Carolina Panthers RB DeAngelo Williams
The Arizona Cardinals are 0-5 this season in the Eastern Time zone, and some of the defeats went like this: 56-36 at the New York Jets, 48-20 at the Philadelphia Eagles, and 27-23 at the Carolina Panthers on October 26.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Whatever. Let's talk about the good stuff. Namely, how about that 98.5 rushing yards per game in the last two contests, including Edgerrin James' game-high 73 in last Saturday's epic 30-24 playoff victory against the Atlanta Falcons?
OK, so this isn't Terrell Davis and the 1997-98 Denver Broncos. But still, with at least an average threat of a running attack, the Cardinals went from a one-dimensional, pass-reliant offense to a multi-dangerous unit.
Spearheaded by the underappreciated and underplayed James, the threat of a bonafide run game allowed quarterback Kurt Warner to open up the aerial playbook, especially of the play-action variety. Larry Fitzgerald hauled in 101 yards of receiving on six catches, including an amazing, leaping first-quarter touchdown grab that launched Arizona to the fast start that they desperately needed.
A similar fast-out-of-the-blocks start is another key to the Cardinals chances at Carolina. It won't be easy as receiver Anquan Boldin is questionable. Plus, the 12-4 Panthers, champions of the NFC South, are riding an eight-game home winning streak as well as a bye week.
The Cardinals D will need to step it up like they did against the Falcons' Michael Turner, the NFL's second-leading rusher who was limited to just 42 yards on the ground. The Panthers feature the smash-mouth running back duo of DeAngelo Williams (1,515 yards, 18 touchdowns) and Jonathan Stewart (836 yards, 10 touchdowns). It's no secret that Carolina head coach John Fox will use his run-oriented philosophy early and often.
As far as the Panthers other impact players, keep your eye out for defensive end and sack-master stud Julius Peppers (14.5 sacks this season), quarterback Jake Delhomme (84.7 rating), and veteran ball-catchers Steve Smith (78 receptions for 1,421 yards) and Muhsin Muhammad (65 receptions for 923 yards). Put these, and the other aforementioned folks in check, and it's quite possible that Arizona sports fans will be talking all next week about the Cardinals upcoming appearance in the NFC Championship Game.
Kickoff's at 6:15 p.m. Saturday at Charlotte's Bank of America Stadium. See www.azcardinals.com. TV: FOX. Radio: KTAR-AM 620.