Behind Enemy Lines: Cardinals @ Panthers

In Part I of an exclusive two-part series, AZRedReport.com's Amberly Richardson grills Pantherinsider.com's Brad Thomas about what it's going to take for Carolina to defeat Arizona and vice versa. Will the Panthers let the Cardinals move the ball around like their last meeting? Can Carolina's run game stand up to the Cardinals' emerging staunch run defense? The answers to these questions and more.

Amberly Richardson, AZRedReport.com: The Cardinals were able to move the ball around pretty well against the Panthers in week eight; Warner threw for 381 yards (only Drew Brees passed for more against Carolina all season, 386). What changes, if any, will the Panthers make to keep the Cardinals passing game in check? As the, then, second ranked pass defense, what happened in that game?

Brad Thomas, PantherInsider.com: The Panthers play a bend but don't break defense, often giving teams large cushion underneath in exchange for coverage over top of the receiver.

The Panthers only allowed the Cardinals to run for 50 yards total, 30 of which came on a single run by Anquan Boldin. The Cardinals running backs managed just 20 yards on 13 attempts -- partly due to the Cardinals not having any tight ends healthy at the time. The Panthers felt that their gameplan against Warner was executed well (his longest pass was for 30 yards), so I'd imagine they'll employ something similar this week.

Even though the stats seem gaudy, John Fox is happy that they limited the Cardinals' potent offense to 23 points.

"We have played some monsters this whole year and by far throwing the ball, they really have it.," Middle linebacker Jon Beason said after the game. "You watch Larry Fitzgerald, he's really their go to guy. He's going to get his. We just have to contain him and make sure the other guys don't beat you. Kurt Warner was on like that, he was pinpoint accurate today. You know, bend (but) don't break. We stood up when we had to."

AR: Arizona's defense was outstanding against the Atlanta Falcons last week. The unit kept RB Michael Turner to a season-low of 42 yards on 18 carries. RB DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart will be another test for the Cardinals run defense. But the Panthers also have WR Steve Smith and WR Muhsin Muhammad, who together combined for 2,344 yards on the season. Which duo will the Cardinals see more of? And are the Panthers a team that abandons one game when in trouble?

BT:The Cardinals were able to jump the snap count last week because the Falcons, who have a marginal offensive line, couldn't vary their snap count due to the volume of the crowd in Arizona and their rookie quarterback. Despite Matt Ryan being the NFL's rookie of the year, he's still never been in a playoff situation of that magnitude.

This week, the Cardinals won't have any of their factors on their side; The offensive line is more talented than the Falcons, the game will be in Charlotte and Jake Delhomme is an experienced playoff veteran.

The weather forecast for Charlotte Saturday night is wet and cold, which should favor the Panthers' rushing attack. Look for the Panthers to continue to try to pound the run while trying to stretch the field with Smith.

There's no question, you'll see more of Williams and Stewart than the receiving corps as a whole.

AR: The Panthers earned a Wild Card weekend bye. What were the major goals during the week? And will the time off help or hinder the Panthers?

BT: The Panthers were nursing some key injuries and the bye week undoubtedly helped them get a little healthier. The Panthers came out sluggish against the Raiders after their bye week during the regular season, I don't think they'll have trouble getting up for a home playoff game against a team they narrowly defeated in their last contest. The goal of the week was to get a little rest and do a little extra scouting on their possible upcoming opponents.

AR: What's it going to take for the Panthers to win on Saturday?

BT: The Panthers will have to 1) protect Jake Delhomme and 2) pressure Warner into mistakes. Being able to pass will open lanes for them to run, so it's crucial to make sure the Cardinals don't load up the box with eight. Warner had 11 fumbles this season (fourth most in the NFL regardless of position), and with the weather looking like it's going to be bad, it won't bode well for ball security. If the Panthers can pressure Warner into mistakes, the Panthers should win.

AR: What could be Carolina's downfall in the NFC Division matchup?

BT: The last two regular season games saw the Panthers gain big leads in the first halves, only to surrender those leads in the second by being too conservative both offensively and defensively. The Panthers can't afford to play that kind of game against a team like the Cardinals.


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