The Cardinals came up with 13 postseason turnovers last year, including this fumble of Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb in the NFC Championship.
The Cardinals built their 2008 postseason run to the Super Bowl on their consistent wins in the turnover battle.
That's why their opening game of this year's playoffs is so intriguing, because the Cards are facing a team that has turned winning that battle into their own personal property.
The Packers were an astounding plus-24 in turnover ratio this season, easily leading the league. They were tops in takeaways with 40, and also gave the ball away the fewest times, with just 16. The stats, on the surface, are daunting, especially factoring in the Cardinals' win-loss record under coach Ken Whisenhunt: The Cards are 28-3 when winning or even in turnover ratio, and 2-19 when they are negative in that category.
"Not turning the football over is important to anyone but especially in the playoffs," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "I don't know what our turnover ratio was last year in the postseason but I know it was good. Green Bay just does a heck of a job getting turnovers."
The Cardinals had 13 takeaways in the playoffs last season and were plus-8 in ratio. The only game the Cards didn't win the turnover battle? The Super Bowl, when they gave it away twice and got it just once.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has thrown just seven interceptions. And amazingly, Green Bay running backs did not fumble in 374 rushing attempts this season.
"A lot of teams we played in the playoffs last year didn't (have) turnovers either," defensive end Darnell Dockett said. "We have to create turnovers. They aren't going to give them to us. We have to make it happen."
The Cards have to protect the ball themselves. Their 36 turnovers were split evenly in interceptions and fumbles, with 18 each. The Packers grabbed three interceptions last week against Arizona.
"(The Packers) all play the ball so well," quarterback Kurt Warner said. "I don't think you see that from a lot of defenses, where they not only are athletic, not only do they have a good scheme, not only are they smart, but when the ball is in the air they are great at going to get it."
In preparing for that, the Cards "do what you always do," Fitzgerald said. "You just need to be cognizant they go after the ball. I think we have some good things in store for them."
BOLDIN A GAME-DAY DECISION, BUT CARDS HEALTHIER
Wide receiver Anquan Boldin (ankle, knee) will be a game-day decision whether he plays, although he did miss practice again Friday. Boldin is one of six players listed as "questionable" for the Cards, although the other five – cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (toe, knee), safety Antrel Rolle (thigh), defensive end Calais Campbell (thumb), guard Deuce Lutui and third-string quarterback Brian St. Pierre (back) – all practiced (each was limited except for Lutui) and are expected to be available Sunday.
Boldin is in a more difficult spot, but his mood was relatively upbeat as he took a matter-of-fact tact with his situation.
"It's tough when you have a high-ankle sprain and an MCL sprain," Boldin said. "If I can go, I will be out there. I am doing everything in my power to make sure I am able to go Sunday. Trust me, if I'm not able to go, it won't be anything that I didn't do. I have doctors at my house at night pocking and prodding, acupuncture, everything possible."
Boldin said he got the swelling down earlier in the week through acupuncture, something he used with his facial fracture last season. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said Boldin would be able to play despite not getting any practice time if his health allows it.
Rodgers-Cromartie declared himself "100 percent." Rolle said he pushed himself about "75 or 80 percent" in his first significant work since getting hurt against the Rams two weeks ago, but he said he has every intention of playing.
"There is a lot at stake," Rolle said. "Talking to (linebacker) Bertrand (Berry) today, in 13 years he's been in four playoffs games. You never take it for granted."
Campbell said he will get a new cast for the game, although he didn't know if it will allow him to expose his fingers so he can use them.
"We are still trying to figure it out," Campbell said.
FITZGERALD VERSUS WOODSON
If Boldin can't go, it slices the Cards' superstar receivers in the game in half, allowing Packers Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Woodson more leeway in sticking more often with Fitzgerald.
"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. (But) it ain't going to be a secret: Most of the day I'll probably be on Fitzgerald."
Fitzgerald only had three catches last week for 17 yards, but Warner played just a quarter and the Cards stayed vanilla in the playbook. Teams knew Fitzgerald was going to be a main target last postseason as well – Boldin missed half the Wild Card game and the entire Divisional round game too – and teams couldn't slow him down.
"This is nothing new for me," Fitzgerald said. "Ever since I was in Pop Warner (football), I've always matched up against the best player from the other team. It's just another week."
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was sacked 51 times this season, but 37 of those came in the first eight games when Green Bay was only 4-4. After that, they got veteran tackles Mark Tauscher and Chad Clifton back, and the protection has gotten much better.
"I think the first eight or nine games we had five or six different starting lineups," Rodgers said. "That's just tough when you're trying to get some continuity up front. The protection game is all about communication and identification. I've been doing a better job of getting the ball out of my hand quicker."
Cardinals defensive tackle Bryan Robinson said the Packers' rhythm offense has been clicking to the point Rodgers doesn't "even have to look at his receivers and he knows where they are going to be."
"He's comfortable and he knows the offense," Robinson said. "He backed up Brett Favre and had a long time to sit back and dissect it and once he became the surgeon, he's done a good job cutting people up."
GRIMM A HALL OF FAME FINALIST
Assistant head coach Russ Grimm was named one of the 15 finalists for this year's Hall of Fame class, which will be determined the day before the Super Bowl. Former Cards cornerback Aeneas Williams did not make the cut in his first year of eligibility.
Friday, Jan 08, 2010 06:27 AM