CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WSPA) – The Carolina Panthers will compete in front of their home fans for the first time this season when they take on the Arizona Cardinals at Bank of America Stadium Sunday afternoon.
Carolina brings a 1-2 record into the contest while the Cardinals come in 2-1.
Carolina looked a lot better in week three as they grabbed their first win of the season. After surrendering 34 points, and 32 points to the Raiders and Buccaneers, respectively, they tightened up and shut down the Chargers attack, allowing just 16 points.
And despite losing their top player, Christian McCaffrey, they were able to capably fill the void and avoided disastrous turnovers. Not to mention kicker Joey Slye showed up big time, nailing all five of his field goal attempts. And with their interception of Justin Herbert, Carolina won the turnover battle for the first time this season. It didn’t come without some drama, however, as LA nearly took the lead in the final seconds, but failed to execute a ‘catch and lateral’ play similar to the hook and ladder.
Through three games, the Panthers have allowed 345 yards rushing to opponents at five yards per carry. And they’ve surrendered a league-high seven touchdown runs to opposing backfields. On top of that, running backs have caught more passes against the Panthers than any team in the NFL. Teams have consistently found success on the ground, something Head Coach Matt Rhule has mentioned is a point of emphasis moving forward.
While they’ve allowed a little over 13 yards per reception to receivers this year, the Panthers haven’t given up many yards to opposing wideouts, ranking in the top ten in that category. The lack of yards, though, could likely be attributed to other teams continuing to run the ball with plenty of success. Carolina’s secondary will no doubt be tested early and often against the pass happy Cardinals on Sunday. Similarly their defense has been middle of the road against the pass, as quarterbacks have thrown for a total of 786 yards for three touchdowns and two interceptions against the Panthers. Carolina now prepares to face the versatile Kyler Murray, who is averaging 38 pass attempts per game in 2020.
On offense, the Panthers have found success on the ground through the first few weeks. Mike Davis stepped in for the injured Christian McCaffrey last week and performed well in both rushing and receiving duties. He’ll be relied upon heavily against a Cardinals defense that has given up 305 yards rushing and a touchdown as well as 202 yards and two touchdowns receiving to opposing backs. Carolina should have guard Dennis Daley back in the lineup, giving a boost to the offensive line and thus the run game.
Since turning the football over three times in the opener against the Bucs, Teddy Bridgewater has contributed zeo giveaways the past two games. He’s been much more efficient, completing over 70% of his passess since week one. Receiver Robby Anderson has proved to be a quality pick up in free agency, and has excelled at taking the top off of defenses. Controlling the clock, and keeping Kyler Murray and the Cardinals offense off the field, will be key in securing victory this week.
Despite being 2-1 the Cardinals are at the bottom of their division. Not so much an indictment on Arizona as it is a testament to the level of competition in the NFC West. The Cardinals have played good football through three weeks and look to keep things going against the Panthers.
Of course the focal point of this Kliff Kingsbury offense is the second year quarterback Kyler Murray, someone Matt Rhule is more than familiar with after facing off against him and the Oklahoma Sooners when he was the head coach at Baylor. Murray has had a surprisingly slow start through the air, throwing for four touchdowns to five interceptions this season, although three of those picks came against Detroit last week. He’s excelled as a scrambler, though, as he’s torched opposing defenses for 187 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. Look for the Panthers to implement some more zone schemes in order to keep their eyes on the young QB. Discipline and contain along the defensive line will be a focal point to limit Murray’s escape lanes. The return of defensive tackle Kawann Short comes just in time for the Panthers.
Folks in the Carolinas are undoubtedly familiar with their newest addition to the offense in wide receiver Deandre Hopkins. The former Clemson Tiger has already racked up 32 catches for 356 yards and one touchdown through the first three games. His ability to win 50/50 jump balls is almost unparalleled, and his exceptional route running yields consistent separation. Hopkins, however, has been dealing with an ankle injury and was held out of practice this week. He’s currently listed as questionable. But he’s not the only force on the offense. Future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald still presents a problem, especially in the slot. And promising young wideout Christian Kirk seems set to make his return this Sunday.
They’ve struggled to get running Kenyan Drake going so far. He has just one touchdown on the season and has been relatively ineffective in the passing game, catching just five passes through three games. He’s pretty much their entire backfield as Chase Edmonds has seen roughly four carries per game, so the Panthers can expect to see plenty of Drake. If they can make it difficult for Drake and force the Cardinals to be one dimensional they’ll have a much better chance at winning , and may just bait Murray into another turnover.
Arizona has been vulnerable through the air, allowing five passing touchdowns while recording zero interceptions so far this season. Quarterbacks are completing just over 60% of their passes against the Cards. To make matters worse for the Cardinals, safeties Budda Baker and Chris Banjo are out this week. Carolina could have some favorable matchups downfield. That being said they still have one of the better cornerbacks in all of football in Patrick Peterson.
They are in the middle of the pack against the run, so there is plenty of opportunity there for Davis and the Panthers running game. Once again, methodical and clock-draining drives will be imperative.
Carolina’s offense is set up well to compete with the Cardinals. With Bridgewater playing more efficiently, and the run game finding its groove, they have a good shot to win the time of possession battle. And given Arizona’s injuries in the secondary, some deep shots to Anderson and company could be in store.
Obviously the Cardinals offense is a big problem, and the Panthers defense hasn’t instilled much confidence through three weeks. But they get a gift as they don’t have to contend with Deandre Hopkins. Still, this offense will be tough to stop.
We’ll see if the defense can rise to the challenge against one of the more dynamic offenses they’ll face. Derrick Brown has been improving, and with Short back on the line the two of them could be a big impact this week. Robby Anderson will have some chances deep in this one and Davis should have plenty of room to run, especially with Daley back helping lead the way.