Cardinals Favorites to Defeat the Panthers

The Arizona Cardinals and the Carolina Panthers go toe-to-toe for the ninth time in the regular season. The Panthers lead the series 6-2, but the Cardinals are predicted to narrow the gap.

SERIES: The Panthers have won the last five regular season meetings against the Cardinals, including a 27-23 victory at home last Oct. 26. However, the one everyone remembers is Carolina's playoff loss at home to the Cardinals in January. The Cardinals forced six Delhomme turnovers in that game and blew out the Panthers at home 33-13.

PREDICTION: Cardinals 26-14

KEYS TO THE GAME: Carolina wants to rely on its power ground game, but the Cardinals enter with the league's top-ranked run defense allowing just 67.5 yards per game. Arizona will try to force the game onto the arm of QB Jake Delhomme, who continues to make poor decisions downfield and faces a Cardinals defense that will bring pressure from anywhere. It's also strength on strength with Carolina's No. 1-ranked pass defense battling the Cardinals' high-powered attack. Arizona is throwing the ball more than twice as much as it runs, but rookie RB Beanie Wells is starting to make a bigger impact as he learns the offense and will be a factor in the red zone.

FAST FACTS: Delhomme has thrown a league-high 13 interceptions, and turned the ball over six times in last season's playoff loss to Arizona. ... Cardinals RB Tim Hightower leads NFC running backs with 31 receptions.

Jake Delhomme
(Getty)



PERSONNEL NEWS

Panthers:

--FS Sherrod Martin is likely to start this week for the injured Charles Godfrey.

--WR Dwayne Jarrett could start this week for the injured Muhsin Muhammad.

--RB Jonathan Stewart returned to practice on Thursday and should be ready this week for Arizona. He struggled a bit last week after injuring a finger in the game.

--FB Brad Hoover will be back this week after missing last week with a back injury.

--LB Thomas Davis said he will play this week.

--LB Landon Johnson practiced on a limited basis Thursday because of a shoulder injury. If he plays he'll be a backup with Thomas Davis coming back.

Cardinals:

--WR Anquan Boldin has participated in every practice this week despite being hobbled by an ankle sprain. Barring a setback, Boldin will play Sunday.

--CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie continues to play with a small cast on his right hand, and he suffered a sprained ankle last week. But he's participated fully in every practice this week and seems to be running well.

--FS Antrel Rolle has a small rupture in a ligament in his right foot and hasn't practiced this week. He likely will be a game-time decision. If he can't play, Matt Ware will start.

--RB Beanie Wells isn't going to start a game any time soon, but his workload will increase if he continues to produce as he did last week. He gained 67 yards on 14 carries against the Giants and scored his first NFL touchdown. Wells also fumbled and needs to improve his ball security to earn even more time.

--DE Calais Campbell continues to make big plays every week. Last week, he had a sack and deflected a pass that led to an interception. Campbell, in his second year, has three sacks, four deflected passes and two blocked field goals.

INSIDE THE CAMPS

Panthers:

Panthers' linebacker Thomas Davis and fullback Brad Hoover both said Thursday they expect to play against Arizona, but the Panthers might be without three other key players.

Wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad hasn't practiced in two days because of a knee injury, freeing up Dwayne Jarrett to make his first start of the season on Sunday. Likewise, tight end Dante Rosario also has a knee injury and hasn't practiced, which means Gary Barnidge could see more work as the No. 2 tight end.

Barnidge had never caught an NFL pass coming into last week, but he had three for 77 yards against Buffalo.

And, the Panthers are likely to trot out a rookie safety in Sherrod Martin to make his first start against Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald.

Charles Godfrey, the regular starter, has an ankle injury and remains in a hard cast and walking with the aid of crutches. That injury may be a little worse than the Panthers are letting on.

As for the guys coming back, Hoover said his back has "released" and is feeling pain-free.

Davis said he tried to run Sunday morning but the hamstring wasn't quite back. He said he'll be ready for Sunday.

Cardinals:


Bill Davis
(Getty)

One of the Cardinals' defensive goals this season was to dramatically improve their success rate on third down.

Last season, the Cardinals gave up first downs 44.4 percent of the time on third down. This season, the percentage is 28.6, which is ranked third in the league.

Defensive coordinator Bill Davis has made third down a point of emphasis since replacing Clancy Pendergast after last season. The Cardinals have been better at limiting offenses on first and second downs, and they've also improved on third-and-short situations.

Last Sunday, the Giants converted on just four of 15 third downs, a major factor in the Cardinals' 24-17 victory. Two weeks ago, the Seahawks were 0-for-11, and the week before that the Texans were 4-for-13.

In those three games, opponents converted just 17 percent of the time on third down.

Before taking the field each possession, Cardinals defenders gather on the sideline and yell: "See you in three!", meaning going three plays and getting out.

Over the last month or so, the defense has been true to its word. If that group continues to play well, the Cardinals could stay on their current winning streak. Of their next 10 opponents, only two have winning records.

Their next five opponents -- Carolina, Chicago, Seattle, St. Louis and Tennessee -- are a combined 7-24.


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