NFC West: Cardinals-Panthers

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

One of the subjects discussed in the chat sent me searching through the Cardinals-Panthers video for more information.

To review, here's the chat item in question, with the answer I gave at the time:

Ken (Scottsdale, AZ): Mike, you track every play. The Cards now play Docket, Berry, Robinson, and Watson on every running down. This could have something to do with the improved run defense. Word from the local media is that the players came to the coaches to make this switch.

Mike Sando: I have noticed that four-man line. I do not know if players asked for the change. It does seem to make some sense.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic touched on this recently. I had noticed some of these four-man lines in the game, but hadn't analyzed it at all.

I've had time to re-watch the first quarter of the Cardinals-Panthers game, covering four Carolina possessions. During that time, the Cardinals used four-man lines when the Panthers used two backs, two tight ends and one receiver.

DeAngelo Williams gained 31 yards on the first run, a first-and-10 play. The Cardinals' line, left to right, consisted of Antonio Smith, Darnell Dockett, Gabe Watson and Bryan Robinson.

Arizona stopped Williams for no gain on the second play in question, a third-and-2 situation to end the Panthers' second drive. The Cardinals' line, left to right, featured Dockett, Watson, Smith and Robinson. I hope to take a look at a larger sample size, but first I wanted to pass along what I found in looking at the first quarter.

The Panthers switched between three main personnel groupings in that first quarter. These included regular personnel with two backs, one tight end and two receivers (eight snaps); "12" personnel with one back, two tight ends and two receivers (one play, a pass, against a three-man line); and those two snaps of "22" personnel with two backs, two tight ends and one receiver.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Cardinals did all the things they needed to do -- and then some -- in dominating the Panthers to reach the NFC Championship Game.

The Cardinals are suddenly a dangerous team. They can run the ball well enough to keep teams honest, and well enough to finish games. They can beat teams in the passing game even when Pro Bowl receiver Anquan Boldin does not play. They are opportunistic and increasingly disciplined on defense.

Logic says Arizona will have a hard time winning in the championship round if faced with a trip to the Meadowlands to play the Giants.

Logic also said the Cardinals couldn't win on the East Coast against the only team with an unbeaten home record this season, but Arizona had little trouble against the Panthers. The Cardinals played tougher games against the 49ers, Rams and Seahawks in the NFC West.

The Cardinals are playing the underdog role to maximum effect. They'll probably get another chance in the championship round. If their defense keeps forcing turnovers, the Cardinals will have a good chance against anyone, no matter the venue.

Hot Topic: Can Cardinals make Super run?

January, 10, 2009
1/10/09
11:07
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

CHARLOTTE -- With a 30-7 lead in the final minutes of their divisional-round game at Carolina, the Cardinals stand one victory away from reaching the Super Bowl.

Do they need an Eagles victory over the Giants to have any legitimate shot at advancing past the championship game? Or is this team capable of shocking its skeptics one more time?

If you think the Cardinals can beat the Giants, or if you think they had better hope for a home game against the Eagles, I'd be interested in hearing your rationale. I wouldn't rule out anything at this point.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

CHARLOTTE -- Those who predicted a Cardinals-Panthers score on the blog can track their status by downloading the final "You called it" spreadsheet for this game.

Simply update the score for each team in the boxes with yellow shading, then watch to see where you stand in the race for a spot on the Wall of Fame.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

CHARLOTTE -- The Cardinals named injured receiver Anquan Boldin inactive against the Panthers in their divisional playoff game.

Boldin's absence will likely affect the Cardinals' approach to this game, as discussed previously. Also inactive for Arizona: cornerback Eric Green, linebacker Victor Hobson, tackle Elliot Vallejo, tackle Brandon Keith, defensive tackle Alan Branch and tight end Ben Patrick. Brian St. Pierre is the third quarterback. If he plays, Kurt Warner and Matt Leinart could not return.

That leaves Stephen Spach and Leonard Pope as the active tight ends. Pope hasn't played much this season. He previously struggled with false-start penalties on running plays.

Inactive for Carolina: receiver D.J. Hackett, safety Quinton Teal, linebacker Adam Seward, guard Mackenzy Bernadeau, receiver Kenneth Moore, defensive tackle Darwin Walker and defensive tackle J'Vonne Parker. Matt Moore is the third quarterback.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

CHARLOTTE -- The NFL has assigned referee Gene Steratore to work the Cardinals-Panthers divisional game at Bank of America Stadium.

