on the Packers offensive line.

MS: Ken Whisenhunt was clearly upset by the Packers supposedly “running up the score” on the Cardinals. He also took some offense to the Packers game-planning in the pre-season. Knowing Whisenhunt, was he actually upset about this or just looking for a rallying cry for his team to build off of?

SJ: Some would say that he deserved what he got by not playing his starters longer. But, since there was no advantage to playing everyone AND after watching Rodgers-Cromartie carted off the field on the third play of the game, most Cardinal watchers are enjoying watching Whisenhunt’s “chess game” with Packers’ Coach Mike McCarthy.

Whisenhunt knows his team. They typically respond very well following losses, especially blow-outs. They certainly learned some things about the Packers last weekend and likely will come out very prepared not to be embarrassed at home for a second straight week.

MS: Prediction of the game?

SJ: Recent history has shown the Cardinals to be a hard team to predict. You expect them to pass and they run. When they should run, they pass. This game will come down to two key questions:

1) Do the Cardinals get a decent pass rush on Aaron Rodgers? If they don’t, he’ll pick the depleted Arizona secondary apart and a repeat of last Sunday is likely.
2) Can the Cardinals generate and hold a lead? Boldin’s potential absence could have a modest effect on third downs, but if Beanie Wells steps up and helps the Cardinals control the clock, they could surprise some people.


January 7, 2010 - Posted by | Football, NFL | , , , , , , ,

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