Notebook: Big Plays Down, But Arizona WRs Still Impress

The Arizona Cardinals’ trio of receivers - Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston - is as talented as they come. But an interesting change from a year ago, when all three topped 1,000 yards, is that the trio hasn’t produced the big play nearly as frequently in 2009. - More Mike McCarthy Press Conference Transcript - Dec. 31

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The Arizona Cardinals' trio of receivers - Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston - is as talented as they come.

But an interesting change from a year ago, when all three topped 1,000 yards during the regular season, is that the trio hasn't produced the big play nearly as frequently in 2009.

In fact, the longest pass reception this season by any of the three is just 45 yards, and that was by Breaston last week. That's his only catch longer than 30 yards all season.

Similarly, Fitzgerald only has one catch longer than 30 yards in 2009, and that was a 34-yard TD in a Week 13 victory over Minnesota. Boldin actually leads the group with a handful of 30-plus yard grabs.

Contrast that with a year ago, when Fitzgerald had a reception of at least 30 yards in 10 regular-season games and in all four postseason contests - 14 out of 20 games overall. Breaston had a catch of 30-plus seven times in the '08 regular season.

So what gives? Nothing as far as the Packers are concerned, who don't see the drop-off in big plays as a reason to view this dangerous group any differently. They've still combined for more than 2,750 receiving yards this year with one game remaining.

"They're good with the ball in their hands," safety Nick Collins said. "They make a lot of guys miss in the open field, so we've got to get them down. We just have to out there and play lights out."

The Packers also don't have to think back too far to the last time they faced a receiving corps as deep as this one. In Week 15 in Pittsburgh, the Steelers' Hines Ward, Mike Wallace and Santonio Holmes combined for combined for 12 catches and 282 yards, a whopping 23.5 yards per reception as Ben Roethlisberger threw for 503 yards all told.

In that game, Wallace hauled in TD grabs of 60 and 19 yards, Ward had catches of 54 and 29 yards, and Holmes posted receptions of 33 and 32 yards. And that's not counting long receptions by Pittsburgh's tight ends and running backs. It was a big-play bonanza the Packers have to prevent from repeating itself.

"They kind of spread us out, 'Big Ben' got the ball out of his hand quickly, and it's the same thing that Arizona is going to try to do to us," Collins said. "It was a great test for us. We have to go out there and match it, and we're ready for it."

Depending on the result of the Minnesota-New York Giants game early on Sunday, the Cardinals may or may not be playing for anything this week and could rest some of their stars. If the Vikings win, Arizona cannot earn the No. 2 seed and first-round bye, but a Minnesota win also means the Packers and Cardinals are assured of meeting next week in the first-round of the playoffs.

So in other words, there's no escaping having to deal with the talented trio, at one point or another.

"The size of these guys, just the physicality of both Larry and Anquan is unique to one team," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "This will be a big challenge, and I'm sure they'll try to spread us out and challenge us that way."

Hefty playbooks

Earlier this week, when asked about possibly game-planning for the same opponent two weeks in a row and whether it's best to hold some things back for the second meeting, McCarthy said generally speaking there's enough in any game plan to play a doubleheader.

Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt seems to share that view, so it doesn't appear either coach is too concerned with "showing too much" on Sunday should they be in line to meet again.

{sportsad300}"It seems like every week at the end of a game there's things you didn't run or things that you didn't get to during the course of the game," Whisenhunt said. "I think that's a natural tendency with coaches is to have that.

"I know there are things we carry that we'll use actually the next week if it's applicable against another team just because we didn't get to them that particular week. You never know how a game is going to go and how much of the things that you actually put in that you'll use. It's always better to have too much than not enough."

Injury/participation update

The Packers upgraded four players on their injury report Thursday to full participation - linebacker Nick Barnett (illness), tackle Chad Clifton (knee), defensive end Johnny Jolly (foot), and cornerback Charles Woodson (shoulder).

The rest of Green Bay's injury report stayed the same, with cornerback Trevor Ford (knee) a full participant for the second straight day, defensive end Mike Montgomery (ankle) and fullback Korey Hall (elbow) remaining limited, and linebacker Brandon Chillar (back) and nose tackle Ryan Pickett (hamstring) sitting out.

Pickett tested his hamstring on the sidelines during practice for the second day in a row. Pickett has played only once in the past three games, and that was just a handful of snaps.

"I'm doing a lot of running and testing it, just trying to strengthen my hamstring," he said. "It felt pretty good."

The Cardinals made no changes to their injury report from Wednesday.

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