Arizona Cardinals Fall to Panthers 27-23: What Happened to the Defense?

Looking at the final numbers, the Arizona Cardinals defense got simply abused by the Carolina Panthers. They allowed a 100 rusher, a 100 yard receiver and allowed the opposing quarterback to complete 71.4% of his passes en route to 122.3 QB rating. The Cardinal defense also allowed the Panthers to convert 58% of their third downs, so what happened to a defense that was ranked in the top half of the league going into the game? Your guess is as good as mine, but whatever happened orDansby6_medium went wrong took place during half time because the defense was impressive in the first half. As soon as the Carolina offense took the field in the third quarter, it was a completely different story though. Here's a tale of two halves: 

In the first half the defense was able limit the Carolina offense to just three points through pressuring the quarterback and sound tackling. The Panthers converted just two of six third downs and Jake Delhomme was 13 of 18 for 92 yards (5.1 ypa). DeAngelo Williams still had a decent first half (40 yards on 8 carries) but overall the rushing stats were acceptable (13 carries for 40 yards). The defense was able to put some pressure on Jake Delhomme and Karlos Dansby was able to strip the ball on a nice blitz right up the middle. The only time the Panthers were able to move the ball was during the second quarter when they went 72 yards on 14 plays on a drive that ended in there only points of the half. That drive was highlighted by the Panthers lining up in their version of the 'wildcat' offense that Miami has made popular this season. Williams picked up most of this rushing yards (33 of 40) during that drive on four attempts when taking the direct snap. One thing that greatly helped out the defense was that the Panther offense had poor starting field position for much of the first half (their own 18).

The second half got off to a good start when the offense took the kickoff and marched down the field to take a commanding 17-3 lead (should have been 20-3 but I digress). It looked like the defense would be able to come out, pin their ears back and get after Jake Delhomme on every down. The Panthers, to their credit, didn't have any plans on pushing any panic buttons or rolling over. They started on their own 20 and marched right down the field with a 14 yard rush, 13 yard pass and a 31 yard pass. In a mere three plays the Panthers went from their 20 to the Cards_defense_mediumARI 22 and after two runs for seven yards, DeAngelo Williams rumbled in from 15 yards out. His touchdown run was one of the worst tackling performances that you'll ever see, or so we thought. The Panthers' TD would close the gap to 17-10 and less than a minute later they'd be set up at the Arizona 18 after Edge's second fumble of the season. Delhomme would hit Steve Smith for a TD on the first play and a once commanding lead was now a tie ball game. After the Cardinals offense gets the ball and drives for another touchdown (and failed extra point), the Panthers' offense would get lucky. Their offense would start from their 27 and would face a 3rd-and-2 after two plays. Delhomme would complete a short pass to left sideline and Smith seemingly stepped out of bounds but still raced for 65 yard touchdown. Hood and Rolle both had opportunities to completely push Smith out of bounds but ultimately left it up to the officials. Whiz challenged but the call was upheld (despite a pretty clear shot of Smith's foot being on the sideline). The next Panther drive would start at near midfield after Warner's interception but the defense was able to hold the Panthers to a field goal. The final Panthers' drive of the game was the most maddening in my mind because they were unable to give the offense one more shot to win the game. They had two timeouts remaining and there was just under six minutes left on the clock. Delhomme was able to convert two third downs (3 and 10 yards to go) to keep the drive going the early going but the worst play of the drive came with 1:51 on the clock after the Cardinals used their final time out. Facing a 3rd-and-13, the Cardinals looked destined to get one last gasp attempt at a comeback. Instead the Panthers ran a garden-variety draw play and Williams was able to plow ahead for 15 yards, carrying the pile for the last handful of yards. Two kneel downs would end the game and send the Cardinals home. Overall, the Panthers converted five of six third downs in the second half and Delhomme was an impressive 7 of 10 for 92 yards. Williams also added 68 yards on nine carries.

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It's hard to explain the hit-and-miss play of the defense but it is obvious that something isn't right. The offense bailed them out against the Cowboys two weeks ago after allowing 17 points in the second half (after just 7 in the first half), but this week they couldn't overcome the 24 points allowed. Whether it's a lack of heart or leadership, someone needs to step up and make sure that those 11 guys play 60 minutes of hard-nosed football. Thoughts? Is there any one player that you blame more than the others? What can be done to fix the problem?

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