Cardinals-Panthers scouting report: Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield meet again
For the third time in four seasons, Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray and Carolina Panthers quarterback Baker Mayfield, the two former Heisman Trophy winners and No. 1 overall draft picks out of Oklahoma, will face each other in the NFL.
Murray and the Cardinals (1-2) will meet Mayfield and the Panthers (1-2) at 1:05 p.m. (Arizona time) at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.
Unlike the first matchup and maybe even the second, Murray hasn’t spent much time dwelling on facing his good friend and former teammate.
“I honestly haven’t really thought about it,” Murray said. “I talked to him I think it was before they played the Giants or after they played the Giants (in Week 2), but other than that it hasn’t been a big deal in that manner. Obviously, we’re both 1-2 so he’s got his own things going on. We’ve got our own things going on, so I think the main focus is really just trying to get a win. I’m going to see him obviously, but as far as the competitive nature of the game, every week we’ve got to win a game.”
Murray and Mayfield were teammates with the Sooners from 2016-17 and Murray won both of the previous NFL matchups when Mayfield was with the Browns. Mayfield’s departure from Cleveland was a nasty divorce, preceded by the Browns’ decision to trade for Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson.
Murray was asked how Mayfield has handled the past six or seven months of change.
“As a brother obviously, I know he's capable of handling it all, which he does very well,” Murray said. “I think a lot of stuff for him in the past he's put on himself sometimes and that's some things that we joke with him about, but he's got really thick skin. I know that stuff can wear on him just because of how much unwarranted or just unnecessary stuff just gets said and stuff like that. He's got thick skin, so I'm not too worried about him losing confidence or anything like that.”
Murray and Mayfield have spent time together filming their part in the ongoing Heisman House commercials for Nissan.
“It’s great,” Murray said of the commercials. “To be able to have the privilege to be able to do that with him is a blessing. As a little kid, I always wanted to be a part of that fraternity. It’s a big deal, so I know he doesn’t take it for granted and neither do I.”
Cardinals-Panthers scouting report
MATCHUP: Arizona Cardinals (1-2) at Carolina Panthers (1-2). KICKOFF: 1:05 p.m. Sunday, Bank of America Stadium. TV/RADIO: CBS (Ch.5)/ESPN, Arizona Sports (98.7 FM), KQMR (100.3 FM).
Arizona Republic sportswriter Bob McManaman breaks down Sunday’s game between the Cardinals and Panthers:
Cardinals pass offense vs. Panthers pass defense
Kyler Murray will be making his 50th NFL start. He and coach Kliff Kingsbury need to do everything in their power to get the offense off to a quick start after three lifeless first halves to start the season. The expected return of wide receiver Rondale Moore could provide a huge boost, assuming his hamstring is fully healed and he can play a significant role in his season debut. With veteran A.J. Green out because of a bone bruise on his left knee, Hollywood Brown will be heavily targeted once again by Murray. It will be essential to make him more than just a possession receiver this week, however. Keep your eyes on tight end Zach Ertz, who will be appearing in his 100th game, as well as the right side of Arizona’s offensive line when it comes to trying to hold off edge rusher Brian Burns.
Cardinals run offense vs. Panthers run defense
This is where the game figures to be decided, or at least where it should be decided. The Cardinals know they need to have a sustainable running game to keep them competitive and relevant. They’ll be making a conscientious effort to do that here, but they have to stick with it for it to work. James Conner has been dealing with ankle and knee issues, which isn’t helpful, but Kingsbury can’t be afraid to give Darrel Williams and Eno Benjamin their fair share of carries and reps in the backfield. The Panthers are 22nd against the rush, allowing 134.7 yards per game, so the opportunities for Arizona to break out on the ground should be there. The offensive line will be intact and that’s a good thing.
