This Sunday, the Arizona Cardinals return to University of Phoenix Stadium to face the Carolina Panthers. The Cardinals are coming off a 3 game win streak, while the Panthers are 2-4 and in the midst of a quarterback controversy. The Panthers are also looking for redemption, as the Cardinals are the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last year(and apparently the accuracy out of Jake Delhomme also). The Cardinals are attempting to take a stranglehold on the NFC West, with the Rams and Seahawks virtually out, and the 49ers facing the Colts in Indianapolis. Let's take a look at the keys to the game.
Stop the run: The Panthers offense isn't what it was a year ago, which can largely be blamed on Delhomme. Steve Smith hasn't been given the opportunities he's had in the past, and Musin Muhammad seems to have lost a step. This offense is successful at the run, and that's something they'll come out with on Sunday. Stopping or even limiting DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart would be a success, but that depends if the Cardinals are up to it. Something that has worked for them in the past is scoring early, and forcing the opposing team to pass the ball. It worked in the playoffs last year, and it could work Sunday. If it does, that would lead us to the next point.
Pressure Jake Delhomme: Since the embarrassing performance in the playoffs last year, Delhomme hasn't been the same quarterback he one was. Through the first 6 games this year, Delhomme has tossed 13 interceptions and has clearly had problems under center. If the Cardinals stop the Panthers running game, Delhomme will get more opportunities to throw the ball. The Cardinals dared Eli Manning to throw the ball last week, something he struggled with. They may take the same approach and force Delhomme to pass the ball, which could eventually lead to a turnover(s).
Play smart/no turnovers: A game like this could be considered a trap game, as the Cardinals are high on confidence, and the Panthers have their backs against the wall. Getting overly confident often results in poor play(see last year). One thing that has haunted the Cardinals are turnovers and turnovers in the end zone. The last thing that needs to happen is blowing a big lead, and that's something that could happen if turnovers become an issue on Sunday. Keeping them to a minimum would be very important in order to get the victory.
Run the ball: Last week, the Cardinals saw some success on the ground, with Beanie Wells having his best game of the season. The Panthers are 23rd against the run, allowing 133.2 rushing yards per game. This is the ideal situation to improve the rushing game. Running back screens and draws will also keep defenders like Julius Peppers from pressuring Kurt Waner. The Cardinals also got all three running backs involved last week and may continue again on Sunday.
Secondary depth: In the fourth quarter against the Giants, the Cardinals secondary saw three starters leave at different times due to injury. Adrian Wilson was suffering from cra. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie suffered an ankle sprain, and Antrel Rolle also suffered an injury to his foot. The success of this unit depends on how the back ups play. If Michael Adams, Ralph Brown, or Matt Ware get extended time, there can't be a drop off in production. With Rashad Johnson strugglin so far in his rookie season, they'll also need the most from Ware. Ware covers the deep middle part of the field when Wilson is around the line of scrimmage. If this unit plays like they have the last two weeks, expect an impressive win for the Cardinals.
Fortunately, as long as the Cardinals don't have a mental breakdown or a complete lack of discipline, they should already have the cat in the bag. The Panthers haven't been the same team they were, and the only threat of possibly losing this game, is if they run wild on us and force turnovers. Nevertheless, a win is much needed, as it could send this team on a much longer win streak. What are your keys to the game? Which one is most important?