Cardinals-Panthers: What we learned

Bob McManaman, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Cam Newton returned to the scene of his NFL debut, and just like the first time, he left with a loss.
The Arizona Cardinals sacked the Carolina Panthers quarterback seven times, intercepted him three other times and the offense did just enough to help the Cardinals score a 22-6 victory on Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium.
It was the second straight win by the Cardinals (3-2), who scored 13 unanswered points in the fourth quarter last week to edge the Buccaneers, 13-10.
"Those are (the) type of games we're going to need to keep putting together," said Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, whose team has outscored its opponents 32-0 in the fourth quarter in all three of their wins. "You can call them ugly wins or any kind of wins you want; as long as they're wins, I love it."
Newton passed for 422 yards here two years ago, the most ever by a rookie quarterback starting his first NFL game, but the Panthers lost that game, too, 28-21.
This time, Newton completed 21 of 39 passes for 308 yards, but the sacks and the interceptions proved to be too costly. He and the Panthers (1-3) were coming off a bye week following their 38-0 rout of the New York Giants -- Carolina's first shutout in five seasons.
But being held to two Graham Gano field goals wasn't nearly enough to get it done this week.
"It's too hard. In this league, it's too hard," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. "There are too many good football players on both sides of the ball for both teams. If you don't score touchdowns at some point, it's going to be tough to win a game."
The Cardinals (3-2) finished with just 253 total yards and withstood a shaky afternoon by quarterback Carson Palmer, who was intercepted three times. He completed 19 of 28 passes for 175 yards and one touchdown.
All three of his picks were poor throws and Palmer admitted as such afterward.
"The first one I was just trying to give us a jump ball opportunity and the guy (Robert Lester) ended up making a good play," Palmer said. "The other two, I can't try to get the ball to Larry (Fitzgerald) like that. You want to get him catches. You want to get him involved. You want to get him touches. But I can't force the ball to him to get those touches.
"I just need to do a better job of spreading the ball around."

What the Cardinals said
"Our defense is playing great. Special teams are doing a fantastic job. They're keeping us in the game. We're doing enough offensively to put some points on the board, but it's not enough to be one of the better offenses in the game right now, and that's what our expectations are." -- Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

What the Panthers said
"It's just something I have to go back and look at. There are a lot of things that I feel I could have done better. Getting the ball out is one of them. It's just me going through my reads more fluently." -- Quarterback Cam Newton, asked if he held onto the ball too long against the Cardinals. He was sacked seven times in the Panthers' defeat.

What we learned about the Cardinals
1. Defense carried Arizona to wins over Tampa Bay on the road and Carolina at home, but considering the upcoming schedule against teams like San Francisco, Seattle, Atlanta and Houston, the offense must discover itself if the Cardinals hope to stay in any sort of contention. "We've got to do better," receiver Larry Fitzgerald. "That's as simple as that." In particular, Carson Palmer needs to improve. Of his three interceptions, two were incredibly bad throws he never should have made. He threw at least one pick in every game thus far.
2. Rookie running back Andre Ellington needs to get more touches, whether on running plays or throws to him out of the backfield. He proved he can make positive yardage every time he gets his hands on the ball, and that may not speak well for Rashard Mendenhall, the incumbent tailback. Mendenhall looks pedestrian through five games, whereas Ellington is showing plenty of burst and breakaway speed. Ellington may not be big enough to handle the full running-game chores, but it would be a shock if Bruce Arians doesn't keep making him a bigger part of the game plan.

What we learned about the Panthers
1. Cam Newton was allowed to run the read-option offense at will Sept. 22 ago in Carolina's 38-0 rout of the Giants, and considering the success he enjoyed, the assumption was the Panthers would stress that philosophy against the Cardinals. However, they changed the game plan. Newton rushed only four times for 25 yards and spent most of Sunday looking for pass plays downfield. He is doubly dangerous when he is a threat to run. Look for coach Ron Rivera to go back to the previous plan when the team travels to Minnesota next week.
2. It might be time for the Panthers to find more ways to utilize receiver Ted Ginn Jr., who showed his remarkable speed Sunday. He was targeted five times by Newton and caught four passes. Instead of letting DeAngelo Williams take direct snaps if and when the Panthers go to the Wildcat formation, as they did once against Arizona, perhaps Ginn should get the call. He is far more elusive and gets to holes quicker than anyone else.

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