Make the Cardinals one-dimensional
The Panthers want to follow the blueprint from their division-clinching win at Atlanta: Shut down the Cardinals’ injury-depleted running game and turn their front four loose on quarterback Ryan Lindley, the third-stringer with a 1-5 record as a starter and a career passer rating of 50.3. Arizona was next-to-last in rushing (81.8) during the regular season and has been using a backfield-by-committee approach since Andre Ellington’s sports hernia surgery last month. Defensive tackle Star Lotulelei could be the key. The 2013 first-round pick shook out of his sophomore slump with a career-high seven tackles and two sacks in the win at Atlanta.
Don’t gamble vs. Arizona’s secondary
Offensive coordinator Mike Shula called the Cardinals the best man-coverage team the Panthers have faced. Led by four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson, Arizona is among the league leaders in interceptions (18), takeaways (25) and turnover margin (plus-8). The Cardinals cash in their takeaways, too: their nine defensive touchdowns since the start of the 2013 season are the most over that span. Arizona picked off Cam Newton three times in the Cards’ regular-season win in 2013, and sacked him seven times – once for a safety and another that resulted in a lost fumble. Newton can’t force throws into coverage, and his receivers can’t have balls caroming off their hands.
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Put Ginn in a corner
The Panthers better be careful with return specialist Ted Ginn, who was with Carolina last season before leaving for Arizona. Ginn averages 10.7 yards per punt return, and won a Week 2 game against the Giants with a 71-yard punt return. The Panthers were burned last week on a 66-yard kickoff return by Atlanta’s Devin Hester but for the most part kept the ball away from him, especially on punter Brad Nortman’s directional kicks.