The Carolina Panthers have a winnable matchup this week versus the Arizona Cardinals. Carolina comes into this game off of their bye week.The last game they played, against a disappointing Giants team, Carolina dominated in every facet of the game. It was a win the Panthers had to have and we caught a glimpse of what this team is really capable of. Ironically, Carolina returns to the stadium where Cam Newton made his professional debut. Cam and the Panthers are still something of an unknown commodity. We know they are talented but just as we saw in that first game Cam played his rookie season, they don’t know how to close out a tight game. This week, the Panthers will face a good test as the Cardinals boast one of the league’s toughest defenses.
Carolina Offense vs Cardinals Defense
When the Panthers have the ball we need to establish the run game. I know we have all heard about the commitment to the run game; supposedly offensive coordinator Mike Shula has made, but this week we really need to see it. The Cardinals have arguably the best secondary in the NFL. The Cardinals, with Patrick Peterson and company, have the 12th ranked passing defense in the NFL. This is the reason we will need to run the ball. All due respect to Cam and the Panthers’ receiving corps, but they are limited with personnel.
The offensive line will have it’s work cut out for it as Arizona is a good defensive team versus the run. No matter what the level of success we experience with the running game, we need to stay committed to it. We should be seeing the debut of the explosive Kenjon Barner against Arizona. Barner is a “home run” threat type of running back. He could alleviate some of the load on DeAngelo Williams.
Once a running game is established, we should be able to run some deep routes off of play action pass. It would be nice to see Steve Smith or Ted Ginn Jr. getting free behind the defense and taking one or two (not being greedy) to the house. When I say establishing a run game, that does include Cam wreaking some havoc against this Cardinals defense. We should see some quarterback draws and even the dreaded read-option, but with Cam actually being a threat to run. If we are able to control the tempo and the game clock, I see no problems with Carolina being able to put up around 27 points.
Carolina Defense vs Cardinals Offense
The defense is the side of the ball where Carolina should be able to dominate. Carson Palmer and the Arizona offense is ranked near the bottom of the league in total yards on offense at 26th. The Panthers must pressure Palmer. Palmer is not the quarterback he was when he was drafted by Cincinnati. No need in saying much about the receivers. Larry Fitzgerald is a premiere receiver in this league. We can not allow Palmer to have time and scan the field waiting for Fitzgerald to break open.
Palmer still is capable of getting the ball to the desired target with accuracy if he is given time. Our defenders must also shut down the run. The Cardinals have the 27th ranked running offense in the NFL. Luke Kuechly and company should be able to eliminate the threat of the running game, by doing this we can force the Cardinals into becoming one dimensional. Imposing our will against their offense will build the confidence of this defense. That is exactly what the defense did against the Giants last time Carolina saw live action. Putting the pressure on Palmer will help to mask our weakness in the secondary. Despite how well the defensive backs played against the Giants, I am still not quite convinced they are as good as they showed versus New York. With these two goals in mind Carolina should be able to stifle the anemic Arizona offense.
This area of the football game heavily favors the Cardinals. It is an all too painful of a memory I have of a rookie punt returner named Patrick Peterson bringing back a punt all the way to the house in the debut of a certain #1, who plays quarterback for the Panthers. It was that moment that spoiled the coming out party of head coach Ron Rivera and Newton. That is my biggest fear for Carolina in this game. Looking at the statistics for special teams, Arizona comes in overall 8th. Carolina is much lower ranked at 23rd.
The Panthers can convincingly win this game. If we play to our potential, this game should not be close. Unfortunately our modus operandi has been to play to the level of our competition. With the blowout win against New York, hopefully the team learned what they are truly capable of. I have the Panthers winning this one 27-9.
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