For the second week in a row, the Arizona Cardinals face an offense featuring a strong run game. On Sunday, the Cardinals welcome the Carolina Panthers to State Farm Stadium for a clash between winless teams. After rough showings against the Lions and Ravens, Arizona hopes that the Panthers offense continues to misfire. Today we take a look at what the Cardinals can do to slow down a potent Panthers attack.
The Panthers offense begins with quarterback Cam Newton. Carolina’s offense features multiple designed quarterback runs, in assistance to read-option plays. However, exposing Newton to the beating of the ground game has begun to take its toll on the quarterback. Newton is doubtful for Sunday’s game after re-aggravating a foot injury last week, that he initially suffered during the preseason. With Newton likely unavailable, the Panthers are turning to the second-year quarterback, Kyle Allen.
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Losing Newton is a tough blow for Carolina, but it makes things just a bit easier for the Cardinals defense. Arizona now contends with slowing down running back Christian McCaffrey. The young running back is a dynamic player who is already one of the best offensive weapons in the league. On the ground and through the air, McCaffrey is a primary target for the Panthers. Arizona will be wise to keep a spy on the running back at all times.
Without Newton behind center, expect a heavy dose of McCaffrey and Reggie Bonnafon on the ground for Carolina. The Panthers are a run-first team, with or without Newton at quarterback. The inexperience of Allen undoubtedly creates the need for an establishment of the run game. However, the Panthers will look to work the passing game off the back of the ground attack. Carolina is looking for the second and third levels of the Arizona defense to honor the run fakes, allowing receivers to slip behind the defense for large gains.
Arizona linebackers are collectively allowing an 81.5% catch rate and a 119 passer rating according to #NextGenStats. Jordan Hicks in particular is getting absolutely smoked. He's allowed 7 rec on 9 targets for 107 yards, 3rd most among LBs.
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— James Koh (@JamesDKoh) September 19, 2019
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Arizona will need to play a dangerous game to slow down the ground game while avoiding chunk passing plays. Committing more than seven up front opens the door for deep throws to speedy receivers Curtis Samuel and D.J. Moore. Let’s not forget about the veteran tight end, Greg Olsen. Olsen has been one of Newton’s favorite target since the quarterback entered the league. Olsen remains a dangerous target on short-yardage and red zone opportunities. Arizona linebackers have struggled to cover opposing tight ends. In back to back weeks, an opposing tight end has surpassed 100 yards receiving and scored a touchdown.
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As important as Olsen and McCaffrey are to the Carolina offense, the absence of Newton is what will be the biggest factor. Arizona slowed down Ravens’ running back Mark Ingram but they struggled against quarterback Lamar Jackson. The absence of Newton takes away one key component to the equation. As a result, it is significantly less dangerous heading into Sunday. Arizona’s defense needs to step up and hold their end of the bargain.
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Expect an active defensive front as the Cardinals attempt to confuse Allen and the offense. Arizona needs to maintain their assignments and avoid getting stuck in the wash. Carolina will use run action to open holes in the coverage. A body on Olsen and McCaffrey at the release helps to ruin the timing of the route. Stop the run will stop the Panthers offense.
This is the next step in the progression of the Cardinals. While winless through the first two games, the Cardinals have shown fight and determination. The defense has started slowly in both games and needs to buck the trend against the Panthers. Carolina’s offense is looking to come out of the gates quickly. The gameplan will be simple and rely on McCaffrey’s abilities. Jordan Hicks and the rest of the defense will have their hands full. If they play as a unit, they will find success on Sunday. Arizona’s defense can be the catalyst for the team’s first victory of the season.