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NFL Preview - Carolina (2-4) at Arizona (4-2)



By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor

(Sports Network) - Despite Jake Delhomme's season-long struggles, Panthers head coach John Fox is sticking with him under center. Delhomme's reward is facing the club that put him on a launching pad to his current struggles.

Delhomme will look to slay the ghosts of postseason past this Sunday in Carolina's road contest against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium.

After guiding the Panthers to a 12-4 record and NFC South title last season, Carolina rewarded its 34-year-old signal-caller with a five-year contract extension that included $20 million guaranteed. That new deal came despite his NFC divisional playoff game debacle that saw Delhomme turn the ball over six times, including five interceptions, in a 33-13 loss versus the Cardinals.

Many wondered how Delhomme would shake off that horrid outing and the results are in -- not well. The Louisiana-Lafayette product has thrown 13 interceptions to just four touchdown passes through six games this year to go along with 1,172 passing yards, a big reason that Carolina has stumbled to a 2-4 record.

The Panthers showed signs of life, winning back-to-back games following their bye after opening the season with three straight losses. However, third-place Carolina reverted to old form this past weekend versus Buffalo in a 20-9 loss.

Though Delhomme threw for a season-high 325 yards, he was picked off three times without a touchdown pass for a quarterback rating of 55.6.

That should have the Cardinals licking their chops after they picked off Giants quarterback Eli Manning three times in last Sunday's 24-17 victory over New York.

The victory was Arizona's third in a row following a 1-2 start. Last season's dangerous offense, which helped carry the Cardinals to the Super Bowl, has gotten on track, as the club has scored at least 24 points in each game of its current win streak.

The Cardinals are now a game up on second-place San Francisco in the NFC West standings, and look to win at home this season for the second time in four games.

SERIES HISTORY

Carolina has a 6-2 lead in its all-time regular season series with Arizona, including a 27-23 win when Arizona visited Bank of America Stadium in Week 8 of last season. The Cardinals are 0-5 in regular season play against the Panthers since defeating them in Charlotte in 2002, and are 0-3 in home games against Carolina all-time. The Panthers have won in Arizona in 2003, 2005 and 2007, including a 25-10 win in their most recent trip there.

In addition to the regular season series, the Cardinals were 33-13 road winners in the aforementioned NFC Divisional Playoff at Carolina this past January.

Fox is 5-2 against Arizona in his career, while the Cardinals' Ken Whisenhunt is 1-2 against both Fox and the Panthers as a head coach.

WHEN THE PANTHERS HAVE THE BALL

The Panthers are sticking with Delhomme despite his 56.5 QB rating that is one of the lowest in the league. He has thrown an interception in all six of his games this year, getting picked off multiple times on four occasions. Pressure has played some role in that, as Delhomme has been sacked 13 times after going down just 20 times a season ago. A surging run game could help Delhomme. After struggling earlier in the season, backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are finding more room to run. Carolina has managed to post 383 yards on the ground over its last two games, including 116 versus Buffalo. Williams (461 rushing yards, 5 TD) has accumulated 241 of those yards, totaling 89 with a touchdown on 16 carries last weekend. Williams also added five catches for 50 yards versus the Bills, with wide receiver Steve Smith (27 receptions, 0 TD) leading the way with six receptions for 99 yards. Tight end Gary Barnidge added the first three catches of his NFL career for 77 yards. The 2008 fifth- round pick had gone his first 20 games without making a reception and could be in line for a bigger role with Dante Rosario (11 receptions, 2 TD) battling a knee injury. Muhsin Muhammad, the Panthers' second-leading receiver with 24 catches, did not practice on Wednesday due to a knee injury suffered versus Buffalo. Dwayne Jarrett would likely start in Muhammad's place if he can't go this weekend.

