Behind Enemy Lines Part II:Arizona @ Carolina

In the final installment of Behind Enemy Lines, Pantherinsider.com's Brad Thomas quizzes AZRedReport.com's Amberly Richardson on every facet of the Cardinals' defense. Will Carolina get more done on the ground or through the air against Arizona? Can Arizona's defensive front hold up against a healthy Carolina O-Line? Plus, will the Cardinals attempt to run? The answers to these questions and more.

Brad Thomas, Pantherinsider.com: In the last matchup between the Cardinals and Panthers, Kurt Warner threw for 381 yards and two touchdowns but still the Cardinals came up short. Conversely, the Cardinals rushed for 50 yards as a team in that same game. Do you think the Cardinals will try a similar approach this week, or will they seek more balance between the rush and the pass?

Amberly Richardson, AZRedReport.com: Since last offseason, Ken Whisenhunt has said he wanted a pass-rush ratio closer to 50-50. But with the worst rushing game in the league, obviously the vision didn't come into fruition, until the regular season finale and Wild Card weekend. In week 17 against Seattle, the Cardinals passed 38 times and rushed 19 times. Against the Atlanta Falcons last weekend, Arizona threw 60 times and ran 28 plays. A ratio Whisenhunt and Edgerrin James, for that matter, can be happy with.

Typically, especially in the NFC West, the Cardinals best way to win is to pass. But they need to have more tricks up their sleeves with these higher caliber teams. The Cardinals are still playing for respect as well. So they want to show, on the big stage of the NFC Divisional game, that they can win a ball game in the ground and in the air. Expect the Cardinals to attempt a ratio similar to last week but throw it out the window if in trouble or it's not producing. Doing so will allow Warner do what he does best, pass.

BT: Which do you think the Cardinals will focus on stopping: the Panthers' rushing attack or big plays by Steve Smith?

AR: The Cardinals are coming off a week when they were forced to be on the lookout for both. Overall, Arizona's run defense is pretty middle of the road, but they were able to take advantage of a rookie quarterback last week and pull out all the stops on RB Michael Turner. Viewers can expect the Cardinals to continue to be pretty formidable against the run.

WR Steve Smith very well could get away with big plays. In terms of pass defense, the Cardinals give up an average of 7.2 yards per catch, which ranks 10th highest in the league. The Cardinals rank sixth in the league in longest touchdown pass, 87 yards.

Arizona's been plagued with problems in the secondary but the unit is looking brighter. Rookie CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has emerged as a vital defensive back member. His ability to get physical was questioned at first, but he's proving himself day in and day out. Pro Bowl Safety Adrian Wilson is a machine anywhere on the field, and veteran Ralph Brown has materialized as an asset, getting the pigskin in his hands whenever possible.

BT: In the previous game, the Panthers were without C Ryan Kalil and RT Jeff Otah. Since they have returned, the Panthers ratcheted up their rushing offense several notches. What will the Cardinals do to try to limit big plays by DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart?

AR: The Cardinals will likely employ the same method they used to diffuse Turner. The Cardinals utilized Wilson near the line of scrimmage, and their defensive front played well above par. There will be tough matchups in the box, but players like DE Bertrand Berry should do just fine getting at Williams and Stewart.

BT: What do you attribute the Cardinals' poor performances on the East Coast?

AR: A bubble. The Cardinals went 2-0 before heading to the East Coast and taking on the Washington Redskins. Prior to that game, the Cardinals were extremely confident. The Cardinals were in their own bubble patting each other on the back about the quality depth they had and how they were going to be better than 8-8 this year. Then they go play the Redskins, for their first loss, 24-17. Next up is the New York Jets. With the confidence already waning, Brett Favre embarrassed them way more, 56-35. Then it's losses to Philadelphia and New England.

So every time the Cardinals head east, their bubble gets popped. That and Warner has a partridge-sized family, and he likes to be at home. He's over logging frequent flyer miles. When Warner isn't happy, his play reflects it.

BT: What would you say are the Cardinals' biggest problem on offense? On defense?

AR: The Cardinals' biggest problem on offense is consistency. Obviously their receiving corps is nothing short of amazing, but they struggle to find a good balance between passing and rushing. The constant change in dynamics makes it impossible for running backs to succeed. The second biggest problem is turnovers. Normally turning the ball over would be the No. 1 problem, but Warner's fumbles are very spread out. He can go weeks without one. But once he starts losing the ball, it's typically game over.

On defense, one word: tackling.

The Cardinals struggle to wrap up a tackle on initial contact and sometimes second or third as well.


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