Cardinals vs. Panthers: Preview, Matchups, Injuries and Predictions

Alex Weiner

The Arizona Cardinals faced some adversity last Sunday in a 26-23 loss to the Detroit Lions. The Carolina Panthers prevailed for the first time in 2020 with a 21-16 win over the Los Angeles Chargers. Arizona spent the week working on "details" to play a cleaner and more consistent game.

How to watch/listen

TV: Fox with Kevin Kugler (play-by-play), Chris Spielman (analyst), Laura Okmin (reporter)

Radio: 98.7 FM Arizona's Sports Station 

Inside slant

The Cardinals were riding high before facing the Lions, and as defensive tackle Corey Peters said, sometimes winning can "band-aid" mistakes. The Cardinals have a penalty problem, leading the league after Week 3, and haven’t found consistency on either side of the ball. 

"Sunday was a great wakeup call for us," receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "It shook us up."

However, the Cardinals have shown signs of brilliance. On offense, quarterback Kyler Murray became the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era to rush for at least 150 yards and pass for at least 500 in the first two games of a season. Other than three turnovers last week, he has been as advertised in Year 2. Having receiver DeAndre Hopkins helps. He leads the NFL in receiving yards and catches with 32 in three games. On defense, the Cardinals still have the best third-down conversion percentage in the league.

The Panthers enter this game without 2019 All-Pro halfback  Christian McCaffrey, who sprained his ankle in Week 2. But, the Panthers passing game stepped up in last week’s win, with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater finishing 22-for-28 for 235 yards.

"The ball's coming out really fast," Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said. "He's taking care of the ball; he can put it in a good place."

Carolina has also played relatively clean football this year, a big reason for their last win. They did not turn the ball over and only got flagged three times. 

Who's out

This is a loaded question for the Cardinals.

Safeties Budda Baker (thumb) and Chris Banjo (hamstring) are listed as out and seven players are questionable. 

Among the seven is Hopkins (ankle). He has at least eight catches in each of his first three games as a Cardinal this year. 

"Some sort of ankle issue that has progressed, but not sure if it has to the point where he can do what he does on Sundays," Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury said.

Fellow wideout Christian Kirk is also questionable after he was out last weekend with a groin issue. If Hopkins and Kirk both miss the game, then Murray will have to spread the ball to Fitzgerald, KeeSean Johnson and Andy Isabella a lot more.

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) with wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (10) against the Washington Football Team at State Farm Stadium.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

On defense, outside linebacker Devon Kennard has had a nice start to the season with two sacks in three games. He was testing his injured calf at practice Friday. Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick has a head injury (concussion), and if he is out then the secondary will be without three of its starters from last week.

The list of questionables:

WR DeAndre Hopkins (ankle)

WR Christian Kirk (groin)

CB Dre Kirkpatrick (head/concussion)

OLB Devon Kennard (calf)

C Mason Cole (hamstring)

OLB Dennis Gardeck (foot)

ILB Tanner Vallejo (illness)

Besides McCaffrey, the Panthers are relatively healthy entering Week 4. Just two Panthers are questionable, however both are with the same unit: offensive tackle Russell Okung (groin) and guard Dennis Daley (ankle).

Matchups to watch

Penalty and turnover battle

The Cardinals played an uneven game last week, and the turnovers were a big reason why. Murray’s three was a season high, and the Lions were able to score 10 points on drives that started within the Cardinals 30-yard line. Carolina did not turn the ball over last week while forcing four takeaways. This was the difference in their game, as they were outgained by 134 yards. More on the importance of playing clean football here.

Panthers deep threats vs. Cardinals secondary

The Cardinals secondary was already bruised before this week. Cornerback Robert Alford was lost for the year in camp and safety Jalen Thompson was placed on reserve/injured after Week 1. Cornerback Patrick Peterson and nickel back Byron Murphy Jr. could be the only two regular starters active. Kingsbury announced that Deionte Thompson and Curtis Riley are the starting safeties, neither of whom have much experience starting for Arizona. Carolina has multiple deep threats in Robby Anderson and DJ Moore. Both average at least 13.9 yards per catch.

Kliff Kingsbury vs. Matt Rhule

These two faced off in Kingsbury’s final game as a college coach at Texas Tech. Rhule's Baylor Bears got the win, and Kingsbury was fired after the game. Nearly two years later, they will battle for the first time in the pros. Rhule said he considers Kingsbury a friend and he called Kingsbury when he was deciding to jump to the NFL. More on their connection here.

Three road games

Sunday is the first of three straight road games for the Cardinals, as they visit the New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys afterward. Fitzgerald said this week that home-field advantage is not as prominent without fans, and that it is easier for offenses to hear each other and the defensive call. More on playing in away stadiums with no fans here. 

Predictions

Howard Balzer: Cardinals win 27-20

Mason Kern: Cardinals win 34-28

Alex Weiner: Cardinals win 26-16

Vegas line: Cardinals -3

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