Panthers pass offense vs. Cardinals pass defense
Carolina has the second-worst passing offense in the league through three weeks, producing just 1613 yards per game through the air. Baker Mayfield has only been intercepted once, but he’s also only thrown three touchdowns. He ranks 30th in completions with just 42. The Panthers have allowed nine sacks for 66 yards, a trend the Cardinals need to keep make happening. J.J. Watt has their only two sacks so far this season. He’ll need to keep the pressure on and also get help from Markus Golden, Zach Allen, Dennis Gardeck and others. Robbie Anderson is Carolina’s only receiver with more than 100 receiving yards (148), but Arizona must be mindful of running back Christian McCaffrey, who’s always dangerous as a pass catcher.
Panthers run offense vs. Cardinals run defense
McCaffrey is the key to stopping the Panthers and the Cardinals have had their trouble containing him in the past. He’s been dealing with a thigh injury that might limit him on Sunday, but even when he’s hurting, he usually can find a way to punish opposing defenses. Linebackers Zaven Collins, Nick Vigil and Isaiah Simmons have to wrap up McCaffrey as much as possible and get gang-tackle help from teammates to try to limit the damage. He’s coming off back-to-back 100-yard rushing games but has only scored one touchdown to date. Mayfield can be slippery when moving out of the pocket, so the Cardinals need to be mindful of that, seal the edge, and not let him burn them on throws when on the run.
The Cardinals missed punter Johnny Hekker last week, but that’s because he’s moved on from the Rams to the Panthers and he’s always given Arizona fits. He downed four punts inside the 20-yard line last week over the Saints, including two inside the 10. The Cardinals allowed a blocked punt last week. Cardinals kicker Matt Prater, meanwhile, has been dealing with a hip issue. Panthers kicker Eddy Pineiro is seven for seven on field goal attempts, including a long of 48 yards.
If the Cardinals don’t fall behind early and can establish some sort of a comfortable lead, I like their chances this week. The Panthers have enough dangerous players on defense, including linebacker Shaq Thompson and safety Jeremy Chinn, to wreck the game, though. In the end, Arizona wins by a field goal.
Pick: Cardinals 23, Panthers 20
What to look for
SERIES HISTORY: This is the 20th time the teams will have met, including the playoffs, and the Panthers lead the series 14-5 overall. Carolina is 8-3 at home against Arizona and has won each of the past six meetings, including two postseason games. This is the fourth straight year the teams have met in the regular season. The Panthers won last year’s meeting 34-10 at State Farm Stadium.
DID YOU KNOW? Carolina was the only team in the NFL that did not allow a touchdown on the opponents’ first drive of any game in 2021. The Panthers allowed just nine points by opposing teams on opening drives. The Cardinals have been outscored, 31-0, in the first quarters of games this season.
HE SAID IT: “I think he’s one of the rare, rare, rare athletic players I’ve even seen in my life. I saw him do things on the college football field that made me just want to walk off the field.” Panthers coach Matt Rhule on Cardinals QB Kyler Murray.
Keys to the game
THE CARDINALS WILL WIN IF ... They get their offense rolling early, establish a consistent rushing attack and win the turnover battle.
THE PANTHERS WILL WIN IF ... Christian McCaffrey gashes Arizona’s defense, Baker Mayfield connects on two or three splash plays with his pass catchers and Carolina’s defense smothers the Cardinals in the first half.
Matchup to watch
CARDINALS DE J.J. WATT VS. PANTHERS LT IKEM EKWONU
Watt has been dealing with a nagging calf issue, but that shouldn’t prevent him from making an impact in this game, especially against the Panthers’ rookie left tackle, who was the No.6 overall pick in this year’s draft. Watt’s experience and array of pass-rushing moves should be enough to confuse and confound the 21-year-old Ekwonu and getting to Mayfield is imperative.
Have an opinion on the Arizona Cardinals? Reach McManaman at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @azbobbymac. Listen to him live on Fox Sports 910-AM every Tuesday afternoon at 3:30 on Calling All Sports with Roc and Manuch.