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Panthers face dual threat in Murray and Cardinals

by Sharon Thorsland

NFL: SEP 11 Browns at Panthers

Elusive. Dangerous. Magical. Those are just some of the adjectives the Panthers used to describe Kyler Murray this week. The Panthers will face the fourth year quarterback on Sunday when they take on the Cardinals at Bank of America Stadium. Both teams are 1-2 on the season and have similar offensive struggles, namely not getting much done in the first quarter of games. But while Panthers quarterback Baker Mayfield has yet to get into a rhythm with his receivers, Murray has had no such problems in Arizona. The Pro Bowler is averaging 248 passing yards a game, in spite of that fact that All-Pro receiver De’Andre Hopkins is suspended and speedster Rondale Moore has been out with a hamstring injury. Murray is just that good, and what sets him apart is his ability to make plays out of nothing by scrambling. “I think he’s one of the rare, rare, rare athletic players I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Panthers coach Matt Rhule. “I saw him do things on the college football field that made me just want to walk off the field. He’s one of the most amazing players I’ve ever seen in my life.”

The Panthers will try to keep Murray from making any of those amazing plays today, and so far the defense has been solid against the pass this season. Hopkins is still out and Pro Bowler A.J. Green will likely be out today with a knee injury. Moore could be back, though, and Murray has a pair small but speedy targets in Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and former Wake Forest standout Greg Dortch. The pair combined for 23 catches and 220 yards last week. Pro bowler Zach Ertz starts at tight end, and the Cardinals also have an outstanding pass catching running back in James Conner.

The Panthers passing offense started to look alive in the fourth quarter of their win over the Saints last week. They have a good opportunity to build on that against a Cardinals defense that ranks 30th in the NFL is passing yards allowed and 31st in points allowed at 29 a game. About the only thing they have been good at is run defense. Lack of a pass rush has been a problem, the Cardinals have managed just two sacks, both of them from star defensive end J.J. Watt. Former Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons has been largely ineffective this season. Hard hitting safety Budda Baker anchors the secondary.

This is the fourth straight season these teams have met, the Panthers lead the overall series 14-5 and have won the last six matchups. Can they extend that streak today? Linebacker Brian Burns likes their chances. “It seems like we’ve always had their number,” said Burns. “It’s always physical and it’s always a tough game. I look forward to it – we’re going to get after them again.”