Williams will try to keep up his current pace against a Cardinals defense that is allowing the fewest yards per game on the ground at 67.5. They are also yielding 257.7 yards per game through the air, 29th in the NFL, but given the way Delhomme has played this year, that might not matter. Five different defenders picked off Delhomme in last year's playoff game, including corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (17 tackles, 3 INT) and safety Antrel Rolle (30 tackles, 3 INT). Rolle missed practice on Wednesday because of a foot injury but could still play this Sunday. Rolle made eight tackles and picked off a pass last weekend versus the Giants, with Rodgers-Cromartie and safety Adrian Wilson (28 tackles, 1 INT) also notching INTs. The trio of picks increased Arizona's season total to 13, tied for 17th in the league. The Cardinals also posted three sacks versus the Giants, including two by defensive tackle Alan Branch, the first of his career. Linebacker Karlos Dansby (39 tackles) led Arizona with 10 tackles against Arizona. He had a sack and fumble recovery in his last regular-season game versus Carolina.

WHEN THE CARDINALS HAVE THE BALL

Arizona ranks dead last on the ground in the NFL (60.0 YPG), which is probably why the Giants never saw rushing touchdowns by Beanie Wells (191 rushing yards) and Tim Hightower (167 rushing yards, 4 TD) coming last week. Wells, who scored his first career touchdown, ended with 67 yards on 14 carries to pace a ground game that totaled just 72 yards against New York. Quarterback Kurt Warner (1672 passing yards, 9 TD, 6 INT) threw for a season-low 231 yards on 20-of-36 passing, completing a six-yard touchdown pass to running back Jason Wright while also getting intercepted once. Warner also struggled a bit versus the Panthers in last year's playoff game, throwing for 220 yards with two TD passes and a pick. Wide receiver Anquan Boldin (32 receptions, 1 TD) battled through an ankle injury to make three catches for 75 yards last weekend and should play in this game. Larry Fitzgerald (41 receptions, 5 TD) added game- highs of six catches and 83 yards, with Steve Breaston (24 receptions, 1 TD) being held to just one 23-yard reception. Warner was sacked twice versus the Giants, upping his season total to 26.

Warner will line up against a Carolina defense that is tops versus the pass, allowing just 149.7 yards per game. However, like Arizona, the Panthers are struggling in the other aspect of the game, yielding 133.2 ypg on the ground (26th). Carolina's defense hardly deserves blame for last weekend's loss, as it held Buffalo to just 167 yards of offense and three field goals in addition to two short touchdowns that followed Delhomme interceptions. What the Panther defense didn't do was force turnovers, as it neither logged a fumble nor an interception. Carolina also registered a pair of sacks, one each from defensive ends Julius Peppers (25 tackles, 6 sacks) and Tyler Brayton (19 tackles, 1.5 sacks). Peppers now has five sacks in his past three games and 20 1/2 in his last 20 contests, while linebacker Jon Beason (41 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT) goes for his third game in a row versus Arizona with an interception, including playoffs. Beason led Carolina with seven tackles against Buffalo. Carolina hopes to have leading tackler Thomas Davis (48 tackles, 1.5 sacks) back for this game after he missed the Bills game thanks to a hamstring ailment.

FANTASY FOCUS

Arizona's run defense isn't good news for Williams and Stewart owners, but one has to figure the two will still get touches thanks to Delhomme's struggles. Also, the Cards' run stats might have to do with their inability to stop the passing game, so don't be afraid to start either back, with Williams the best option of the two. Delhomme's ineffectiveness has killed Smith's value, while Muhammad's injury should keep him on fantasy benches. Avoid the Panthers defense as well.

Wells owners hope his touchdown last week was the first of many to come, but both he and Hightower continue to get limited chances. That likely won't change this weekend, but perhaps the Cards will put the ball on the ground more given Carolina's struggles against the run. Don't let the Panthers' pass defense scare you from going with Warner and Fitzgerald -- two must-starts -- while Boldin owners will need to make sure he is active on Sunday. If he can't go, Breaston's value sees an upswing. Arizona's defense is a nice sleeper pick for this weekend.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

With a possible benching on the horizon, the timing of a visit to Arizona couldn't be worse for Delhomme. One would like to hope that he will play with a sense of urgency this Sunday, but it also wouldn't be surprising to see Matt Moore enter this game at some point. Arizona, meanwhile, is coming off a big win over the Giants, one the defending NFC champs hope will get them a little more respect around the league. Still, this game is one the Cardinals should win, and we expect them to come through.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Cardinals 28, Panthers 13

10/29 14:19:59 ET