While the Arizona Cardinals have rebounded to win three consecutive outings there is still plenty to work on in the desert. Arizona remains dead last in the NFL averaging a mere 60 yards per game rushing. RB Tim Hightower has been effective when called upon and rookie RB Chris Wells looked good last week against the New York Giants but the Cardinals have yet to sustain a sufficient ground attack.
Surprisingly Arizona’s defense ranks on top of the NFL against the run. The Cardinals are allowing less than 68 yards per game rushing and limited the Giants’ potent ground game to a modest 107 yards last week. In that game, Arizona’s pass defense came up big following an inauspicious start to the year. The Cardinals forced New York QB Eli Manning into three interceptions on the night and he completed just 19-of-37 passes.
Another area of focus for Arizona involves the return game. The team is averaging 21 yards per kick return and could benefit from enhanced field position. This could be the week the Cardinals get back on track as the Panthers are allowing a league worst 32.5 yards per game on kick returns. Furthermore, Carolina is giving up nearly 15 yards per punt return. Look for a several big plays from Arizona’s return game.
WR Larry Fitzgerald has returned to be the focal point of the Cardinals’ offense in recent weeks and is back amongst the NFL’s leaders in targets. Fitzgerald has been held to less than 11 yards per reception this year but has racked up 19 catches for 183 yards in the past two outings. Fitzgerald’s big-play ability could again be held in check against the Panthers’ league leading pass defense that allows 150 yards per contest.
On the flip side, Carolina QB Jake Delhomme has been much maligned thus far but might be in line for his best performance of the season. Arizona comes in ranked 29th in pass defense, surrendering 258 yards per game. Delhomme and Pro Bowl wideout Steve Smith are due for a breakout performance. Smith had his best game of the season last week against the Buffalo Bills, hauling in six passes for 99 yards.
With the San Francisco 49ers set to face the undefeated Indianapolis Colts, the Cardinals could further distance themselves from the rest of the NFC West. Both the Seattle Seahawks and St. Louis Rams look years away from being competitive and San Francisco has dropped two straight games. A win by Arizona couple with a 49ers loss would propel the Cardinals to a two-game lead in the division.
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