Panthers vs. Cardinals: Takeaways from Arizona's 22-6 Win over Carolina
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The Week 5 contest between the Carolina Panthers and Arizona Cardinals was hard-hitting and low-scoring in the first half. However, the halftime adjustments made by Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians paid off in the end, as his team was fortunate to ultimately walk away with the 22-6 win.
Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles called a great game, too, as his defense sacked Cam Newton seven times to along with three picks. The seven sacks is the franchise's highest single-game total since recording eight on Sept. 13, 1987 against the Dallas Cowboys—the team’s final season in St. Louis before moving to Phoenix.
Good teams find ways to win ugly games, and this was certainly an ugly game. Arizona has been no stranger to ugly games this season either, as all three of their wins in 2013 could be considered “ugly.”
With the way Bowles’ defense plays on a weekly basis, if Arians ever gets his offense to play even average football, the Cardinals will be a scary team for anyone to play.
Here are some key takeaways from the team's victory on Sunday.
What Is Wrong with Carson Palmer?
For the third-straight game, quarterback Carson Palmer threw at least two interceptions. He has nine on the season and has thrown at least one in all five games to start his Cardinals career.
Granted, only one of his nine interceptions this season has been returned for a touchdown (Detroit Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy took one 66 yards for a score in Week 2), but the nickname is catchy because it rhymes—and he actually does throw quite a lot of interceptions.
In fact, he is on pace to throw 29 of them this season, which would be far and away a career high for him. However, he has thrown 20 picks in a season on two separate occasions.
Palmer completed 19-of-28 passes for 175 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions on Sunday. He ultimately ended up posting a 57.0 passer rating.
One positive for Palmer, though, was that he was sacked just twice despite the possibility for a handful more. Without nifty footwork and pocket awareness, he could have gone down as many as five times.
The Andre Ellington Show
On Sunday morning, it was reported by Evan Silva of Rotoworld that Arians wanted to get rookie running back Andre Ellington “about 35 snaps” in Week 5 and that his role would be expanding. Ellington was not given as many carries as Rashard Mendenhall against the Panthers, but he definitely was on the field more than he was in any of the first four games.
And once again, Ellington outperformed Mendenhall all afternoon.
The former Clemson star carried seven times for 52 yards (7.4 yards per carry) to lead the team while Mendenhall carried 17 times for just 43 yards (2.5 YPC).
Mendenhall did score the go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter, however.
Ellington also caught four passes for 31 yards (7.8 yards per catch) on four targets, including a great toe-tapping catch to move the chains late in the second quarter. He did not drop a pass on Sunday after struggling in that area at Tampa Bay last week.
The way things are going, Arians should start Ellington to see how he does with a vastly expanded role. Playing him part time has given the sixth-round pick a slow introduction to the NFL and its speed, and he has responded very well to this point.
He now has carried 18 times for 120 yards (6.7 YPC) through five games to go along with 13 receptions for 144 yards (11.1 YPC) and a touchdown. His impact on the field is obvious, and he should be rewarded for it.
Offensive Line Continues Better Play
This fact makes Palmer’s struggles all the more frustrating. The veteran quarterback is getting time to throw, but he continues to throw the interceptions.
The Cardinals offensive line allowed two sacks of Palmer on Sunday—one to Charles Johnson and a shared sack to Mario Addison and Kawann Short.
The run-blocking was also adequate. Mendenhall—despite his 2.5 yards per carry average—had lanes through which to run most of the game and failed to hit them. It appears that he lacks the burst needed to hit them, which might explain why Ellington is more than doubling Mendenhall’s yards per carry on the season.
New starting left tackle Bradley Sowell played well enough, perhaps proving the organization right in trading Levi Brown. Sowell made the key block that sprung Mendenhall for his touchdown.
Situational Football Is Improving
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Palmer’s day was frustrating, but one area did improve, as every single one of the team's red-zone possessions ended in points this week. The first drive stalled and resulted in a Jay Feely 42-yard field goal, but the final two red-zone trips had fans celebrating touchdowns.
There was the Mendenhall score in the third, then following Antoine Cason’s 43-yard fumble recovery off a Calais Campbell sack of Newton, Palmer found tight end Jim Dray in the end zone to put the game on ice.
Third downs, though not great, improved compared to last week as well. In Tampa, the team converted just 1-of-10 third downs. This week, Palmer and Co. went 4-of-12. The improvement came in the fourth, when they converted 2-of-5 third down attempts. In fact, the Dray touchdown came on a 3rd-and-goal from the 7-yard line.
There has been an odd trend, however. Here are the team’s third-down conversion rates by week:
- Week 1: 7-of-14 (50.0%)
- Week 2: 1-of-11 (9.1%)
- Week 3: 5-of-13 (38.5%)
- Week 4: 1-of-10 (10.0%)
- Week 5: 4-of-12 (33.3%)
Continuing this trend means that a bad performance on third down should be expected for the team's upcoming game on the road against the NFC West rival San Francisco 49ers in Week 6. The game will be tough enough as it is, but failing to convert third downs could make it unwatchable.
Daryl Washington’s Huge Return
Everyone knew that inside linebacker Daryl Washington’s return would be big for Arizona. But did anyone expect him to have the impact that he did throughout the game?
Washington led the team with nine tackles, including three for a loss. He also picked off Panthers quarterback Cam Newton as Carolina was driving in the third quarter, returning it 41 yards into enemy territory.
He also recorded two sacks and set up fellow linebacker Karlos Dansby for two more.
The team recorded seven sacks through its first four games before exploding for seven sacks in their game on Sunday alone.
That had much to do with Washington’s presence in the middle, disrupting things for Carolina’s offensive line, which had been playing at an extremely high level.
He had the biggest impact of any player in the game. If anyone discounted his leadership and presence on the field, they were sorely mistaken.
Tyrann Mathieu Continues Dominance
If not for Buffalo Bills rookie linebacker Kiko Alonso playing like a Pro Bowler, rookie safety Tyrann Mathieu would be leading the race for the Defensive Rookie of the Year award. He is right there with Alonso, but the second-round pick out of Oregon still has the edge over The Honey Badger.
Mathieu recorded five tackles on Sunday, including one for a loss. He notched his first career sack when he took down Newton in the first quarter—it easily could have resulted in a forced fumble as well, but Newton somewhat miraculously held on following Mathieu chopping down at his throwing arm.
The safety was money when blitzing, as he had pressure on Newton multiple times, nearly earning at least one more sack.
His instincts continue to show every week, and in all honesty, it could be difficult for regular starting free safety Rashad Johnson to get his spot back once he is fully healthy.
Mathieu has played better in Johnson’s absence as the starting free safety. He still is being played everywhere, but he appears more confident now that he is a starter.
Run Defense Holds Steady
After Sunday, the Arizona defense still has not allowed a rushing touchdown to a running back. It has allowed one rushing touchdown this year, but that came from New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees in a Week 3 loss.
The Cardinals are one of three teams not to allow a rushing touchdown to a running back through Week 5—the others being the San Diego Chargers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Heading into Week 5, the team was only giving up a meager 3.0 yards per carry this season, but that went up Sunday with Carolina toting the ball 20 times for 95 yards (4.8 YPC). Still, their new mark 3.3 YPC against is still very impressive and ranks among the league’s best.
DeAngelo Williams was held to just 39 yards on 12 carries (3.3 YPC). That follows up the defense holding Doug Martin to 45 yards on 27 carries (1.7 YPC) last week. On the season, Arizona has allowed starting running backs a total of 79 carries for 200 yards (2.5 YPC).