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Controlling The Pass Of The Pack

Cardinals counting on fourth-ranked pass defense to bounce back in Green Bay


Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett chases down Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers during a preseason game last season in Green Bay.

When Patrick Peterson was a rookie, maneuvering through his first preseason, a trip to Green Bay provided an eye-opening experience.

The cornerback was burned on a 20-yard back-shoulder fade from Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers to receiver Greg Jennings for a touchdown, a precursor to the aerial fireworks Rodgers showered the NFL with all season.

A year later, and in a game that counts this time, Peterson chuckles a bit at the memory.

"That's what Green Bay is known for," Peterson said, as the Cardinals ready for another road trip to Wisconsin this weekend. "We have to be ready."

From the time the game landed on the schedule, the matchup between the Cardinals' pass defense and the Packers' pass offense was going to be one to watch. Now that the game is looming, that hasn't changed – although the circumstances surrounding each unit have.

The Cardinals are coming off a game against the 49ers where quarterback Alex Smith completed 18 of 19 passes and while the yardage wasn't catastrophic, it was piled up on yards after the catch as the Cards had trouble tackling. It came just a week after the Cards allowed just 58 net passing yards in Minnesota.

"(San Francisco) gave their quarterback a lot of easy throws and we just didn't rally up as a defense and a secondary to make those tackles," Peterson said. "They made those four-yard catches into 20-yard gains or 40-yard touchdowns. That's just something we can't do."

It certainly can't be something the Cardinals allow to Rodgers, the NFL's reigning MVP. The Packers have struggled to run the ball this season, so that will be an element with which is easier to deal. But the passing game, inconsistent in many ways for Green Bay as injuries have torn up the receiving corps, still has a résumé of danger for the opposition.

In his last five games, Rodgers has 18 touchdown passes and only two interceptions. The Packers aren't on the level they were in 2011 – Jennings is out with a groin injury, and fellow 1,000-yard wideout Jordy Nelson didn't practice Wednesday because of a bad hamstring that kept him out Sunday – but they are moving closer to that direction.

"It's trending up," Rodgers said. "We're still struggling a bit to find our exact identity. We haven't run it or thrown it maybe as well as we did last year and yardage-wise we are down a little.

"We've had some glimpses where we're playing the kind of football we want to play, but we've got to be a little more consistent."

The Cardinals want to do the same, although they are ranked fourth in the NFL in pass defense and are tied – coincidentally, with the Packers – for the league lead with 26 sacks. They have shown they can make life difficult even for an elite passer.

Earlier this season, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady did end up with 316 yards passing but only one touchdown and couldn't seem to break down the Cards when he needed to as the Cardinals came up with a road win. That would be as good of a blueprint as any to follow against Rodgers.

"You know when you go against a stellar guy, you better be 'on,' 100 percent," safety Kerry Rhodes said. "You can't have any lapses. He'll find that lapse. You are the guy who has a breakdown, he'll find you."

The last time the Cardinals faced Rodgers and the Packers' passing game when it mattered, Rodgers was just starting to become a superstar. The Cardinals beat him that day, the Wild Card playoff game at University of Phoenix Stadium, but Rodgers drove the Packers to 45 points and threw for 422 yards and four touchdowns.

That was a defensive coordinator and many different players ago for the Cardinals. But since then, Rodgers has a Super Bowl title, an MVP and a reputation that precedes him.

"I don't want to say you prepare for them differently, but Aaron Rodgers, he's one of the elite quarterbacks," said linebacker Daryl Washington, who leads the Cardinals with eight sacks. "You better get some pressure on him quick. This dude can run too. He'll sit back and pick you apart. You better be ready."

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