With each passing moment, the Arizona Cardinals have seen improvement from the offensive side of the ball. The unit is learning how to finish games. Kliff Kingsbury’s offense is gaining yards and moving the football. Struggles in the red zone doomed the Cardinals last week, a one-score defeat to the Ravens. This week the Cardinals host the Carolina Panthers and their tough defense. Ahead of Sunday’s matchup, we take a peek at what Arizona will need to do on offense, to give the Cardinals their first victory of the 2019 season.
Through two games, the Cardinals offense has looked sluggish at the start. Against Detroit, it took until the final two minutes of the first half to get three points on the scoreboard. In Baltimore, it took nearly the entire first quarter before a Zane Gonzalez field goal put the Cardinals on the board. On Sunday, the Cardinals face off against a reeling Panthers team. Carolina will be starting backup quarterback, Kyle Allen, in place of injured starter Cam Newton.
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Arizona needs a fast start from quarterback Kyler Murray and the rest of the offense. Expect a few quick throws early on to get Murray in rhythm. Getting on the board quickly (with touchdowns) puts the Panthers in chase-mode. For a team playing with their backup quarterback and already lacking an efficient attack, playing from behind is not ideal. Arizona needs to take advantage of their chances early in the game. A fast start will also get the crowd in the game from the start.
Two-Headed Ground Attack
Baltimore provided the blueprint for what the Arizona ground game should resemble. The Ravens used a familiar zone-read look out of the shotgun formation. Arizona has the running back and quarterback for that approach. While the Cardinals may not be a power-run offense, they have the players needed to employ traps on the interior of the line. David Johnson is a talented running back who can run between the tackles. Murray’s speed to the outside will also help. A few gains of four or more yards on inside runs in shotgun formation will open up the play-action passing and relieve pressure on Murray in the pocket.
The Panthers are without edge defender Bruce Irvin and could be without defensive tackle Kawann Short. Without someone of Short’s talent, the Cardinals need to find ways to exploit the interior of the Panthers’ defensive line. Guards Justin Pugh and J.R. Sweezy need to have good games. Along with center A.Q. Shipley, the three interior linemen are the key to a successful ground game. There is little need for a dominant rushing attack but rather a consistently successful attack. One long run goes a long way to flipping the defense on their heads.
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It is undoubtedly important for the Cardinals to start quickly on offense and efficiently run the football. However, both mean nothing if the Cardinals are unable to score touchdowns as opposed to field goals. Arizona kicked three field goals inside of 25 yards. Adjusting for ball placement, the line of scrimmage for each kick was never outside of the 10-yard line. Arizona struggled to make plays necessary to finish drives. The failures in the red zone are what ultimately cost Arizona their first victory of 2019.
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Late in the game against the Ravens, David Johnson scored on a one-yard run. On the play call, Kliff Kingsbury called for a simple HB Dive out of a shotgun formation. Johnson lined up to the left to the short side of Murray, about a yard behind his quarterback. Before the snap, wide receiver, Larry Fitzgerald went into motion from his slot position. Fitzgerald’s threat of a jet sweep forced the second level of the defense to flow slightly to the offense’s right. The threat of a quarterback keeper froze the edge Ravens defender. The play resulted in Johnson’s scoring run. This simple play holds a key for the Cardinals learning to finish drives. Expect the Kingsbury to threaten the Carolina defense with a variety of options on a single play.
How It Happens
This is a winnable game for the Cardinals in light of their previous two performances and the lack of Cam Newton in the Carolina lineup. However, the Panthers have a talented team and are capable of grinding out a victory. Last week, Arizona’s offense and defense showed occasional moments of brilliance. The hope on Sunday is to increase the consistency to the entire game. Carolina is reeling from an 0-2 start in what is shaping up to be a tough division. Arizona possesses the offensive firepower to take the game over quickly. Time will tell if the offense has made adjustments in the red zone. Either way, it will be fun to watch.
Prediction: Cardinals Win, 27-17. Arizona gets the early lead by testing the edge of the Carolina defense. The Cardinals’ defense gets steady pressure on Allen and does enough against the run to make the Panthers one-dimensional.