After the Carolina Panthers got a much-needed win against the New Orleans Saints in Week 3, the vibe in the locker room was that of joy and relief, but ‘next game up.’
‘Next’ is right now. The Panthers host the Arizona Cardinals in week four – a team they’ve won six straight games against. The Panthers are also facing a Cardinals team that’s been underwhelming so far this season. Other than dropping 29 points on the Las Vegas Raiders in their come-from-behind win, the Cardinals have been horrendous. Since the Vegas game, opponents have outscored Arizona 84-33 in five halves.
The Panthers can be sitting at .500 with a win on Sunday and here is how they can do it:
Keep Murray In The Pocket
Kyler Murray is a mobile QB that thrives as a dual threat, however, the promise of him being said threat hasn’t been there for the Cardinals. Arizona is only averaging 5.5 yards per pass attempt and Murray has only rushed for 65 yards over three games. Carolina’s defense should keep it that way. The Panthers should relentlessly pass rush and apply consistent pressure in the pocket. Without the threats of DeAndre Hopkins (suspension) and AJ Green, that pass rush should be a staple for the defense from the gate.
Pick Apart The Secondary
The Cardinals’ pass defense surrenders an average of eight yards per play and a 118.6 rating to opposing quarterbacks. The Panthers’ struggling passing game should take a step forward this week. Once the running game is established, Baker Mayfield has to make smart passes – testing the pass defense and eventually taking shots downfield. However, this comes with a caveat. The offensive line must create a clean pocket for Mayfield – providing him with as much pocket protection as they can. Patience is needed and Mayfield has a tendency to have jitters in terms of his footwork. He can’t have nervous feet and expect to thrive against this porous defense.
Establish the Run
Christian McCaffrey returned to practice Friday after being upgraded to limited work. He is officially listed as questionable for Sunday with a thigh injury he sustained against the Saints. If he’s not playing, the Panthers should look to establish the run with Chuba Hubbard and D’Onta Foreman. Regardless of who’s playing, the Panthers must run the ball first to help move the chains and to keep the Cardinals’ defense off balance. Arizona’s rush defense allows 102.7 yards per game. If the Panthers are willing to grind it out and wear the rush defense thin, it will be easier to pick apart that pass defense.
Kick-off between the Panthers and Cardinals is 4:05 pm at Bank of America Stadium.