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Saturday, 3 January 2015

Arizona Takes On Carolina: 5 Things to Know

The Arizona Cardinals failed to make the playoffs in 2013 despite a 10-6 record in a tough NFC West division. This year, they got off to a great start while losing starting QB Carson Palmer and riding the arm of back-up Drew Stanton, first, and then his back-up, Ryan Lindley.

The Carolina Panthers won the war of attrition in the NFC South, the division that will forever be remembered for not having a team with a winning record. This could be the ultimate Cinderella story in 2014. "Team with a losing record wins..." Never mind.

Well, here's what we need to know:

1. The Cardinals and Panthers are headed in opposite directions.

The former are on a two game losing streak, while the latter are riding a four game winning streak. Carolina may be the lowest seed with a dismal record, but at least have come on strong at the right time. Arizona may be done before they begin.

2. Cam Newton has the stronger resume.

So, Lindley has only two TDs in his short NFL career, but that translates to a level of inexperience that generally leads to failure in big games. His 11 career INTs tells the rest of the story, along with his sub-50% completion percentage. Newton has four years with a nearly 60% rate and 82 TDs vs. 54 INTs. The experience factor goes to Cam.

3. In what universe is Larry Fitzgerald a third tier receiver?

It has been rumored that Fitzy may be leaving the Cardinals at the end of 2014 and some have suggested teams like the Patriots could use his services. The All-Pro talent has an impressive resume and yet seems to have become an after-thought in Arizona. I don't get it.

4. The Carolina running game has evolved.

Forget about DeAngelo Williams; watch out for Jonathan Stewart. Stewart has taken center-stage at a clip of 4.6 yards per carry. The Arizona defense (13th in the league against the run) could have trouble stopping him.

5. But against the pass...

The real test for Carolina will be the number four pass defense in the league. If Arizona can limit Newton's passing attack, he will be forced to run, or hand-off the ball and trust Stewart's legs.

This game will come down to a delicate balance between the offense of Carolina and the defense of Arizona. If Carolina can exploit either the run or the pass, it will be a long day for the Cardinals. Arizona needs to keep Carolina off the board to give their offense a chance to make something happen.

Bruce Arians may the big difference for the Cardinals in this game. He tends to make things happen; he needs to pull a rabbit out of his hat to keep his team in the conversation this post-season.


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