GAME SNAPSHOTKICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET
TV: FOX, Matt Vasgersian, Erik Kramer
SERIES: 6th meeting. The Panthers lead the series 3-2. On Nov. 21 of last year the Panthers defeated the Cardinals 35-10 at Bank of America Stadium.
2005 RANKINGS: Panthers: offense 25th (19th rush, 22nd pass); defense 18th (6th rush, 23rd pass). Cardinals: offense 6th (26th rush, 4th pass); defense 11th (21st rush, 8th pass)
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Cardinals have been quick to abandon the running game, which has struggled behind poor offensive line play. While Arizona's best offensive athletes are at wide receiver, the Cardinals need to give the ground game a shot to get going. QB Josh McCown tore apart San Francisco, but he still failed to see several wide open receivers and Carolina's secondary is far superior to the 49ers'. Plus, the Cardinals can't afford to get buried in time of possession because their own secondary is very beat up. Carolina likes to pound the ball behind RBs Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster, but QB Jake Delhomme will take plenty of shots downfield. If the Cardinals can't run the ball effectively, look for their defense to wear down as the game goes on..
FAST FACTS: Panthers: Delhomme has a 117.2 passer rating, 13 touchdown passes and only two interceptions in his past five road games. ... Davis has averaged 122.3 rushing yards in five career games against Arizona in which he had at least 15 carries. Cardinals: In their past 20 games, are 7-7 when McCown starts and 0-6 when he doesn't. ... Have outscored opponents 34-6 in the second quarter.
--RB Stephen Davis was back on the field Thursday for Carolina and will start against Arizona. Davis is tied for the NFC lead in rushing touchdowns with six.
--WR Steve Smith could be in for a big game on Sunday with the Cardinals secondary banged up and possibly without their top three corners.
--LT Travelle Wharton played better on Monday night against Green Bay after a rough week against Miami in which he allowed two sacks.
--DE Al Wallace was added to the injury report as questionable after sitting out Thursday's practice with a back injury.
--CB Chris Gamble was limited in practice and remains questionable with an ankle injury.
--DE Kemp Rasmussen was back on the field for Carolina is likely to suit up on Sunday after missing one game with a knee injury.
--TE Mike Seidman will be ready to go for Carolina on Sunday, but it may be hard to keep Michael Gaines inactive after a strong game on Monday night in which he caught two passes for 42 yards and a touchdown.
--QB Josh McCown could win the starting job with another solid outing. Coach Dennis Green hasn't ruled it out. The Cardinals are 8-9 over the past three seasons when McCown starts.
--WR Bryant Johnson is the odd man out when the Cardinals go to a two receiver formation. They used that formation more last week than they have all season because they need two tight ends in the game to provide pass protection.
--TE Teyo Johnson could become the team's top receiving tight end by the end of the season. Johnson was signed after week one and has three catches for 29 yards.
--RB Marcel Shipp needs to get more carries. He's starting the last three games and has 35 carries for 137 yards. Shipp has made some nice runs but this team relies too much on the pass.
--K Neil Rackers has made 16 straight field goals to start the season. That streak is even more impressive when you consider that he came close to missing only one, a 35-yarder against St. Louis. Rackers also has 23 touchbacks, which leads the league.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:Panthers:
Steve Smith could be in for a bounce-back week on Sunday when the Carolina Panthers face the Arizona Cardinals.
After catching just two passes for 12 yards against Green Bay while being double covered on almost every play, Smith faces a Cardinals team that may be without its top three cornerbacks and forced to start a rookie and a veteran who was just signed by the club last week.
The Cardinals began the season with first-round draft pick Antrel Rolle starting alongside David Macklin and Raymond Walls handling the nickel spot. But Rolle is out at least two months with a knee injury, while Macklin and Walls had to leave last week's game against the San Francisco 49ers with injuries.
If they can't go, rookie Eric Green, a third-round draft pick from Virginia Tech, and Robert Tate, an eight-year NFL veteran who was cut by the Cardinals in training camp but picked up last week as a free agent after Rolle went down, will start Sunday against the Panthers. On top of that, another rookie, Lamont Reid, would likely be the nickel back despite being called up from the practice squad about three weeks ago.
Jake Delhomme is well aware of the Cardinals' injury problems, but said the Panthers can't overlook Arizona's defensive line, which often features five down linemen and consistently gets pressure on the quarterback.
"They're a little banged-up in the secondary. I know their first round pick (Antrel Rolle) is gone for the season and a couple of guys got dinged the other night, but they can really rush the passer," Delhomme said. "It seemed like every time either (San Francisco quarterbacks) Tim Rattay or (Alex) Smith dropped back to pass they were getting hit. Same thing when they played against Eli (Manning) and in the Rams game. That's what they do. They'll try to give you some different looks. We need to be efficient with the football and try to run it on them."
The Cardinals haven't been awful against the pass this year, ranked eighth overall in the league in yards allowed. They've only surrendered four passing touchdowns in as many games.
Smith was held to two catches for 12 yards last week by Green Bay, and would love to have a breakout game like he did against Miami. But he'd prefer to do it against the best Arizona has to offer.
"I hope Macklin is playing, he's a friend of mine," Smith said. "You always want to see your friend play whether it is against you or on the same team."
Carolina coach John Fox was predictably elusive when asked how much Arizona's injury problems might alter his team's offensive game plan.
"I'm sure we'll evaluate it," Fox said. "We've got our game plan in regardless of who plays. That's the problem with this league. You don't really know until an hour and a half before kickoff. We're set up to do what we need to do."
The Cardinals' starting lineup on defense will look much different Sunday than coaches envisioned at the first of the year.
Gerald Hayes was supposed to be the starting middle linebacker, but he was placed on injured reserve this week because of a troublesome left knee. He underwent surgery before the season to repair meniscus damage.
Coaches had kept him on the roster, hoping he would return by mid-year. But Hayes wasn't improving as quickly as they hoped. James Darling will continue to start there.
Nose tackle Russell Davis is out for the year with a torn biceps tendon. He's replaced by Ross Kolodziej.
The biggest changes are in the secondary. Cornerback Antrel Rolle underwent surgery Monday on his left knee. Coach Dennis Green originally said Rolle would miss the rest of the year, but there is a slight hope he could return.
Rolle will stay on the 53-man roster for now.
The other starting cornerback, David Macklin, hasn't practiced this week because of a strained hamstring. He's listed as questionable but it seems to be worse than that.
With Rolle and Macklin out, the starters likely will be rookie Eric Green and veteran Robert Tate, who signed just last week. That leaves rookie Lamont Reid as the only backup cornerback.