QB Kurt Warner (Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty)
Following two straight wins and a bye, the Arizona Cardinals continue to rack up frequent flyer miles with their third East Coast road trip of the year. The Carolina Panthers are one of the top contenders in the NFC and should prove to be a tall task for Arizona. AZRedReport.com’s Brad Wilbricht previews this week’s matchup and analyzes the Panthers roster.
Led by the two-headed monster of running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, the Carolina Panthers’ offense revolves around their running game. Williams currently leads the Panthers with 414 rushing yards on 101 carries while Stewart has enjoyed and impressive rookie campaign carrying the ball 88 times for 354 yards. Stewart has also been Carolina’s feature back near the goal line, totaling five touchdown runs while Williams has reached pay dirt just twice on the ground.
The Cardinals are limiting their opponents to only 94 rushing yards per game and must continue to hold their own against a physical Panthers offensive line. Carolina is led in the trenches by LT Jordan Gross and also includes former Cardinals’ offensive lineman Keydrick Vincent at right guard.
At quarterback, Jake Delhomme continues his unspectacular yet steady play. Delhomme has thrown for 1,533 yards and seven touchdowns while compiling a QB rating of 84.0. While he isn’t known for his scrambling ability, the Panthers have done an adequate job of protecting Delhomme as he’s only been sacked 10 times on the year.
Much like Arizona QB Kurt Warner, Delhomme has the luxury of throwing to a dynamic pair of wide receivers in Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad. Smith leads the Panthers with 496 yards receiving on 28 catches while Muhammad has reeled in 32 receptions for 469 yards. In addition, TE Dante Rosario has developed into a sufficient red-zone target and Williams provides Delhomme with an additional receiving option out of the backfield.
WR Steve Smith
Cornerbacks Eric Green and Rod Hood could have their hands full this week against Carolina’s outstanding receiving corps. Rookie CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and FS Antrel Rolle will also need solid outings as they’re likely to line-up in the slot against Smith or third WR D.J. Hackett at some point in the game.
The Panthers' defense is currently ranked fifth in the league allowing 276 yards per game. Furthermore, Carolina’s pass defense has been even better allowing only 169 yards per contest. While Warner and company generally take to the air early and often, they’ll be facing the NFL’s second ranked pass defense. The Cardinals will need an improved effort from running backs Edgerrin James and Tim Hightower in order to keep the Panthers honest in defending the run.
DE Julius Peppers continues to be a force for Carolina as he leads the team with four sacks on the year. The Cardinals’ offensive line has been improving and must continue to progress in a hostile environment on the road. In addition to Peppers, Arizona must keep a close watch on defensive ends Tyler Brayton and Charles Johnson. Both players have the ability to effectively rush the passer and must be accounted for at all times.
After missing the last two games due to injury, WR Anquan Boldin has been cleared to play this week. Boldin’s presence, along with receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston should make life difficult for the Panthers’ secondary. Cornerbacks Chris Gamble and Ken Lucas will attempt to keep the Cardinals’ receivers in check, but few teams have been able to accomplish that goal in recent years.
Brad Wilbricht can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org