Down and Distance with Bruce Arians: In the playoffs, “it’s win or go home”

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TEMPE, Ariz. – The Cardinals players had the weekend and Monday off to get a physical rest before it gets physical again on Saturday with the Green Bay Packers, who will be returning to University of Phoenix Stadium for the NFC Divisional Playoff.

Head coach Bruce Arians was pleased with what he saw from his players on the first of their three practice days this week.

“A good start to the week,” Arians said. “Everybody on the squad practiced and had a very good practice. (Linebacker) Alex Okafor is on a non-injury list (toe). He was injured over the weekend and he’s no longer active. (Defensive tackle) Cory Redding, we decided to put on IR (ankle). He’s going to be at least a month and we needed the fresh bodies. I hated it for him, but we obviously made some transactions that you know of and are aware of. It was excellent, last week into this week.”

With Okafor and Redding gone for Arizona’s entire playoff run, the team had to make some moves, and they did by signing linebacker Jason Babin, and elevating linebacker Gabe Martin from the practice squad to the active roster.

Arians says he’s had his eye on Babin for quite a while, and just waited for an opportunity like this to pull the trigger and bring him in, and he’s glad he did, because he offers the team so much.

“He (Babin) was the next guy on our list in case we needed one and glad to have him with us,” Arians said.

Arians declined to get into specifics on what happened to Okafor, and how he ended up on the Non-Football Injury List (NFI). Instead, Arians said it’s a perfect opportunity for Babin and others to step up and show and prove, starting this weekend against the Packers.

“The next guy up. Next guy up,” Arians said. “(Alani) Fua played a little bit of outside linebacker last week, so he’s in that rotation. Kareem (Martin) played pretty well last game. So, it’s just the next guy up.”

“We have good depth,” Arians said. “We’ve been very fortunate with the veterans we brought in. Finding roles and letting them play in that role. We’ve always talked about the next man up and we’ve got some good young players who aren’t young anymore. They’re halfway through their sophomore year, so it’s time to stand up and play.”

The good thing about having a free weekend is that the players and coaches got a chance to kick back, relax and watch some football, and get an extra scouting report on who they’d be playing on Saturday. It played out in front of them, and it happened to be the Packers who’d be their next opponent.

It’s been a little over two weeks since the Cardinals took the Packers apart, 38-8, at University of Phoenix Stadium, in a game that saw the defense sack Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers eight times, and backup quarterback Scott Tolzien one more time, for a total of nine sacks on the day.

In the locker room on Tuesday, all the players maintained that they’re not looking back or focusing on that game at all this week as they prepare for Green Bay’s return visit. They know the Packers will be a different and much more confident group coming to Arizona this weekend, especially coming off an impressive 35-18 win over the Washington Redskins over the weekend.

“Yeah, last game has really no bearing on this game,” Arians said. “It’s win or go home.”

“They (Packers) looked much better with their offensive line, and obviously, Aaron (Rodgers) was pretty sharp,” Arians said. “But the running game is what got them going (141 yards rushing vs. Washington).”

If you thought that game with the Packers was going to play out like it did, then you’ve got to be in a small minority of people, because Green Bay was in a nice groove coming into that game, winning five of their previous six games. It was just one of those days a football team goes through (ask Arians and the Cardinals who got beat down the week after against the Seahawks).

The Packers have always been a confident team, regardless of the outcome of their games. It has to be at a fever pitch right now after their big win at FedEx Field last Sunday.

Arians explains why it’s hard to dominate a team two straight times in a season. A lot of it, Arians says, has to do with the fact that Green Bay’s coming back to Arizona much healthier than they were on Dec. 27.

“Well the ball has to bounce your way,” Arians said. “I don’t really think we dominated them in any form or fashion, other than we got a couple of good fumbles and picked them up and scored with them. They’re too good, and we didn’t get their best shot because they didn’t have their best players.”