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Matchup: Packers Pass Defense vs. Cardinals Pass Offense

How does the Green Bay Packers' pass defense compare to the Cardinals' pass offense? Rank
Packers Pass Defense 5
Cardinals Pass Offense 12
Football Outsiders Rank
Packers Pass Defense 6
Cardinals Pass Offense 14

The rankings are pretty similar either way you look at it.

Fun Fact: QB Kurt Warner has a QB rating of 93.2 this season. But he's piled up big stats against a bunch of bad pass defenses. He's had a QB rating of over 100 in 8 games this season, and the best of any of those pass defenses was the Texans, which according to Football Outsiders, has the 18th best pass defense this season. He's only faced two top 10 pass defenses (not including the Packers last week, he's also faced the 49ers twice and the Panthers once) and in those 3 games his QB rating has been 67.2 (1 TD, 2 INT), 47.8 (2 TD, 5 INT), and 44.9 (0 TD, 2 INT).

The complete analysis is after the jump.

If the Cardinals are going to beat the Packers, it's going to be through the air.

The Packers' last loss was in Pittsburgh when QB Ben Roethlisberger went wild for 503 yards and 3 TDs. He did it by spreading the ball around, and beating the weaker members of the Packers' pass coverage (CB Jarrett Bush, CB Josh Bell, and LB A.J. Hawk).

One reason why the Steelers were so successful is that they have several great receivers. According to Football Outsiders, WRs Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, and Mike Wallace are all in the Top 15 wide receivers of 2009, and TE Heath Miller is the 8th best tight end. The problem for the Cardinals is that their receivers have been nowhere near as good as the Steelers. WR Larry Fitzgerald has had another great season (FO rank: No. 11), while WR Steve Breaston has been good (FO rank: No. 27), and WR Anquan Boldin has struggled (FO rank: No. 38).

A high ankle sprain was a major problem for Boldin, but he's gotten better later in the season as that has healed. Unfortunately for him he now has another high ankle sprain that he suffered last week. The Cardinals' tight ends have done nothing as receivers this season. Assuming Boldin is out, or is hobbling around like he did earlier in the season, the Packers can put CB Charles Woodson on Fitzgerald, CB Tramon Williams on Breaston, and leave the Cardinals looking for anybody else to carry the offensive load. Woodson and Williams won't shut Fitzgerald and Breaston down completely, but they aren't going to run wild on them like the Steelers did.

The loss of Boldin presents another problem for the Cardinals. The last time Warner had a good day passing against a team that wasn't the Rams was in week 13 against the Vikings. Comparing the Packers' pass defense (FO rank: No. 6) to the Vikings (FO rank: No. 22) isn't a fair comparison, but let's move on to how Warner managed to throw for 285 yards and 3 TDs against the Vikings. Of those 285 yards, 241 yards were on passes to either Fitzgerald or Boldin. And all 3 TD passes went to them. When the Cardinals' pass offense is working, it's because Warner is leaning heavily on his top 2 receivers.

If Boldin is out (or limping) and Fitzgerald is covered by Woodson, Warner will have few options. The hope might be that Breaston can fill the gap, but despite the generous ranking by Football Outsiders, he's had an unimpressive season. All 3 of his TD passes have come against two bad pass defenses (the Bears and Seahawks), and outside of a 45 yard reception against the Rams in week 16, he's done very little over the last 7 games.

Also, the Packers didn't have much trouble pressuring the Cardinals' QBs last week, in part because the Cardinals' have replaced injured starting LT Mike Gandy with veteran journeyman OL Jeremy Bridges.

Meanwhile the Packers' pass defense has been playing very well down the stretch. In the 6 games since CB Al Harris and LB Aaron Kampman were lost for the season with ACL tears, the Packers' have held 3 different QBs (Matthew Stafford, Joe Flacco, and Matt Hasselbeck) to QB ratings under 40. Only QB Jay Cutler (74.9 QB rating) and Roethlisberger (121.9 QB rating) have been productive against them. 

What does it all mean? Unless Boldin's high ankle sprain is healed by Sunday, WR Early Doucet becomes Mike Wallace, and Jeremy Bridges can block LB Clay Matthews one-on-one, I don't see how the Cardinals can produce enough passing yards and TDs to outscore the Packers. If both teams were 100% healthy, the Cardinals could provide a challenge (if everyone was healthy the Packers would have their top cover corner and top pass rusher back too), but the Packers could still beat them. With all these injuries, I don't see how the Cardinals can beat them.