The Arizona Cardinals travel east to take on the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. Arizona hopes to recover from a disappointing loss a week ago and get the season back on track. The Panthers offer the perfect opponent for the Cardinals to rebound against. Today we take a look at what to expect on Sunday and what the Cardinals need to do to notch their third victory of the season.
Protect the Football
It seems like a simple, not turning the ball over. However, it has been a season-long issue for the Arizona offense, specifically quarterback Kyler Murray. Through three games, Murray has accounted for all five of the Arizona turnovers. The mistakes finally hurt the Cardinals in their first loss of the season against the Lions. Murray threw three interceptions against Detroit, two of which were solely the result of a mistake by the second-year quarterback. The turnovers allowed Detroit to stay in the game as the Cardinals did not struggle to move the football on the day. Against the Panthers, Murray must avoid the mistakes and avoid letting a scrappy Carolina team stick around.
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Murray’s struggles have come through the air this season. Five interceptions against four passing touchdowns put Murray on pace to beat his 12 interceptions from last season. Carolina does not have the toughest secondary but neither did Detroit. The Panthers have surrendered the ninth-most passing yards in the league, averaging 258.3 yards a game. Carolina’s pass rush has been non-existent this season, accumulating just two sacks thus far, while also boasting the least amount of quarterback hits in the league. If the Cardinals can take care of the football, things could be over quickly in Carolina.
Hold the Line on Defense
Arizona’s defense has been solid throughout the season. Big stops against the 49ers and Washington helped preserve victories. The defense’s play against the Lions kept Arizona in a position to win. However, the secondary has begun to suffer injuries. At safety, the Cardinals are down three safeties, presuming Budda Baker doesn’t play in the same week he had surgery on his injured thumb. As a result, if Baker is unavailable, we are heading toward a pairing of Deionte Thompson and Curtis Riley. Thompson is in his second season in the NFL, all with Arizona. Riley is a recent free-agent signee who was brought on after the injury to starting strong safety, Jalen Thompson. Making matters worse, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick was limited during Thursday’s practice due to a head injury.
.@AZCardinals DC Vance Joseph said Curtis Riley and Deionte Thompson will be starters at safety this week. New PS addition T.J. Ward won't play this quickly. As far as Isaiah Simmons, VJ only said there are a couple of packages for the rookie, didn't get specifics into him at S.
— Darren Urban (@Cardschatter) October 1, 2020
There has been much discussion this week about rookie Isaiah Simmons being moved to safety due to the injuries. However, the Arizona coaching staff was quick to rule that out. However, we could see more of Simmons on the field with an injury to outside linebacker Devon Kennard. On the positive side, the Cardinals are facing a Carolina offense without their dynamic playmaker, Christian McCaffrey. The talented running back is currently on injured reserve with an ankle injury. As a result, Carolina is much more one-dimensional than they’d hope to be. Defensively, Arizona must generate consistent pressure on quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Carolina’s receiving group is the strongest it’s been in a few years with Robbie Anderson, D.J. Moore, and Curtis Samuel. Bridgewater is averaging nearly 300 yards a game through the air so the Arizona defense will have quite the task at stopping him.
Lost Hop In Their Step?
Through two practices this week, wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins has been non-participant. He is nursing an ankle injury suffered during the loss to Detroit. Hopkins has been the entirety of the passing offense this season, tallying 32 receptions through three games, nearly double the production of his closest teammate. If Hopkins is out for Sunday’s clash in Carolina, the Cardinals will need the rest of their weapons to turn up. It starts with Kliff Kingsbury calling a slight audible in his play-calling. Kingsbury has relied heavily on Hopkins with many quick throws outside. However, the focus seems to have shifted to veteran Larry Fitzgerald as the Cardinals hope to keep the offense flowing. Fitzgerald has received just 15 targets on the season for a total of 12 receptions.
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Another receiver who could see increased attention is the second-year player, Andy Isabella. The former UMass star is an explosive option that has averaged 19-yards a catch this season. Isabella splits time as a punt returner but has seen an increased role at the receiver position over the last two weeks. He has taken over snaps from Christian Kirk who has been limited with a groin injury. The Arizona offense has the firepower on the roster to consistently cause problems for the Carolina defense. If Murray can move the football around and utilize his weapons, the Cardinals should be in full control of this game.
The loss to Detroit was the first blemish of an otherwise smooth season for the Cardinals. It was a boom or bust performance for the offense while the defense did what they could to keep things close. Coming off a tough loss, the Cardinals need to dig deep and start Sunday’s game quickly. Carolina earned a hard-fought victory last week against the Chargers and are riding high. On paper, the Cardinals should dispatch the Panthers fairly easily. However, games are won on the field and the Cardinals need to show their resolve and bounce back with a solid performance.
Prediction: Arizona Jumps on Carolina, 31-17
– Ryan Adverderada is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Cardinals and covers the San Francisco 49ers for Full Press Coverage. Like and follow on Follow @ryanadverderada