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The Importance Of Budda Baker, And Friday Before The Panthers

Yes, when the quarterback is on the will-he-or-won't-he plan for a second straight week, when the top wide receiver seemingly has been day to day for a whole lot of days, it is easy to understand why those are the names that draw the most attention from the Cardinals' injury list.

But with Budda Baker on there, that has to cause some pause.

The good news is that Baker, back at practice Friday, is expected to play, Kliff Kingsbury said. Otherwise, it gets dicey. Look, the Cardinals' defense is in a completely different spot than a year ago, when they struggled against a short-handed (read, without Christian McCaffery) offense without Baker in the lineup. But not having Baker in the lineup can be a problem.

Baker had suffered a concussion late in the 49ers game.

"When you don't have Budda, you don't realize how many plays he keeps from being big plays," defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said. "I think JT (Jalen Thompson) is like that. When those guys aren't out there, when those runs pop, and they are 6- and 7-yard runs when Budda and JT are on the field, they go for 20 and 30. Not having Budda last year (in Carolina), we realized quickly when things were not going well, he can make bad plays better for us, and that's what good safeties do."

It's kind of funny to talk about Baker being underrated. I mean, the guy was an All-Pro last season. But Budda quietly goes about his business – for a defense that has played excellent this season – and I am guessing the Cardinals would rather not have to find out what missing him for a game against the Panthers would mean in 2021.

-- I know everyone wants to know if Kyler Murray is going to play Sunday. I don't know. There's no traveling this week, so he's got another 48 hours to work on healing that ankle. I can see both. I'd guess he'd have to feel pretty good to get the chance to play (and I don't know where he is in that recovery, other that he got out on the practice field on a limited basis.) It won't surprise me to see Colt McCoy get a second start, or Hop to sit another game. It's not about the Panthers struggling. It's about getting them both right.

-- The last Covid holdover is assistant head coach/special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers. Kingsbury said Rodgers should return Saturday.

-- Pro Football Talk reported Friday that Chandler Jones got fined $10,300 for a uniform violation when he pulled up his jersey to show off the Freddie Joe Nunn shirt underneath, to honor the late pass rusher that Jones surpassed with his 67th sack as a Cardinal. I know the league is very strict about its uniform rules. I know there are rules against personal messages on the uniform – "My Cause My Cleats" came about because players wanted to highlight their causes and the league wouldn't let them – but man this stinks.

(To be honest, Jones didn't have a personal message technically on his uniform, but I suppose that's splitting hairs.)

-- If it weren't for all the QB drama between Kyler Murray's ankle and Cam Newton's return to Carolina, the reunion on the field between former teammates Markus Golden and Haason Reddick would have been one of the bigger storylines. Golden is tied for third in the NFL with nine sacks, with four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Reddick tied for sixth with 8½ sacks and is tied for first with 12 tackles for loss

The Cardinals traded for Golden last year to team with Reddick after Jones got hurt. And with Jones coming back, the Cardinals essentially made a choice by re-signing Golden and moving on from Reddick, who was looking for a big contract. Reddick didn't get it. (Could Reddick, a free agent after the year, potentially return, assuming he isn't franchise tagged? A topic for another day, I suppose.)

I'd put both as two of my all-time favorite guys to cover. Both had their speed bumps here. But both are at the peak of their game.

-- I'd be surprised if Cam Newton gets many snaps Sunday. In a short week of prep, usually that kind of backup QB package skews towards running the ball, and with everything Newton has been through, are the Panthers going to put his body in harm's way already?

-- The last five times these two teams have played, the Panthers have won. The last time the Cards did, it was 2013, in Bruce Arians' first season, when Daryl Washington came back off his initial four-game suspension and showed why he was a star in the making (and then we all know what happened after that.)

A win would clinch a winning season – always nice just 10 games into the season.

-- Don't forget there is a holiday food drive at Sunday's game. Fans can bring non-perishable food items or donate through a QR code that will be located at 14 collection points outside of the stadium, including the Great Lawn and all five gates.

-- The last word goes to Corey Peters, who was asked about Kingsbury's decision to change up the schedule and make Wednesday's practice a walkthrough for the betterment of the beat-up Cardinals. With so many players, it's always hard to satisfy them all.

"There are guys in there crying about the schedule every day, and that's funny to me," the nose tackle said with a smile. "Now that they adjusted the schedule, there are guys who don't like that. That's how it always is."

See you Sunday.

S Budda Baker runs back an interception in San Francisco in 2021

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