The Arizona Cardinals have the reigning rookie of the year at quarterback and one of the best wide receivers in football, but none of that matters when their defense plays like it did Sunday in a 31-21 loss to the Carolina Panthers.
Yes, Arizona was without its two starting safeties in All-Pro Budda Baker and Chris Banjo. And, yes, Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater took advantage of that. But the rest of the Cardinals’ defense couldn’t slow down a mediocre Panthers offense that has been without its star running back, Christian McCaffrey.
In the first quarter, the Cardinals gave up third-down conversions of 7, 10, 1 and 8 yards, and a fourth-down conversion of 2 yards, which allowed the Panthers to keep two scoring drives alive and hold a 14-0 lead after the first quarter.
Arizona’s offense struggled to get on the field. There was almost a 2-1 difference in time of possession in that first quarter. All of the Panthers’ five scoring drives were 60 yards or longer.
Arizona could barely get pressure on Bridgewater, hitting him three times but not getting a sack. All Pro pass-rusher Chandler Jones didn’t get a sack for a third straight game, leaving him sackless since Week 1.
The Cardinals gave up Bridgewater’s first rushing touchdown since 2015 and Mike Davis’ first rushing touchdown since 2018.
For as bad as the Cardinals’ defense played, however, the offense didn’t help itself. It had 30 yards after a quarter and just 94 at halftime. It finished with 262 yards, but was under 200 — 184 — after accounting for Kyler Murray’s 78 rushing yards.
Murray threw for just 133 yards, completing 24 of 31 passes and had three touchdowns.
And when the Cardinals needed a stop the most in the final 2 minutes, they gave up a first down run that kept the clock going, which led to the rest of the game being kneeled out.
Troubling trend: DeAndre Hopkins didn’t get his first target of the game until there were 55 seconds left in the first quarter. For the Cardinals’ offense to get ignited, Hopkins is the one player Arizona needs to get involved early. Sunday showed that if the Cardinals’ offense is struggling early, it may not have the luxury of trying to get other players involved while defenses focus on Hopkins, who finished with 41 yards on seven catches. Hopkins is the type of playmaker who can change the dynamics of a game quickly and needs to be used as such — early and often.
Biggest hole in the game plan: Defending the right side of the field. The Cardinals had some serious issues in the first half slowing down the Panthers when they ran plays to the right side. Some of it was because of overcommitments by the defensive front but Carolina used misdirection to their benefit — a lot like the Cardinals have earlier in the season — and the Cardinals’ defensive front bit.
Bold prediction for next week: Curtis Riley‘s time as a starting safety — or a safety, in general — with the Cardinals has likely come to an end. He struggled in the first half and played the first snap of the third quarter before sitting until late in the third quarter. He returned to the field throughout the fourth quarter but if either Baker or Banjo returns from injury next week, Riley will likely return to the bench.