The Arizona Cardinals offense has gotten plenty of publicity this season as Kurt Warner is putting up MVP-type numbers and the trio of Fitzgerald, Boldin and Breaston create match-up problems on a weekly basis. The passing offense will face a stiff test this though as the Carolina Panthers secondary that ranks second in the league in yards per game and yards per attempt. The Cardinals struggle running the ball and they could be in for another long game on the ground considering that the Panthers allow just four yards per carry and rank 14th in yards per game.
When the Cardinals Throw the Ball: The Panthers corners are accomplished, talented veterans and they've very capable of turning Warner's day into a nightmare very quickly. Chris Gamble and Ken Lucas have combined for 16 passes defended and three interceptions. They will be charged with the huge task of keeping Fitzgerald and Boldin under wraps and off of the young safeties. Charles Godfrey at free safety is a rookie who was corner back at Iowa and Chris Harris a fourth year pro who will come down in the box on occasion. One interesting aspect of the Panthers secondary is that for being such a highly rated unit, they don't pick up a great deal of sacks (11) or interceptions (4). 21 teams have registered more sacks and 18 teams have picked off more passes which means that the onus will be on the offensive line to protect the quarterback and on Warner to protect the ball. This is a talented secondary and they don't need any extra help. Speaking of Panthers pass rush, the guy to keep an eye on will be Julius Peppers (four sacks) who will be going up against Mike Gandy. Gandy will likely need some help but if he can do a decent job of limiting Peppers' impact on the game, the Cardinals chance of winning will rise dramatically.
When the Cardinals Run the Ball: As I said in an earlier post, the Panthers run defense is very similarly ranked to the Cardinals. They both allow 4.0 yards per rush and they've given up the same number of 20+ and 40+ yard runs. The big name to remember in the Carolina run defense is second year middle linebacker Jon Beason who might have ended up as defensive rookie of the year last season, if not for Patrick Willis. He totaled 140 tackles last season and he's on pace for nearly 130 tackles this season. The middle of the front seven is anchored by experienced yet unspectacular veterans Damione Lewis (6'2 301) and Maake Kemoeatu (6'5 345). They're main job is too occupy blockers and let Beason roam from sideline to sideline. Lewis does have the ability at times to shoot a gap and blow up a play in the backfield or pick up a sack. Thomas Davis (OLB) and Charles Johnson (DE) anchor the side opposite of Julius Peppers and they're both young capable players. Teams haven't had a great deal of success running at these two, although the defense is somewhat vulnerable to rushes on the edge of the defense.
When I look at the Carolina defense and how I think the Arizona Cardinals match up against them, I tend to think that this game will come down to the Cardinals ability to protect Warner and in turn how well Warner protects the football. One thing that does worry me is, I hope that Whiz doesn't look at their defense and try to attack them on the ground. Earlier in the season, we've seen them come out with a conservative game plan against teams with strong secondaries and weaker front sevens. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see them run the ball early, especially running directly at Julius Peppers to try and wear him down. We know that this offense is built around the passing game and I hope that their plan is to attack and impose their will instead of letting the defense dictate. Thoughts? What kind of gameplan should they take to Carolina? Can they protect Warner and air it out?