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Pass-defense at the test


They are the number one secondary in the NFL. They've stopped everyone from Peyton Manning to Tommy Maddox. Now they'll try their luck at the best the desert has to offer.

The Arizona Cardinals are the league's third-ranked passing attack. Statistically, the Cardinals out-rank Manning and the Colts.

Better than the Colts? Is that possible for a 3-7 team with a re-tread at quarterback?

All right, the Cardinals aren't in the same "league" with Manning and Marvin Harrison, but there's no denying the numbers coach Denny Green's spread offense is putting up.

Start with second-year wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who is currently number two in the league in receptions with 70 and fourth in receiving yards with 958. Then there's Anquan Boldin, who has 47 catches for 721 yards. Fitzgerald and Boldin have combined for 10 touchdowns.

"It's going to be a great challenge for us. They love throwing the ball and our secondary loves teams that want to pass the ball," Jaguars cornerback Rashean Mathis said.

"They're young," Mathis added of the Cardinals' wide receivers. "You can't compare them to Marvin Harrison because he's been doing this for years and years."

Kurt Warner is the Cardinals quarterback and Warner is in a comeback of sorts, following a brief role as Eli Manning's caretaker with the Giants. Warner has returned to action after missing four games due to a groin injury and Warner turned in big performances the previous two Sundays. He threw for 359 yards and a touchdown in the Cardinals' loss to Detroit, then ravaged the Rams for 285 yards and three touchdown passes in the Cardinals' win in St. Louis, where Warner led the Rams to the 1999 Super Bowl title.

"They spread the field and throw it," Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said. "They've been so successful throwing it they've turned their attention to what they're good at."

Running the ball is what the Cardinals are not good at. They are last in the league's rushing rankings, so the Jaguars can expect the ball to be in the desert air early and often this Sunday at Sun Devils Stadium, where attendance is expected to be sparse.

The Cardinals are in the process of playing out the string on another no-playoffs season, but the Jaguars are in the midst of a late-season push to qualify for the AFC playoffs for the first time since 1999. Nothing about this Sunday's game will be ordinary for the Jaguars.

"It's a great time of year. Thanksgiving feast and football games and from here on it's games that are hugely important. If you're a football fan, it's the best time of year," Del Rio said.

"We're establishing an identity, developing a rhythm. You're sitting at the end of November and you've earned the right to be in the thick of things," he added.

That's exactly where the Jaguars are, in the thick of the wild-card playoffs race. Their game in Arizona will be key, as will this weekend's San Diego at Washington, New England at Kansas City, Baltimore at Cincinnati and Pittsburgh at Indianapolis games.

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