Sports

Gameday preview: Carolina vs. Arizona

Statistics misleading for Panthers, Cards

Don't read too much into the high rankings of both teams' defenses today. The Cardinals are No. 1 in the NFL in run defense (67.5 yards per game), but coach KEN WHISENHUNT attributes that to opposing teams abandoning the run for the pass when they have fallen behind. And much of the Panthers' top-ranked pass defense (149.7) comes from other teams' preference to run to run, particularly earlier in the season.

Delhomme to face another ballhawk

The Panthers face another young, athletic defensive back this week in the Cardinals' DOMINIQUE RODGERS-CROMARTIE. Like Buffalo rookie JAIRUS BYRD, who intercepted JAKE DELHOMME twice last week, Rodgers-Cromartie has a nose for the ball and has great hands. His leaping, one-handed pick of an ELI MANNING pass last week was one of the season's eye-popping plays. Rodgers-Cromartie - who has three interceptions this season - will play today with a broken finger and sprained ankle.

Big day ahead for Panthers' Smith?

Panthers receiver STEVE SMITH likes to play the Cardinals. In the Panthers' past five games against Arizona (including the playoffs), Smith has 34 catches for 514 yards (102.8 per game) and six touchdowns.

Star QBs await Carolina 'D'

A month ago, the Panthers' defense ranked 23rd, but has moved to fifth. In that period, Carolina has faced quarterbacks JOSH JOHNSON (Bucs), JASON CAMPBELL (Redskins) and RYAN FITZPATRICK (Bills). The next three Carolina faces: KURT WARNER (Cardinals), DREW BREES (Saints) and MATT RYAN (Falcons).

Williams closing on record

DEANGELO WILLIAMS needs 142 yards to pass DESHAUN FOSTER as the Panthers' all-time leading rusher. Foster gained 3,336 yards in six seasons, averaging 3.9 yards per carry. Williams is in his fourth season and averages 5.0 yards.

David Scott's key numbers:

Panthers

1.17 Yards per rush allowed last week against Buffalo, third lowest in franchise history.

2 Rookies who made their first NFL starts last week (cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, fullback Tony Fiametta).

8 Safeties for Panthers in franchise history (two this season).

Cardinals

0 Touchdowns allowed in first quarter.

0 Victories against Panthers in Arizona (Panthers lead series 6-3).

2 Catches needed for Anquan Boldin to become franchise's all-time leader in receptions.

-- David Scott, Charlotte Observer

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SCOTT'S TAKE

After which 2009 game did JAKE DELHOMME say, "I should get the blame. It's inexcusable. It's disappointing."

You've got a lot of choices there, don't you? The correct answer is after the Arizona playoff game - the one that started it all around here. Delhomme had six turnovers in that one and never has not recovered.

The bad news for Delhomme is the Cardinals defense might be better than the one from last year's Super Bowl team.

You might know that Delhomme and Arizona quarterback KURT WARNER were teammates on the 1998 Amsterdam Admirals. Warner beat Delhomme out for the starting job and started almost all season. (They were each paid about $1,600 per game). What you might not know is the field where the Admirals played had a moat surrounding it to keep fans off the field.

It will be really interesting to see how the Panthers cover LARRY FITZGERALD. Because Warner's release is so quick, the Panthers won't have many chances to get to him unless the secondary plays really well. Putting CHRIS GAMBLE on Fitzgerald most of the time is the best way to go, but he better get a lot of safety help, too. Fitzgerald is particularly dangerous near the goal line because of his size - he has five touchdowns this season.

I've called for Delhomme's benching for the past month, but coach JOHN FOX has not listened (no surprise there). Fox has wedded himself to Delhomme, and it would be a storybook finish for Jake if he could exorcise the Arizona demons. Could it happen? Yes, but only if the Panthers' running game and defense dominates. Delhomme has a chance to be effective then. Still, the Cardinals are hot and they have too many weapons.

Arizona 27, Carolina 17

-- Scott Fowler, Charlotte Observer

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