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Cardinals vs. Packers: The matchup


Category Cardinals Packers
Points per game 15.9 26.0
Passing yards per game 210.9 254.5
Rushing yards per game 79.0 90.1
Total yards per game 289.9 344.6
Points against 17.8 21.3
Passing yards per game against 192.9 238.3
Rushing yards per game against 119.9 103.9
Total yards per game against 312.8 342.1

When Cardinals have the ball:

The ball doesn’t usually end up in the end zone.

Well, lately that is.

Until this season, the Cardinals hadn’t scored three points or less in a game since Nov. 2004.

In two of their last four games — all losses — the Redbirds have managed to score just three points.

It’s easy to point to the recent uninspiring play of John Skelton, a porous offensive line or the lack of depth the Cardinals currently have in their run game, as reasons for the recent run of futility. All of the above have been major issues, but undoubtedly its been a collective struggle — one that won’t necessarily be fixed overnight or with a trip to Green Bay this weekend.

Look, the Packers’ defense by no means even resembles the unit the Cardinals went up against Monday night against the 49ers.

With that said, St. Louis, Buffalo and Minnesota weren’t exactly world beaters in their own right. And all three managed to stifle Arizona’s best laid plans on offense.

While Green Bay’s defense is anchored by linebackers A.J. Hawk and Clay Matthews, Skelton and Co.’s biggest issue Sunday might be against the Packers’ opportunistic secondary.

It’s no secret Arizona’s only legitimate weapon on offensive is All-Pro wideout Larry Fitzgerald. And yet he has struggled to get the ball the past two weeks, catching just nine passes for 81 yards. Now, a lot of that can be attributed to poor pass protection, but that won’t be the case against the Packers. Even without veteran Charles Woodson this weekend, Green Bay features two talented cornerbacks in Tramon Williams (41 tackles and 2 INT) and rookie Casey Hayward (25 tackles and 4 INT).

If Fitzgerald or Andre Roberts (36 catches for 454 yards) fail to create separation against the Pack, look for tight end Rob Housler to be Skelton’s main target Sunday. Housler comes into Week 9 with 11 catches for 98 yards over his last three games.

LaRod Stephens-Howling is coming off his roughest appearance of the season. Though limited to just eight rushes, Stephens-Howling amassed a grand total of six yards. He was, however, effective in the Cardinals’ passing game against San Francisco, catching three passes for 32 yards.

If recent history is any indication, he may have even more success against the Packers. In their 24-15 win over the Jaguars, Green Bay gave up 12 catches for 172 yards to Jacksonville’s backfield duo of Cecil Shorts III and
Rashad Jennings.

In the end, the Cardinals can game plan all they want in an effort to find ways to exploit an average Packers’ defense, it won’t matter if the offensive line doesn’t continue to show signs of improvement.

During Monday’s 24-3 loss to the 49ers, the offensive line gave up just four sacks. Four is still an awful lot, but it’s a sign of improvement.

In a game where offense will be paramount, the Cardinals will need a near flawless effort from their front five. Against an NFC favorite on the road, well, that may be too tough a task to ask for at this point.

When the Packers have the ball:

The Packers offense starts and ends with No. 12.

Aaron Rodgers, the league’s MVP, might not have the same awe-inspiring numbers he did at this point last season, but he’s pretty darn close.

Across almost every major statistical category — quarterback rating, yards passing, touchdowns, completion percentage — Rodgers is ranked in the Top 5.

The Packers have had their fair share of injuries this season, with wide receivers Greg Jennings (collarbone), Jordy Nelson (hamstring) and Donald Driver (groin) all missing time.

Through the first five weeks of the season, the offense struggled without some of the team’s reliable big-play threats.

But of late, Rodgers has righted the ship, throwing for 866 yards and 11 touchdowns during the Packers’ current three-game win streak.

With the absence of Driver and Jennings this season, Rodgers has relied more heavily on James Jones and second-year wideout Randall Cobb.

In 2012, Jones has 36 catches and a team-high seven touchdowns. While Cobb leads the team with 42 receptions to go along with four touchdown catches.

The run game hasn’t run as smoothly, however. The Packers haven’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since Ryan Grant achieved the feat for the second consecutive year back in 2009.

From the looks of it, they’ll have to wait another year for the next one at Lambeau Field. Free agent running back Cedric Benson proved to be an admirable fill-in in the backfield until going down in a Week 5 loss to the Colts. The team’s third round draft pick from 2011, Alex Green, has picked up the slack in Benson’s absence. But let’s be honest, Green Bay hasn’t been winning games with their run game for years and 2012 is no different.

The Cardinals just allowed a season-high 24 points to San Francisco and made Alex Smith — 18-for-19 with 232 yards passing — look a lot like a fellow member of his 2005 draft class, Rodgers.

Arizona will actually be up against Rodgers on Sunday, and don’t be surprised if one of the league’s most efficient passers looks to have a field day.

With plenty of weapons at his disposal, even if the likes of Nelson and tight end Jermichael Finley are unable to suit up, Rodgers will likely light up at the site of the Redbirds.

After all, back in 2009, he threw for 423 yards and four touchdowns in a Wild Card loss to Arizona. Different defense? Sure. Same result? Probably.

If there is one concern for the Pack it’s been in pass protection. While the Cardinals will have no sympathy for anyone else’s offensive line woes, Green Bay is second to Arizona in sacks allowed with 28.