Steratore has worked four Panthers games (all on the road) and four Cardinals games (two home, two road) since becoming a referee for the 2006 season.

Steratore has assessed 4.8 penalties per game against the Panthers. No current referee has assessed fewer penalties per game against the Panthers since 2003 (minimum four games worked). Steratore has assessed 17 penalties against the Panthers and 23 against their opponents in these games. The Panthers have won three of the four games in question:

Steratore has assessed 5.5 penalties per game against the Cardinals. That's a relatively low figure. He assessed 22 penalties against Arizona and 25 against their opponents in those games. The Cardinals have won two of the four games in question:

The Week 1 game this season featured at least one controversial call. Steratore and crew penalized the 49ers' Ray McDonald for roughing the quarterback on a third-and-9 pass for no gain. The hit appeared to be legal. The penalty sustained the drive. Arizona scored a touchdown on the drive, taking a 20-10 lead.

Mild weather, light rain in Charlotte

January, 10, 2009
1/10/09
6:20
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

CHARLOTTE -- Light rains are falling at Bank of America Stadium, but temperatures remain in the upper 50s with about 2 hours until kickoff.

I was expecting colder weather. Low temperatures have been adjusted to the mid 40s, up from the low 30s earlier in the week. Wet conditions might hurt the Cardinals' passing game, but these conditions are far from wintry.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Zane from San Jose, Calif., writes: One of the BEST things that has happened for the Cards may go overlooked. They get to play well into the EVENING on Saturday night. As a 20 year coach of elite athletes training for U.S. Olympic teams, I understand the extreme disadvantage that comes with having to travel east, through 3 time zones, and then compete early in the day.

At the highest level of sport, this disadvantage is profound and universal. In the night game, the Cards will be playing the game when their bodies and metabolisms are at their peak. This will significantly help offset the colder game temperature. While this fact is certainly not an automatic predictor for Cards success, e.g., see the "Thanksgiving Day Debacle", I am sure that the players and coaches were pumping their collective fists when they learned about the game time.

[Note most elite level Olympic athletes, who admittedly tend to compete less frequently that pro team athletes, will begin to adapt their training and sleeping schedules for any 2 hour+ time change, 3 to 4 weeks ahead of the competition.]

Mike Sando: I do think the kickoff time is potentially significant and I thank you for shining light on it. I would give the Cardinals less chance if the game kicked off at 11 a.m. MT.

John from Great Falls, Mont., writes: In my opinion Willis got jipped out of a first team All-Pro by Jon Beason. Sure, Jon Beason is good ... but Willis is outstanding and is quite possibly the best 49ers defender since Ronnie Lott. Willis was better in every statistical category except interceptions, and even then Willis returned his on interception for a touchdown! Also, the 49ers do not have the same amount of talent (especially on the defensive line) to keep Willis clean like Beason, who has the advantage of playing behind a line that includes Julius Peppers and Maake Kameaoutu, and so usually Beason is allowed to run free.

Willis, on the other hand, still routinely makes plays all over the field even when routinely having to fight off blockers. Willis also makes way more plays behind the LOS (7 tfl, 1 sack) while Beason does not. So, bottom line: Do you think Willis should have beaten out Beason for the 1st Team All Pro? Or not. I'm just curious about what you think (honestly, I was really hoping that Willis would be the first 49ers defender to make two pro-bowls and two first team all-pros in his first two seasons). Btw, love your blog.

Mike Sando: Thanks, John. I think the Panthers' team success helped put Beason over the top, more than anything Willis or Beason did differently this season. Both are very good young players. One of them enjoyed much more team success. I really think that was the difference.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Current NFL Referee Penalties Per Game vs. Cardinals*
Penalties Per Game vs. Panthers*
Walt Anderson
8.8
7.1
Jerome Boger
7.6

Mike Carey
7.5
5.3
Bill Carollo
9.0
8.2
Carl Cheffers


Walt Coleman
8.6
5.6
Tony Corrente
6.4
7.2
Scott Green
7.0

Ed Hochuli

8.8
Bill Leavy 6.8
5.6
Terry McAulay
6.3
Peter Morelli 4.8
5.3
John Parry


Al Riveron


Gene Steratore 5.5
4.3
Jeff Triplette
8.3

Ron Winter
9.2
7.3
* Since 2003, minimum four games

Tracking referee statistics this season told us which one assessed the most penalties (Ron Winter), which ones suffered the most replay reversals (Bill Leavy) and which ones almost never faced booth-initiated challeenges (Mike Carey, Bill Carollo).

