ReFo: Cardinals @ Panthers, Wild Card Round
In the first of the weekend’s playoff games, the Cardinals scored 14 unanswered points in the second quarter to take the lead and remain surprisingly competitive going into halftime, despite playing their third string quarterback in a road playoff game. However, the lack of offense caught up as the Panthers held them scoreless in the second half, breaking the record for fewest yards allowed in a postseason game.
Special teams was a special type of nightmare for Arizona in this contest. The Panthers had their own fair share of mistakes, including a botched punt recovery and several dropped passes however. There’s plenty for the coaches to look at and correct as they await the result of Lions-Cowboys to determine whether they head to Seattle or Green Bay for the Divisional round.
Let’s take a look at some of the notable performances from this NFC Wildcard game.
Arizona Cardinals – Performances of Note
Ryan Lindley, QB: -4.6
Breakdown: A predictably shaky performance from Lindley, who was inaccurate throughout the game – especially when he ventured downfield – and made a handful of costly blunders. One was mishandling a simple shotgun snap on third-and-long (2Q, 10:33), which they weren’t likely to convert based on the rest of the game, but the fumble still cost the team a chance at getting a first down. Later in the game after getting the ball inside Carolina’s 10-yard line after a fumble, Lindley immediately gave it back, misreading Luke Kuechly breaking on the throw to Larry Fitzgerald. Otherwise he made a few positive throws spread throughout the game, but along with the lackluster production from the run game, failed to move the offense consistently.
Signature Stats: Lindley faced pressure on more than 40% of his drop backs and took a sack on 30.8% of those plays. He also failed to complete a single pass thrown further than 20 yards downfield (5 attempts).
Dan Williams, DL: +0.9
Breakdown: Aside from the missed tackles, Arizona’s defense played well at times, and Williams was one of the few bright spots in this game. He collected two pressures in 16 rushes, using his power against center Ryan Kalil in both cases, while three of his four tackles counted as defensive stops.
Signature Plays: 2Q, 1:05. Stood up Kalil at the point of attack, getting first contact to slow the rusher before everyone else. Also, at 8:45 of the fourth, picked up the tackle for no gain outside of guard Andrew Norwell.
Drew Butler, P: -6.3
Breakdown: Butler didn’t do his defense any favors as he notched his lowest grade of the season in the rainy conditions, consistently lacking distance on his punts despite good hang time and location on several of them. His first quarter was particularly rough as he failed to hit the 30 yard mark on his first two punts, with Carolina subsequently facing a short field on both of its drives. Arizona did get a break on the third (1Q, 2:21), though it was another short punt and Butler had to deal with pressure and an offline snap on the play. He did improve throughout the game, but didn’t reach the level we saw in the regular season.
Signature Stat: Butler’s 34.8 punt average was lower than what any punter had during the regular season.
Carolina Panthers – Performances of Note
Thomas Davis, LB: +4.0
Breakdown: Most of his work came unblocked and he didn’t necessarily come up with the highlight-reel plays that his teammate did. This was still a great performance from Davis who collected seven tackles and five stops. He was particularly good limiting yards after the catch in the passing game, consistently closing and finishing on passes into the flat. Davis allowed the Cardinals to gain less than 20 yards on seven passes into his coverage.
Signature Play: 3Q, 4:04. Impressive start to the drive, getting into the backfield to drop the rusher for a loss, making a quick read at the snap to avoid any potential blockers.
Luke Kuechly, LB: +2.5
Breakdown: Outside of allowing a pair of first downs in coverage, it was a typically active game for Kuechly. In this contest he made three defensive stops and had a direct hand in both of Lindley’s interceptions, though he only hauled in one of them. At 11:53 of the fourth, he read the play action and anticipated the pass to Larry Fitzgerald, making a nice break to grab the interception and prevent Arizona from pulling within a touchdown.
Signature Play: 4Q, 2:03. Maybe the more impressive of Kuechly’s big plays, he again read Lindley locking onto Fitzgerald, coming from the deep middle to defend the post and get a hand on the ball, tipping it to teammate Tre Boston in the end zone.
Jonathan Stewart, RB: +0.8
Breakdown: One of the more elusive rushers during the regular season, Stewart continued that trend with a ridiculous nine forced missed tackles on the day. Stewart gained 123 yards on predominately option runs while giving up just one pressure in 16 snaps in pass protection.
Signature Play: 1Q, 5:29. Scoring the first touchdown of the game, Stewart made an impressive cut to get past Sam Acho past the line of scrimmage before bursting through Rashad Johnson to reach the end zone.
PFF Game Ball
A few players to choose from, but it’s hard not to give this to Luke Kuechly for his role in both interceptions.
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