The Carolina Panthers will be without their long-time leader when they travel to the desert to take on the Arizona Cardinals.
Cam Newton has been dealing with a foot injury, which he reaggravated in Carolina's 20-14 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 2. He was officially ruled out Friday afternoon, which is no surprise considering he was unable to practice and was spotted in a walking boot this week.
Now at 0-2 after losses to the Los Angeles Rams and Buccaneers, the Panthers are essentially in a must-win situation in Week 3.
As for the Cardinals, they lost to the Baltimore Ravens last weekend. In Week 1, the Cardinals tied the Detroit Lions 27-27. So Arizona will be looking to get its first victory of the season in its second home game.
Carolina holds a 9-4 regular-season advantage in the all-time series. However, the Cardinals have won two of the last three meetings.
Carolina at Arizona
Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 22 at 4:05 p.m ET
Spread: Arizona -2.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Kyle Allen
With Cam Newton sidelined, Allen will get the start against the Cardinals. It will be the second career start for the second-year quarterback. His first came in Week 17 last season when he helped the Panthers beat New Orleans 33-14 on the road. Allen threw for 228 yards and two touchdowns against the Saints, who had already wrapped up the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs and rested the majority of their starters for that game. Even with limited game experience, Rivera is more than confident that Allen can lead the Panthers to victory.
“I think Kyle is more than ready,” Rivera said Tuesday after practice. “I think Kyle did some really good things last year, showed us what he is capable of. He had a good preseason. Had a whole bunch of ups — a few downs — but for the most part, he knows the offense, and he knows it very well. So we feel confident about it, we really do. We feel very comfortable. If you go back to what he did briefly in the Atlanta game and what he did in the New Orleans game [in 2018].”
With Allen starting, expect the Panthers to rely on Christian McCaffrey and the running game, especially considering how shaky their offensive line has been during the first two weeks of the season.
2. Kyler Murray
Although only a rookie, Murray has been solid in his first two games as an NFL starter. During that span, he has thrown for 657 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. Probably more surprising, Murray has just 17 yards rushing on the season.
At Oklahoma last season, Murray rushed for 1,001 yards and 12 touchdowns. It seems like Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury's gameplan is to throw the ball exclusively, but the team's offense would greatly benefit from having Murray use his legs to make plays.
This weekend, against a Panthers defense that has given up some plays on the ground, expect Kingsbury to use Murray more in that facet of the game. That should not only open up the Cardinals passing game but also make things easier on running back David Johnson.
3. Panthers defense
Unlike the Rams or the Buccaneers, the Cardinals feature an Air Raid offense. This isn't an offensive style that defenses see every week. To counteract the Cardinals offense, the Panthers have to get pressure on Murray in the backfield.
So far this season, the Panthers have just four sacks, 19th in the league. Carolina will need rookie Brian Burns to be a significant factor off the end.
Also, Gerald McCoy, who hasn't done a lot the first two weeks, will need to revert to his Pro Bowl form.
If Carolina can generate pressure on Murray, there's a chance the rookie quarterback could turn the ball over a time or two.
Carolina will really need a massive game from Christian McCaffrey with Cam Newton out. In Week 1, McCaffrey had 209 all-purpose yards against the Rams. Expect the Panthers to use him similarly against the Cardinals.
However, the game will come down to whether or not Kyle Allen can make plays when the team needs him to. That is where the Cardinals, especially on the road, might have the advantage. Sure, Allen played well in Week 17 against the Saints last season, but New Orleans had nothing to play for and rested many starters.
Expect the Cardinals to get Kyler Murray going through the air and rushing the ball this week. David Johnson should also play a role offensively in a close game and a narrow win for Arizona.
Prediction: Cardinals 24, Panthers 17
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.
(Top photo courtesy of panthers.com)