This week, Carolina's pass defense will need to be just as good, as the Panthers will face the surprising Arizona Cardinals Sunday at Bank of America Stadium.
The Cardinals feature the second-best pass offense, in addition to the highest-scoring offense, in the league. It's led by one of this year's best quarterbacks, Kurt Warner, whose ability from his best years in St. Louis has been resurrected this season. Warner's nostalgic return to 1999 has certainly been helped by All-Pro receivers Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald.
But Boldin is questionable for the game with a head injury he suffered against the Jets in Week Three. He will likely be a gametime decision.
However, as good as the Cardinals' pass offense is, the rush offense is just as bad—it averages only 86.8 yards per game, good for only 28th in the league.
Much like last week, the Panthers' defense needs to channel everything into stopping the pass. If last week was any indication, the Panthers will stop the Cardinals cold.
Unlike last week against the Saints, however, the Panthers won't be facing a completely porous defense. At the same time, they won't be facing a defense anywhere near Tennessee Titans-caliber.
The Cardinals rank 16th in total defense; more specifically, Arizona's pass defense ranks 20th, while the run defense ranks 11th.
With that in mind, the Panthers will need to attack the Cardinals' defense in the same way that it went after the Saints' defense last week—by passing early to set up the run.
The names that jump out at you on the Cardinals' defense are Bertrand Berry and Travis LaBoy on the line and Karlos Darnsby and Gerald Hayes in the linebacking corps. Berry and LaBoy have combined for eight sacks this year, but LaBoy backs Berry up, not to mention he's questionable this week. As for Darnsby and Hayes, they're solid tacklers but not much else.
The Cardinals' defense doesn't seem to have many playmakers to begin with and one might not play this week (LaBoy). Is it just me, or is anyone else mystified as to why these guys have the 14th-best defense in the league? The special teams advantage definitely goes to the Panthers—they rank much higher than the Cardinals in most facets of the punting and kicking game.
The Panthers lead the league in average yards per kickoff and touchbacks. The Cardinals are last in the league in the former and ninth in the latter.
Panthers placekicker John Kasay is 14-of-14 on field goal tries and 15-of-15 on extra points attempts this season. Cardinals placekicker Neil Rackers is 8-of-10 on field goal attempts and 19-of-19 on PAT attempts. If this game comes down to a field goal try, you can imagine how the Panthers would feel better about the potential outcome.
Both teams are on equal ground in terms of average yards per punt, but the Panthers hold a decided edge in punts inside the 20. The Panthers also allow fewer yards per punt.
The point is, the Panthers have the advantage in terms of special teams.
It's gonna take a career-best effort out of Kurt Warner and an unusually good offensive rushing performance for the Cardinals to beat the Panthers. If the Panthers carry over what they did last week, they should win soundly.