I've also been looking at which referees tend to assess the most and fewest penalties against certain teams.

The chart shows how many penalties per game each current referee has assessed, on average, against the Cardinals and Panthers since 2003. To avoid aberrations, I considered statistics only for referees who worked at least four gam
es involving each team during that span.

Jeff Triplette never works Panthers games because he's from North Carolina. Arizona resident Ed Hochuli rarely works Cardinals games. Al Riveron and Carl Cheffers were first-year referees, so they did not have enough games to qualify.

Using the stated criteria. Peter Morelli has assessed the fewest penalties per game against the Cardinals (4.8). Winter (9.2) and Carollo have assessed the most (9.0).

For the Panthers, Gene Steratore has assessed the fewest penalties per game over that span (4.3), while Hochuli has assessed the most (8.8).

The league generally does not announce referee assignments in advance, except for the Super Bowl. For a detailed look at officiating stats by referee, please sample my 2008 NFL officiating download. This covers all 256 regular-season games.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston and Tony Siragusa get the call for Fox when the Cardinals face the Panthers in an NFC divisional playoff game Saturday at Bank of America Stadium. Kickoff is at 8:15 p.m. ET.

The Cardinals are 0-3 when Albert, Johnston and Siragusa work their games this season. Fox's second-ranked crew also worked Arizona games against the Redskins, Giants and Patriots.

Wk. Team Opp. Network Crew Crew Rank
1 ARI SF Fox Sam Rosen, Tim Ryan, Chris Myers 5 of 7
2 ARI MIA CBS Bill Macatee, Steve Beuerlein 7 of 7
3 ARI WAS Fox
Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa
2 of 7
4
ARI NYJ Fox
Dick Stockton, Brian Baldinger, Brian Billick, Laura Okmin 3 of 7
5
ARI BUF CBS
Bill Macatee, Steve Beuerlein
7 of 7
6
ARI DAL Fox
Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver
1 of 7
8 ARI CAR Fox
Matt Vasgersian, Brian Baldinger, Laura Okmin
3 of 7
9 ARI STL Fox
Thom Brennaman, Brian Billick
7 of 7
10 ARI SF ESPN
Mike Tirico, Ron Jaworski, Tony Kornheiser N/A
11 ARI SEA Fox
Dick Stockton, Brian Baldinger, Laura Okmin
3 of 7
12 ARI NYG
Fox
Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa
2 of 7
13 ARI PHI
NFLN
Bob Papa, Cris Collinsworth N/A
14 ARI STL
Fox
Matt Vasgersian, J.C. Pearson, Nischelle Turner
5 of 7
15 ARI MIN
Fox
Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver
1 of 7
16 ARI NE
Fox
Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa
2 of 7
17 ARI SEA
Fox
Thom Brennaman, Brian Billick
7 of 7
18 ARI ATL
NBC
Tom Hammond, Cris Collinsworth, Tiki Barber
N/A
19 ARI CAR
Fox
Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa 2 of 7

CBS and Fox each have seven crews. The higher-ranked crews draw more attractive assignments such as Super Bowls, playoff games and marquee matchups.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

We're still taking predictions as part of the "You called it" item heading into the Cardinals-Panthers divisional game Saturday. We'll keep taking them until kickoff. Simply click here and leave your predicted score in the comments section.

In the meantime, an update: Forty-seven of the first 73 people to leave predictions are taking the Panthers. The average predicted scores favor the Panthers by about 28-24.

I put together a downloadable tool that will let you monitor your standing on the fly. Simply fill in the actual score in the yellow boxes and watch the standings update automatically. I'll update this file right up until kickoff and make it available so you can see whether you'll be warranting a spot next to our legendary pickers on the Wall of Fame.

