The three biggest things to watch for Sunday when the Cardinals play the Panthers at State Farm Stadium:
Four Against Seven, Or How Kliff Sees His Mismatches
Kliff Kingsbury has talked two weeks in a row about his learning curve and the steps both he and his rookie quarterback will have to take as the season moves along. The Cardinals were effective on offense last week – they just didn't finish drives with touchdowns. That's not a small thing, but at the same time, it's better than not moving the ball at all. This week provides an interesting test. The Panthers have a very good front seven, and arguably the best linebacking group there is. But that doesn't necessarily match well with a Cardinals' offense that loves to use four wide receivers. Who blinks first? As good in coverage as linebacker Luke Kuechly is, it's hard to imagine him keeping up with a Christian Kirk or a Damiere Byrd. Maybe Larry Fitzgerald, but I'm guessing Fitz would take that matchup. How much it impacts how the Panthers play defense – and how Kingsbury calls the plays – will be fascinating.
How To Defend A Christian?
The Panthers are going to have a backup quarterback in the game. Kyle Allen will likely stand in for the injured Cam Newton. But they still have running back Christian McCaffrey, who has emerged as perhaps the most dangerous dual-threat back right now, with his ability to rush for 100 yards and get 10 catches in a game. He is better off when Newton is also at his dual-threat best, but regardless, McCaffrey is a player who can cause issues in matchups for a defense. Does linebacker Haason Reddick take him on? Safety Budda Baker? A slot cornerback? How does the coverage of tight end Greg Olsen impact that thought process? For the Panthers to have success, McCaffrey is going to have to produce. The Cardinals know that going in.
David Johnson And His Role
The Cardinals need to find a way to activate David Johnson consistently. The first week, he started slow, as did the entire offense. But by the end of the game, he had quietly diced up the Lions for 82 rushing yards (4.6 yards an attempt) and another six catches for 55 yards and a touchdown. In other words, a very David Johnson-esque game. So his disappearance last week was notable, even with his missed time with the left wrist problem. Everyone is waiting for the week-to-week DJ that captivated the fan base in 2016 with his exploits. Will that guy return? Johnson even noted his issues in pass protection last week, which was also noticeable and a bugaboo he has had since 2015. Kliff Kingsbury has an offense that can and will produce, and he very well can continue to make that happen even without consistent Johnson. But I'd guess the Cardinals don't want it to be that way.