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Panthers at Cardinals offensive preview: Christian McCaffrey could be the key factor for a Panthers win

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A quick look at what the Panthers need to accomplish against the Cardinals, whether it’s Kyle Allen or Cam Newton taking the snaps

Pittsburgh Steelers v Carolina Panthers Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

As if a 27- minute rain delay midway through the first quarter wasn’t enough to dampen things when the Carolina Panthers took on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last Thursday night, the offense failed to show up when the game clock actually began. Failed fourth-and-one’s by Carolina would loom throughout the game, including a Christian McCaffrey failed fake reverse on the Bucs’ 2-yard line with 1:22 left to play that would have put the Panthers up. The usually run-heavy Cam Newton finished the game with two carries and 0 yards. Plagued penalties, missed throws, numerous sacks, and no touchdowns would help write the Panthers fate as they fell 0-2 before heading into Week 3. To make matters worse, following the loss, it was reported that Newton re-aggravated a left foot sprain, making his current status unknown.

Lamar Jackson ran all over the Arizona Cardinals’ defense, literally. In Arizona’s 23-17 loss against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, Jackson ran for a career-high 120 yards. Jackson consistently picked up key first-downs and big gains whenever he ran with the ball. The Cardinals were also unable to stop Jackson through the air as he finished with a total of 272 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Jackson was also able to beat Arizona’s defense on the edges; they were unable to contain him as he zipped up the sideline.

The Panthers travel to Arizona on Sunday for their first road game of the season. If they are to turn the season around early, and quickly, this game needs to be considered a must-win. A lot of uncertainty remains around who will captain the offense, but here are three keys in order for Carolina to come home with a win:

Failed protection

It’d be easy to put the Panthers’ woes on Newton’s shoulders if it wasn’t for the non-existent protection he’s been receiving. A poor left tackle and offensive coaching have done little to help the franchise quarterback, especially during key moments. Bucs linebacker Shaq Barrett was able to beat Daryl Williams off the snap on multiple occasions and sack Newton three times for the night. Moving a tight end to help Williams would be logical, or even moving a back to focus on the pass rusher would make sense, but it has yet to happen.

Against Tampa Bay, Carolina’s offensive line failed to contain the pressure the entire night, forcing McCaffrey into blitz pick-up, which diminished Panthers’ biggest offensive weapon. Following a concussion during the third preseason game at New England, second-round pick Greg Little has been cleared of concussion protocols. Perhaps he can be the fix at left tackle or give a little alleviation to the offensive line. Arizona’s pass defense isn’t the most intimidating, but to win games, protection of the quarterback is needed.

Keep Greg Olsen a main target

Tight ends have wrecked the Cardinals defense thus far this season. Ravens’ Mark Andrews led the way on Sunday with eight receptions, 112 total yards and a touchdown. Hayden Hurst also scored a touchdown for Baltimore. The previous week, Arizona’s defense gave up over 100 yards and a touchdown to Detroit LionsT.J. Hockenson. Whether it be a limited Newton or backup Kyle Allen playing, Greg Olsen will be a larger, easier target to throw to because of his routes. Olsen has been targeted 18 times this season, totaling 146 yards which is third among all tight ends. Aside from DJ Moore, Olsen has been Newton’s most targeted option and has the highest yards per target on the team. Against a defense struggling to cover tight ends, Panthers need to utilize Olsen, who is one of the best in the league.

Game plan around McCaffrey

Whether it’s Newton or Allen who gets the starting role on Sunday, the game plan will be limited. Newton currently has a 30% completion rate on deep passes and no touchdowns while Allen has only had one career start. With either quarterback, it’s hard to know what to expect. Making McCaffrey a bell cow against the Buccaneers didn’t work. But things can change in Week 3 because the Cardinals have consistently struggled against the run. The Ravens were able to utilize their run game in Jackson and running back Mark Ingram for a total of 182 yards on the ground overall. The week prior, The Lions were able to rush for over 100 yards as well. McCaffrey is coming off a lull game and will be looking for a rebound. McCaffrey should easily be able to carry an offense against an Arizona defense that allows 485.5 yards per game.

Both teams are desperately looking for their first win of the season. If the Panthers can keep their quarterback upright and keep lanes open for McCaffrey then they can come away with a win.