The Red Birds look to go over the .500 mark with a victory.
Let's take a look at Sunday's matchup:
The Cardinals scored a come-from-behind 13-10 triumph over Tampa Bay last week and look to shut down Cam Newton, Steve Smith, Greg Olsen and the rest of the Panthers. They'll have a new starter on the offensive line in Bradley Sowell, who is replacing the disappointing Levi Brown. Brown was traded to the Steelers earlier this week for a conditional late round pick.
Larry Fitzgerald is healthy again after dealing with a hamstring injury so look for him and Carson Palmer to try and exploit a below average Carolina secondary. Fitzgerald has three touchdown receptions already this season after gathering four all of last season. It sure helps to have a good QB doesn't it? Palmer has been up and down this season but is a far better signal-caller than any quarterback the Red Birds had last season. The offensive line still needs to do a better job of protecting Palmer, who is not mobile at all.
Arizona needs to get its running game going. Rashard Mendenhall has just 50 rushing yards on his last 21 carries and has not cracked the 70-yard rushing mark yet this season. Andre Ellington may start to see more carries very soon.
Defensively, the Cardinals welcome back linebacker Daryl Washington after a four-game suspension. Washington led the Cards in sacks last season and will be counted on to help pressure Newton. Arizona must make sure Newton does not escape the pocket and rack up the rushing yards. He's one of the best running quarterbacks in the NFL. The Patrick Peterson-Steve Smith matchup will be fun to watch but Olsen can hurt the Cardinals down the middle of the field and in the red zone. He's an underrated tight end.
The Panthers come off a bye week and a 38-0 thrashing of the Giants. They are led by the dynamic Newton, one of the most exciting quarterbacks in the league. He can beat you with his arm or his legs and Newton also has a capable running back in veteran DeAngelo Williams. Williams has over 100 total yards from scrimmage in two of his first three contests this season.
In addition to Smith and Olsen, Newton has another weapon in the rejuvenated Ted Ginn, Jr., who has touchdown receptions in his each of his last two games. He has excellent speed so the Cards have to make sure he does not beat them deep.
The strength of Carolina's defense is their linebacker corps, led by Luke Kuechly, who has 29 tackles in three games. The Panthers are good at stopping the run but can be beaten through the air. That's why the Fitzgerald-Palmer duo is so important. Carolina will need to be aware of Michael Floyd, Andre Roberts and Rob Housler as well.
Prediction: Larry Fitzgerald hauls in his fourth TD pass of the season and Daryl Washington registers his first sack of the 2013 campaign as the Cardinals improve to 3-2. Arizona 24, Carolina 20.
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