Carolina Panthers

10 things to know about the Arizona Cardinals, the Carolina Panthers’ first-round opponent

Panthers coach Ron Rivera hadn’t gotten an in-depth look at the Arizona Cardinals by the time he met with the media Monday.

Carolina will host Arizona in an NFC wild-card game at 4:35 p.m. Saturday, and Rivera was able to speak generally about the Cardinals five days before their playoff meeting.

“They’re a physical and aggressive style on defense,” Rivera said. “They constantly attack on the line of scrimmage.

“Offensively, they rely on a running game and then play-action pass, for the most part. They definitely have playmakers on the offensive side.”

The Cardinals (11-5) are the No. 5 seed in the NFC playoffs after finishing second in the NFC West. Here are 10 things to know about Arizona going into this weekend’s game:

1 The QB situation: Third-string quarterback Ryan Lindley could get his third straight start with starter Carson Palmer on injured reserve with a torn ACL in his left knee.

Second-string quarterback Drew Stanton is day-to-day, and the Panthers are preparing for both quarterbacks at this point before getting more information to narrow their focus.

“We’re prepared for what they do and how they do it, more so than anything else,” Rivera said. “Something I’ve learned from being around (former Bears defensive coordinator) Buddy Ryan is you prepare for what they do as much as who they play. You have respect for the players on their team and their abilities, but you’ve also got to look at what they do and how they do it.”

2 Lindley’s struggles: It’s a lot to ask of a quarterback to beat Seattle and San Francisco, but that’s what Arizona did the past two weeks, and Lindley couldn’t deliver.

He completed less than 50 percent of his passes in the two games, for 532 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions. In his three-interception game Sunday against the 49ers, he easily could have thrown five interceptions had San Francisco defensive backs held onto the ball.

Arizona likes to use more play action with Lindley so it freezes the linebackers and gives him slightly more time to make decisions. It took a while against the 49ers for Lindley to get comfortable, however, as he didn’t look off his first read until the second quarter.

3 Coaching award: Despite losing four of his final six games, Arizona’s Bruce Arians will get serious consideration for the coach of the year award. He won it in 2012 when he went 9-3 as the interim coach in Indianapolis, and he tied a franchise mark with 11 wins this season. He’ll face last year’s award-winner this week.

4 Banged up: It’s not just at the quarterback position that Arizona has injuries. The Cardinals had injuries at key positions to big-name players all season.

Veteran linebacker John Abraham (concussion), defensive tackle Darnell Dockett (ACL) and running back Andre Ellington (sports hernia) are done for the season.

This doesn’t include inside linebacker Daryl Washington, who was suspended for the season for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.

5 Different looks: The Cardinals have a 3-4 base defense, but they’re rarely in it. Look for Arizona to have as many as five down linemen or just one linebacker in coverage as they load up across the line.

6 Run-game woes: Only the Raiders had a worse rushing offense than the Cardinals this season.

The loss of Ellington hurt tremendously. The past two games, the Cardinals have managed just 3.1 yards per carry and 127 rushing yards on the legs of Kerwynn Williams and Stepfan Taylor, albeit against stout defensive fronts in Seattle and San Francisco.

7 Notable connections: Former Panthers defensive tackle Brenston Buckner is in his second year as Arizona’s defensive line coach. Receiver/returner Ted Ginn Jr. holds the same role with the Cardinals after his one season with Carolina. Panthers assistant offensive line coach Ray Brown (1986-88) and receivers coach Ricky Proehl (1990-94) both played for the Cardinals.

8 Fitzgerald’s rough season: Receiver Larry Fitzgerald, 31, no doubt is a future Hall of Famer, but many have signaled this season as the beginning of the end.

Fitzgerald’s 784 receiving yards were the second-lowest output of his career behind only his rookie season.

There are other factors, including the emergence of Michael Floyd at receiver and the surprising play of rookie John Brown.

There also have been eight games in which Fitzgerald has been targeted fewer than five times. Panthers cornerback Josh Norman likely will be on Fitzgerald this week.

9 Last season: Arizona whipped Carolina 22-6 at home last year in Week 5, but that game has no bearing on this week. Only seven of Arizona’s expected starters started in that game. Carolina will start nine players who started in the loss.

10 Secondary: The Cardinals’ defensive backfield is one of the best in the NFL, with Patrick Peterson and Antoino Cromartie at cornerback and Tyrann Mathieu at safety.

Arizona had 18 interceptions, with free safety Rashad Johnson leading the team with four.

“They have experience, they’ve got talent, they’ve got really good ball skills,” Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula said. “Then you add in the fact that they bring pressure and you’ve got to get the ball out really quick.

“Teams that have been playing them have had to get the ball out quick, that makes them even better.”

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