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Panthers vs. Cardinals: Things to watch for to lead to an Arizona win

The Cards really need a win before a very tough next two games in the division.

Christian Petersen

When  the Cardinals meet up with the Panthers, exiting the lethargy of their play versus the NFC South's best and worst, bringing in a new left tackle, and getting back maybe their best defensive player, there will be plenty to watch at University of Phoenix Stadium this Sunday in what may actually be the start to the Cardinals season.

This game really is the table setter to the remainder of the season for the Cardinals simply because it's the most "winnable" game, on paper, over the next five they'll play, and rolling into San Francisco and Seattle within four days of each other would be much sweeter at 3-2.

What's the key to the game? Glad you asked.

Offense needs to wake up:

Whether it's the offensive line, quarterback, or the receivers this passing game needs to find a groove and fast.

What Palmer has failed to do so far is set the Cardinals on the right track, and that has been partially his fault, more the offensive lines fault, and you can even put some of the burden on what the receiving core has failed to do.

One of the things we saw consistently versus Detroit, New Orleans and Tampa is the receivers failing to get open, when they did get open Palmer failed to get the ball out to the right receiver, and when he did make the right read, he would find himself under distress.

The problem has been at every level of the passing game unfortunately, and when one figures it out, the line in Tampa, Palmer seems to be feeling pressure that's not there.

Tampa showed the up and down ride that Palmer has been most of his career, with flashes of brilliance and utter madness.

It also showed the inability for Palmer to trust his offensive line consistently, because when he did have the opportunity to stand in and put the ball deep, numerous times in the first half versus the Bucs, he checked down and it cost the Cardinals.

If the offense can't start to gel, and this in response to what Arians said about the time it has taken thus far, then you have to start wondering if this offense will come around at all.

Arians has fired the first shot by pulling for Keim to move his "Elite" Brown, and promoting undrafted free agent left tackle Brad Sowell to a position he hasn't played a game snap in in nearly 2 years.

Lining up across from Sowell is former college teammate Greg Hardy, coming off a dominant performance from the Panthers week 3 victory.

It's a bit disconcerting that in 76 career pass block snaps played that Sowell has allowed a quarterback pressure on over 13% of them (all 10 coming in 2012) and through three games this year in 96 pass rush attempts Hardy has 11 total pressures.

This matchup, as outlined by Shaun Church so well, will dictate the outcome of the effectiveness of the offense.

The Panthers already have a clear advantage on the other side with Charles Johnson lining up across from Eric Winston, but having a disadvantage on both sides, as the Cardinals have had pretty much all season, will likely result in a similar offensive output as they've had so far this year.

What needs to stay the same, or at least a reasonable facsimile, is what the defense has done so far this season.

Getting back Daryl Washington is an interesting piece simply because the run defense has been DOMINANT and moving Washington back into the starting lineup, in a different scheme, will be something to watch.

This week he'll likely be asked to spy Cam Newton, who was great in week 3, so his effectiveness could be less than when he gets a normal game plan, but that may not be until week 8 versus the Falcons.

Watching what impact Washington has in the run game, he can't be worse than what the rest of the ILBs have been versus the pass, is just a good primer for what we can expect from the Cardinals defense going forward.

When it all ends, well this has to be the week the offense gets it together, because things could get ugly and out of hand if it's not.

Cardinals- 24
Panthers- 21