QB Kurt Warner (Matt York/AP Photo)
The Arizona Cardinals get a shot at redemption on Saturday night as they travel to take on the Carolina Panthers. Arizona lost its first opportunity against the Panthers in Week 8 after blowing a late third-quarter lead. Brad Wilbricht previews this weekend’s divisional-round matchup as the Cardinals look to prevail as underdogs for the second consecutive week.
While the Arizona Cardinals’ struggles on the East Coast are well documented, they performed admirably in a Week 8 matchup against the Carolina Panthers. The Cardinals outgained Carolina 425-351 in total yardage and held a 25-22 advantage in first downs. Furthermore, Arizona held the ball for over 32 minutes and limited the Panthers to only 3.9 yards per carry.
Despite jumping out to a 17-3 lead in the third quarter, the Cardinals abandoned the running game early and carried the ball only 14 times for 50 yards on the afternoon. RB Edgerrin James compiled just 17 yards on seven carries while Rookie RB Tim Hightower received only three carries for 6 yards. WR Anquan Boldin led the team in rushing, as he took a reverse 30 yards during first quarter action.
Arizona’s outstanding receiving corps found success against the Panthers’ secondary earlier this year and will need to find similar results on Saturday night. WR Larry Fitzgerald led the Cardinals with seven catches for 115 yards while WR Steve Breaston reeled in nine passes for 91 yards. Boldin was held to just 63 yards on nine catches but managed to find the end zone twice.
QB Kurt Warner spread the ball around the field in his previous outing in Carolina, completing a pass to eight different receivers. He finished 35-of-49 for 381 yards with two touchdowns and was intercepted once. Warner has an abundance of postseason experience and will need to guide a relatively young Cardinals team as they enter a hostile playoff environment.
RB DeAngelo Williams
Carolina RB DeAngelo Williams kicked off a tremendous start to the second half of the season against Arizona, racking up 108 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. After topping the century mark in Week 8, Williams went on to rush for 100-plus yards in six of his last eight contests. During that time span, Williams averaged an astounding 6.5 yards per carry and reached pay dirt 15 times.
Rookie CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has catapulted to the top of the Cardinals' depth chart at cornerback, but could have his hands full against Panthers WR Steve Smith. Smith torched Arizona’s secondary in this year’s initial matchup, racking up 117 yards on five catches. His 65-yard touchdown grab from QB Jake Delhomme late in the third quarter put Carolina ahead for good.
Although LB Karlos Dansby forced and recovered a Delhomme fumble, the Cardinals’ pass rush was unable to consistently pressure the veteran quarterback. Delhomme was extremely efficient completing 20-of-28 passes for 248 yards and two touchdowns. Arizona defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast must devise a better game plan in order to disrupt the Panthers’ timing in the passing game.
Brad Wilbricht can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org