clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Panthers vs Cardinals: 3 story lines to watch for Week 4

From Frankie Luvu to Ickey Ekwonu, the Panthers have a lot to watch in Week 4

New Orleans Saints v Carolina Panthers Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Last week I led our Week 3 preview by saying that the Carolina Panthers opening as -2.5 point favorites over the New Orleans Saints was “ as close to a coin flip as you are likely to find in the NFL.” To spite me, apparently, our friends over at DraftKings Sportsbook opened the Panthers as -1 point favorites over the Arizona Cardinals. That’s a whole point and a half closer to a toss up those of you keeping track at home.

That is interesting news for Matt ‘My teams get better in year three’ Rhule whose team is so hard to predict by oddsmakers a whole quarter of the way into his third season that they have no idea how his team will perform in a given week. With three games in the bag, we can ask more specific questions about how this team is going to perform against an opponent. More specific, at least, than ‘is Christian McCaffrey going to stay healthy this week?’. The jury on that, by the way, is still decidedly out. Here is what I’m watching for in Week 4:

Ickey’s orientation:

Left tackle Ickem Ekwonu has been a disappointment to fans who just remember his penalties. The rookie has had a couple of ‘welcome to the NFL’ moments from both refs and opposing pass rushers in each game this season, but he has also flashed some of the athleticism and aggression that led the Panthers to drafting him 6th overall this year.

Opportunities for that will continue this week as Ekwonu will have the opportunity to line up against a good pass rushing duo in JJ Watt and Zach Alexander. The good news is that Watt is only playing 63% of the Cardinals defensive snaps this year and the depth behind him and Alexander is considered by fans to be wanting.

Ekwonu will get another test against elite competition while also having the opportunity to display what he can do against the lower tier talents that the Cardinals have to offer.

Offensive efficiency

There is a balance that the 2022 Carolina Panthers are trying to achieve between moving the football when it is in their possession and not martyring McCaffrey. It is a balance that has been lost two year running now and 2022 does not seem terribly different as yet.

When they get McCaffrey the ball, they move. Often so far as to find Eddy Piñeiro’s so-far-infallible field goal range. When they don’t get him the ball, a few Baker Mayfield incompletions have typically led to stalled drives and punts. This is not a lasting recipe for success and everybody, even the Panthers coaching staff, knows it.

We’ve already talked about how the Cardinals defensive line doesn’t have a deep stable of pass rushers. This is the week for the Panthers to be able to put their, uh, stuff together and actually show that they can move the ball through the air. Laviska Shenault is their second leading receiver on the season with two receptions on two targets for 90 yards after appearing in one of the Panthers three games to date. That is laughable when you have talents like McCaffrey and DJ Moore on your roster, not to mention Ian Thomas and Shi Smith having nine and 11 targets respectively.

The Panthers have two ways to generate scoring drives at the moment and those are McCaffrey running them into field goal range or ‘to everyone’s surprise, including their own.’ The teeth of their schedule starts in Week 5 and if they are to have any hope of putting on a good show, let alone being competitive, they need to add some more consistent tricks to their bag.

Frankie Luvu

There isn’t really a storyline here, Luvu has just been an absolute joy to watch this season. Rarely do you see a fifth-year break out player. Luvu was consistently decent in limited opportunities last season playing behind Haason Reddick. This year, playing in that starting spot instead, he has flashed greatness. Whether they are truly flashes or are the signs of a player finally putting it all together remains to be seen. What is clear is that Luvu’s efforts have helped anchor an overall solid defensive effort by the Carolina Panthers.

From pressuring the quarterback to deflecting passes, Luvu shows the kind of spirit that can keep a team playing even when the game itself isn’t inspiring. The Panthers need leaders on the field like him, as many as they can get. I can’t wait to see what he does this week. His speed and recognition could be key when facing a quarterback with the mobility of Kyler Murray.