The Arizona Cardinals find themselves tied with NFC West rivals San Francisco and Seattle, with a 1-2 record to start the season. The Cardinals have a dismal -25-point differential through the first three games. The Panthers are also 1-2 and are tied with Atlanta and the team they just beat last week, New Orleans for second place in the NFC South.
Unlike the Cardinals, though, Carolina boasts a +3-point differential. Injuries could play a big part in this matchup, as Pro-Bowl RB Christian McCaffrey is dealing with a quad injury. Arizona will also be without veteran WR A.J. Green for a second consecutive game.
Christian McCaffrey Questionable to Play Sunday With Quad Injury
We will have to wait closer to kickoff time to see whether or not Christian McCaffrey is healthy enough to suit up for the game Sunday, but his availability is in doubt after he missed practice on Wednesday and Thursday. If he does sit out, the Panthers will have big shoes to fill, as McCaffrey leads Carolina in both rushing and receiving, with 243 yards on 50 carries, and 57 yards on 10 receptions.
Offensive Coordinator, Ben McAdoo, is preparing his team regardless if they have McCaffrey or not. Should he be unable to play, the Panthers will likely employ a running back by committee strategy, with Chuba Hubbard and D’Onta Foreman to split the carries. McAdoo said, “we’ll be ready for [Arizona] if we do have him and we’ll be ready for them if we don’t.”
Which Defense Will Show Up Big on Sunday?
When it comes to defense, the Panthers have performed much better than the Cardinals to start the season, giving up 19.7 points per game, compared to Arizona’s 29 PPG allowed. One of the big question marks for Carolina is whether or not they can stop Cardinals QB Kyler Murray.
Last week versus the Rams, Los Angeles held Murray to an uncharacteristically low two rushing attempts for a meager eight yards. Led by pass rusher Aaron Donald, who leads the league in pass-rush win rate, the Rams never allowed Murray to break containment, despite being continually flushed out of the pocket.
Carolina will need to rush Murray, but more importantly, if they aren’t able to sack the Cardinals QB, they must contain him and not allow him to beat them with his legs.
The Cardinals defense is certainly hoping Christian McCaffrey is unable to play Sunday, as they have struggled to stop the run recently. Last week they gave up 100 yards rushing on 5 yards per attempt. They will plan on pressuring Panthers QB Baker Mayfield into making poor decisions and errant throws.
Through the first three games of the season, Mayfield has thrown a career-worst 21 percent of his passes off-target. If the defense is able to come up with some big turnovers, it would help take some pressure off the Cardinals’ offense, who have been unable to consistently move the ball down the field thus far.