Game preview: Panthers at Cardinals

Carolina Panthers

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WSPA) – The Panthers at Cardinals game is previewed ahead of Sunday’s showdown in Glendale, AZ.

This is part of a season-long preview series where we’ll break down both teams, primarily the opponent, ahead of the matchup and finish with some ‘keys of the game’ for the Panthers.

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Arizona Cardinals

The Arizona Cardinals enter this week ten battle with an 8-1 record, their only loss coming to the Green Bay Packers in week eight. But they’re struggling severely with injury concerns and may be without several key players on Sunday. Nonetheless, the Panthers will surely be preparing for the likes of Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins, among others. So we’ll still take a look at those playmakers.

Of course it all starts with quarterback Kyler Murray, who was having a career year before going down with an ankle injury a couple weeks ago, ultimately missing last week’s contest in which they won with Colt McCoy under center. If Murray makes his return this week, it’ll be a huge test for the Carolina defense. He’s a very rare talent at the position and is most likely the quickest QB in the league. His ability to extend plays tests the secondary, and forces the defensive line to contain the pocket. The problem with that, however, is that Murray also has a lethal arm. He’s already established himself as one of the more accurate passers in the league, and can sling it downfield pretty well. It also helps to have an elite group of receivers.

GLENDALE, ARIZONA – OCTOBER 28: Kyler Murray #1 of the Arizona Cardinals runs with the ball against the Green Bay Packers at State Farm Stadium on October 28, 2021 in Glendale, Arizona. Green Bay won 24-21. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

DeAndre Hopkins is one of the best receivers in the league, utilizing a long frame and great hands on a route-by-route basis. He catches almost everything thrown his way and is exceptional at the point of attack. Plus, his route running is in the elite category as well. Not many do it as well as DHop in the NFL. He also leads the team in receiving touchdowns with seven ( He’s been dealing with a hamstring injury the last couple of weeks and missed last week’s contest. His status is currently up in the air. On the other side is A.J. Green, an established veteran with pedigree. He provides more size on the perimeter at 6’4″ and is also sure-handed, though he’s certainly on the back end of his career. Christian Kirk and rookie Rondale Moore are primarily the slot receivers. While Moore has seen a fair share of targets (40) this season, Kirk has done more with his opportunities overall to the tune of 40 catches for 545 yards and four touchdowns. Both, however, are great options at the position. And considering the Cardinals often go with a spread offense, Kirk and Moore will be on the field at the same time on a number of occasions.

Chase Edmonds and James Conner had presented one of the league’s best backfield tandems in the early going this season. But Edmonds has been banged up in recent weeks and missed the majority of last week to an ankle injury. He’s the lightning to Conner’s thunder. Edmonds presents a great receiving option out of the backfield, and has great elusiveness when in space. Conner is a big threat on early downs, in the red zone, and between the tackles primarily. But he’s stepped up in a big way after a couple injury-riddled seasons in Pittsburgh. This season, Conner leads the league in touchdowns (11) and has been highly effective in his role with the Cards. He may have to take a larger snap count this week, though, if Edmonds can’t go.

GLENDALE, ARIZONA – OCTOBER 28: Running back James Conner #6 of the Arizona Cardinals dives into the end-zone to score a two-yard rushing touchdown against the Green Bay Packers during the second half of the NFL game at State Farm Stadium on October 28, 2021 in Glendale, Arizona. The Packers defeated the Cardinals 24-21. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

On defense, the Cardinals have been getting great production from their pass rush this season (tied for third in the league with 25 sacks) particularly from edge rushers Chandler Jones and Markus Golden who account for six and nine sacks, respectively. Jones began the season on a strong note, recording an incredible five sacks in the opener against Tennessee. He’s managed one since, but is still a force at creating pressure and has Golden on the other end to balance out the attack.