Video: NFC divisional round preview

January, 5, 2009
1/05/09
1:28
PM ET

Jamal Anderson and Kordell Stewart preview Eagles-Giants and Cardinals-Panthers.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Cardinals drew the only NFL team with an 8-0 home record this season when the Eagles' victory sent Arizona toward a divisional-round game at Carolina.

If the fourth-seeded Cardinals can find a way to beat the second-seeded Panthers, an Eagles victory over the top-seeded Giants in the other NFC divisional game would send Arizona home for the NFC title game.

The chances of that happening might be remote, but they would have been non-existent if the third-seeded Vikings had defeated the sixth-seeded Eagles in the wild-card round.

Something for Cardinals fans to dream about while enjoying what already qualifies as a historic season for the franchise.

First look: Cardinals-Panthers

January, 4, 2009
1/04/09
8:32
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

No. 4 seed Arizona Cardinals (10-7) at No. 2 seed Carolina Panthers (12-4), Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET

PHOENIX -- The Panthers might not recognize the Cardinals when Arizona visits Carolina in the divisional round Saturday at 8:15 p.m. ET.

Kurt Warner and the Cardinals' passing game were at the peak of their aerial powers when Carolina overcame a 17-3 deficit to beat Arizona, 27-23, during a Week 8 game at Bank of America Stadium. Warner completed 35 of 49 passes for 381 yards and two touchdowns as Arizona made no apologies for ignoring its then-struggling ground game.

For Arizona, that game marked receiver Anquan Boldin's return from facial injuries and Edgerrin James' final start of the 2008 regular season. Injuries were limiting the team's options at tight end, another reason the Cardinals were committing themselves to a wide-open style of offense featuring three or more wide receivers most of the time.

Expect the Cardinals to bring a different type of team to Carolina for the rematch. We break down some of the differences while taking a closer look at what to expect from Arizona:

(Read full post)

Arizona Personnel Group vs. Falcons in Week 18 PlaysPct.Runs Yards/ Run
Pass Att. Yards/ Att.
Total TDs
1-RB, 3-WR, 1-TE
24
42.152.818
7.9
1
2-RB, 2-WR, 1-TE13
22.894.84
12.3
0
1-RB, 2-WR, 2-TE11
19.3 6
3.5515.81
2-RB, 1-WR, 2-TE4
10.43
2.710.01
2-TE, 3-WR
3
7.00
0.03
0.0
0
2-RB, 3-WR
11.810.00 0.0 0
4-WR
1 1.80

0.0
1
0.0
0
TOTALS57
100.024
3.6
32
8.4
3

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

PHOENIX -- The Cardinals did something Saturday they hadn't done all season. They did something I hadn't seen from an NFL team in the more than 5,400 offensive plays I've charted over the last few seasons.

What they did during their 30-24 victory over the Falcons -- use two tight ends and three wide receivers in the same personnel group -- might not have much staying power. In theory, the grouping should afford greater perimeter pass protection while still allowing Kurt Warner to choose from three wide receivers. In reality, the Cardinals used the combination three times, all on third down, and the results were ugly: Two incomplete passes and an interception.

The personnel-tracking system I've developed doesn't even account for that personnel grouping. Instead of changing my system to accommodate a personnel combination we might never see again, I eliminated those plays from consideration in the usual Excel file breaking down offensive personnel use from multiple angles. The plays appear in the chart topping this blog entry.

The unexpected emergence of this odd personnel combination plays into a broader theme for the Cardinals. This offense is evolving. The approach Arizona used against the Falcons marked a departure from the way we've seen the Cardinals operate most of the season.

We saw far fewer four-receiver groupings and more two-receiver groupings, with nine running plays from the I-formation and offset-I formation. Two factors are influencing the shift. One, the Cardinals are looking for ways to get the ground game going with Edgerrin James at halfback. Two, the Cardinals have fewer options at receiver when Anquan Boldin isn't healthy.

Boldin's injury situation -- he entered Saturday with a shoulder injury and emerged with a hamstring injury -- could persuade the Cardinals to remain more of a two- and three-receiver team. That style arguably gives the Cardinals their best chance in the playoffs because it facilitates the running game and, by extension, balance.

Arizona used its one-back, three-receiver, one-tight end grouping to great effect against Carolina in Week 8. I'm thinking we'll see that group quite a bit in the playoff rematch.

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