By Ted Fleming
It has been suggested that the Arizona Cardinals should have sent a thank you note to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after receiving a gift win last Sunday, but it seems the good fortune is nothing new for head coach Bruce Arians.
You have to remember that last year he took over for Chuck Pagano when he was diagnosed with leukemia and led the Indianapolis Colts to an improbable 11-5 record and a trip to the playoffs with a rookie quarterback. That team was supposed to be in rebuild mode, but Arians led the emotional charge to within one game of winning the AFC South outright.
Arians recorded the best record, 9-3, for an interim coach in league history and it opened the door to land his first NFL top job when the Cards hired him to take over their foundering franchise. Through four games, the 2-2 record might be a mirage, but it is good enough to be tied with the 49ers for second spot in their division and could be tied for first is they were playing in the NFC East rather than the NFC West.
The Cardinals are a .500 club with an offense ranked 26th in the NFL and of the top four categories their best showing is in the passing game where they are ranked 19th thanks to the addition of veteran quarterback Carson Palmer. The former first overall pick in the 2003 draft has completed just over 57 percent of his passes for a solid 252.5 yards per game average. But his touchdown (4) to interception (6) ratio leaves something to be desired. Last year he was 22/14 with the woeful Raiders.
Last week Palmer was sacked only once, however he has been dropped 10 times this season and that number could balloon when the sack-happy Panthers come in for a visit. Palmer is not the most mobile of quarterbacks and Carolina seems to have found their key to success after taking down Eli Manning seven times in a blowout win against the Giants in the week leading up to the bye.
Rashard Mendenhall leads Arizona’s rather impotent 26th ranked ground game with just 176 yards, a 3.4 average and only one touchdown and will face a formidable Carolina front seven that allows an average of only 93 yards per game – that is seventh best in the league. Mendenhall’s biggest gain this year is 11 yards.
On the other side of the ball the Cardinals are likely to be without starting free safety Rashad Johnson once again. He lost the tip of his left middle finger and was inactive against the Buccaneers and will have trouble getting clearance to play against the Panthers.
Backup linebacker Vic So’oto left the Tampa Bay game with a possible concussion so his status is up in the air, but Arizona will get immediate help in that department with the return of Daryl Washington after serving a four-game suspension. The only question is what kind of game shape is he in and how many plays he will be in for.
Overall the Cardinals could have as many as six players out this Sunday.
ARIZONA CARDINALS BY THE NUMBERS
2013 Record: 2-2 Record vs. Panthers: 4-8 Streak vs. Panthers: W1 Last Meeting: Cardinals 28, Panthers 21 (9/11/01) Next Game: Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium (63,400) @ 4:05 p.m.
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Ted Fleming is a freelance writer covering all things Carolina Panthers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.