The Cardinals' offensive line must handle a tough Panthers front in Sunday's NFC Championship game.
Football can be an intricate game, where one false assumption can result in dire consequences.
It can also be incredibly simple.
After a regular season in which the running game finished eighth in the NFL with 119.8 yards per game, the holes were noticeably absent in Saturday's playoff win over the Packers. The Cardinals finished with 40 rushing yards on 19 carries, and it didn't take long for Bruce Arians to figure out why.
"Getting their (expletive) kicked up front," the Cardinals coach said.
While other aspects will affect Sunday's NFC Championship game, much will come down to how well the Cardinals' offensive line handles the Panthers' front seven. The Carolina defensive line and linebackers are an accomplished group, and if David Johnson can't run and Carson Palmer is rushed on his throws, a normally-potent offense could struggle.
"We see them as the best defense in the league," center Lyle Sendlein said. "Their front seven is something special. We will have our challenges this week."
While the Cardinals have lost the battle up front the past two games, it hasn't been a season-long issue. Palmer was sacked 27 times during the regular season, which was tied for the fourth-fewest in the league. The team averaged 4.2 yards per carry.
Offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said the key will be neutralizing Panthers defensive tackles Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei.
"As you saw last week, those guys are disruptive early in the game, and that's what we can't allow to happen," Goodwin said. "I've been trying to tell these guys all week, we have to stop those two big guys inside, be it the run game or pass. We've got to kind of negate what they do, because they are pivotal to what they're doing defensively."
AFTER CARDINALS PIT STOP, GINN EXCELLING IN CAROLINA
Ted Ginn had one of the finest years of his career with the Panthers in 2013 and said he chased the money by signing a three-year, $9.75 million deal with the Cardinals before 2014. He was slotted to be the third wide receiver and deep threat, but it never worked out that way.
Rookie John Brown exploded onto the scene and took over that role, and Ginn finished with only 14 catches for 190 yards and no touchdowns.
"He sprained an ankle and John Brown appeared," Arians said. "So all he was was a returner for us."
Ginn's contract was too rich for a special teams player, so the Cardinals released him, and Ginn went right back to Carolina. He has been much better this year, with 44 catches for 739 yards and a career-high 10 touchdowns, although his habit of dropping catchable passes has reared its head at times.
Coach Ron Rivera said the Panthers didn't even look at tape of Ginn's stint with the Cardinals before re-signing him.
"We really didn't have to," Rivera said. "We had a good sense and feel for who he is for us. It's funny, one of the things that we talked about with our players is we love people for who they are here. And he fits what we do for whatever reason."
BUTLER AIMS TO CONTINUE PUNTING SUCCESS FROM LAST WEEK
Drew Butler had one of the best games of his career on Saturday against the Packers. While he only punted three times, he had a net average of 49 yards per punt and landed a pair inside the 20.
After Seahawks receiver Tyler Lockett diced up the Cardinals coverage unit in the regular season finale, there were no punt return yards by the Packers.
"That's always huge," Butler said. "If you can do that in a playoff game, you're helping your team win."
Now Butler will look to atone for a rough day in last year's Wild Card loss to the Panthers, when he punted nine times for an average of only 34.8 yards. When asked if there was anything specific that went wrong, Butler said "to be honest, I don't even remember. That was a long time ago. I'm just excited to build off last week's performance and try to win this game and go to the Super Bowl."
Special teams coach Amos Jones said he doesn't need to give Butler a pep talk this week.
"You have to show those plays because it's the same coaching staff and most of the same players," Jones said. "That was addressed with him. You don't do it in a negative term, because this is not the same year and not the same team. Obviously we'll need to punt the ball better."
JARED ALLEN, JONATHAN STEWART RETURN TO PRACTICE FOR PANTHERS
There was no change to the Cardinals' injury report on Thursday. Cornerback Justin Bethel (ankle), wide receiver John Brown (shoulder), running back David Johnson (sprained toe), defensive tackle Josh Mauro (calf) and defensive tackle Frostee Rucker (ankle) were limited.
For the Panthers, defensive end Jared Allen (foot) and running back Jonathan Stewart (ankle) were limited after missing practice on Wednesday.
Arians doesn't seem concerned about the storm which has forced airlines to cancel flights into and out of Charlotte on Friday. The Cardinals plan to travel Saturday. "As far as I know, we're set to be in there and it should be cleared up," he said. …
George Boone, who worked on the Cardinals' personnel side for 28 years, passed away on Sunday at the age of 77.
Images from the Cardinals' NFC Championship game win over the Eagles after the 2008 season