Isaiah Simmons is really coming into his own in his second pro season. Simmons has an interception, three forced fumbles, and is third on the team in tackles (59). He’s a prototypical hybrid linebacker with exception speed and plays well in space. Cornerback Byron Murphy is a talented cover corner with great ball skills (he has three interceptions to lead the team this season). He’s really a playmaker and has made an impact in key moments for this team throughout the season. Deeps shots on the outside are tough to complete with him in the area. And that brings us to their greatest asset on defense, safety Budda Baker. Though he might best be know for the guy that got run down by D.K. Metcalf last season in what would have been a 100 yard return touchdown, Baker has quickly established himself as one of the best safeties in the game. He’s a physical safety not unlike Jamal Adams, but has the coverage skills to match. The Panthers are going to have their hands full in trying to keep the ball away from wherever Baker lines up. The problem is that he can impact a play from just about anywhere on the field.

Below is the team’s injury report as of Friday:

Carolina Panthers

Well it’s been a pretty crazy week for the Panthers. With the Sam Darnold experiment seemingly over as he suffered an injury amid a troubling stretch of poor play and was subsequently placed on injured reserve, it appeared it was P.J. Walker’s time.

Not so fast.

It didn’t take long for the Panthers to reach out to a familiar face and then quickly sign Cam Newton. While Walker will get the start this week, and it’s unlikely Cam plays, Carolina now has its starter for the remainder of the season. But for this week at least, Walker gets to put some tape out there in just his second career start. He’s completed three of 15 pass attempts this season.

Christian McCaffrey seems to be back to full strength and received a healthy 18 touches against the Patriots last week in his return to action. He’s going to be the primary factor for the team in the coming weeks given the shakeup at the QB position as well as inconsistent play from the offensive line. Carolina will likely lean on McCaffrey heavily over the next month plus. But he looked like his old self against New England, recording 52 yards on the ground and 54 through the air (on four catches). Look for his usage to increase this week and remain high the rest of the way.

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA – NOVEMBER 07: J.C. Jackson #27 of the New England Patriots attempts to tackle Christian McCaffrey #22 of the Carolina Panthers during the second quarter at Bank of America Stadium on November 07, 2021 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

The play from the receivers has taken the same trajectory as the entire offense. After scoring three times in the first four weeks, D.J. Moore hasn’t found the end zone in the last five games, and hasn’t reached 80 yards in any of them. As the primary pass catcher on the team that’s been a detriment, but he’s obviously had to contend with poor play from the quarterback during that stretch as well. And the offense hasn’t really been able to get into a rhythm. Meanwhile Robby Anderson hasn’t had more than three catches since October 3 and has found the end zone just twice all season. We’ll see if he can turn the page this week with a new signal caller before Cam likely enters the equation.

Their strength is still their defense, but that unit has been put in difficult situations over the last month or so and that has translated to a regression in play as well. They’ve allowed over one hundred yards rushing in three of the last four games as opposed to allowing that in just one game the first five weeks. Having Shaq Thompson back has helped, though, and they seem to have avoided a major injury to Brian Burns as he’s set to return to action after suffering a foot injury against the Pats.

Below is the team’s injury report as of Friday:

Keys to the game

Pressure with four: It’s a tough ask, but the Panthers defensive line will need to sustain pressure on Kyler Murray throughout. There’s too much risk in blitzing him given his quick release paired with talented route runners that can get open quickly as well. Creating pressure with four will allow Carolina to keep seven in coverage and force the Cardinals to make plays routinely.

Play small ball: The Panthers don’t need to turn to trick plays, or create splash in this one. Just keep it simple. They need to run the football and possess it. A big McCaffrey game should be in store. And there’s nothing that instills some confidence in an o-line like getting the run game going early. It’ll be key for them to maintain long scoring drives all while keeping that explosive Arizona offense on the sidelines.

Red Zone efficiency: This is key for all teams, globally. It just becomes more important when you’re facing an opponent that can make several trips to the red zone in one game. The Panthers need to capitalize on these opportunities and score touchdowns instead of field goals. Because when Arizona gets the chance, they capitalize. They scored touchdowns on 70% of red zone trips. Meanwhile Carolina is fourth-worst in this metric, converting a TD on just over 51% of trips.

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