In Week 5 of 2013, the Carolina Panthers lost to the Arizona Cardinals 22-6 in embarrassing fashion to drop to 1-3 and plant head coach Ron Rivera firmly on the hot seat. The Panthers haven’t lost to the Cardinals since. It’s been six wins in a row for Carolina, including wins in each of the last three seasons. The Panthers will look to make it seven as they try to climb back to .500 on the young season.
The Cardinals have staggered out of the gate. Outside of one extraordinary half where they outscored the Las Vegas Raiders 29-3, they’ve been downright bad. In their other five halves of football, they’ve been outscored 84-33. They’ve been inconsistent and inefficient on offense while sporting one of the worst defenses in the league. Let’s look how these two teams match up.
Panthers offense vs Cardinals defense
The stoppable force meets the very movable object. A common debate in the sports world is what wins out when a strong offense meets a strong defense. What people don’t talk about is what wins out when a bad offense plays a bad defense. Both teams will see this as a get right game for the sides of the team that are struggling, and for one team that will likely be true.
The Panthers may not have Christian McCaffrey, who is dealing with a thigh issue. If there was ever a time for Baker Mayfield to find his stride as Panthers quarterback, this is it. The Cardinals are allowing 8.4 yards per pass attempt, second highest in the league, and a 118.6 passer rating to opposing quarterbacks, the highest in the league. They’ve only sacked opposing quarterbacks twice, and both of those were registered by JJ Watt, who has not practiced yet this week. If the Panthers can’t get the passing game on track this weekend, I don’t know how much hope there can be for it going forward.
The Panthers will need their running game to keep the offense ahead of the chains and put Baker Mayfield and the passing game their best chance to succeed. Mayfield needs to be more patient and accurate looking downfield, and hopefully he can build a connection with DJ Moore against softer competition.
Panthers defense vs Cardinals offense
The Cardinals offense looks like a juggernaut on paper. Kyler Murray just got a huge contract and has looked like a player that could climb into MVP conversations at points during his career. This season to date has not been one of those points. He hasn’t been running much—only 65 yards through three games—which has always been one of the most dangerous parts of his game. He hasn’t been able to find the big plays we’ve seen in years past, as the team’s 5.5 yards per pass attempt is lowest in the league.
Part of the problem has been the receiving corps. DeAndre Hopkins is currently serving a six game suspension for violating the league’s protocols on performance enhancing drugs. Gadget wide receiver Rondale Moore has yet to appear in a game as he nurses a hamstring injury, and he’s joined on the injury report by AJ Green and Greg Dortch, who have been functioning as the team’s number two and three wide receiver. Marquise Brown has been good, but he can only do so much.
The key for the Panthers defense will be keeping Kyler Murray contained within the pocket, which will help them limit the possibilities for big plays. Making the Cardinals dink and dunk until the offense falls apart has been an effective strategy in recent years for the Panthers, and the Cardinals seem ultra susceptible to that kind of game plan this season.
The Panthers have a good chance to move to 2-2 on the season against a team they’ve historically gotten the better of. It certainly doesn’t look like match-up that’ll contain a bunch of fireworks, but it’s probably better that way. The Panthers haven’t been able to win anything resembling a shootout under Matt Rhule, so keeping the score low and grinding it out will is the best chance the Panthers have to win.