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What to watch: Panthers vs. Cardinals


Despite a seven-game losing skid, the Carolina Panthers have had their moments.

What they haven't had is 60 minutes.

"We need to play a 60-minute game," said rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen, whose Panthers will get their final chance to put it all together at home this season when the Arizona Cardinals visit Sunday. "I think the biggest thing is to come out and start fast in all three phases but especially on offense. We need to get the running game started and execute the pass game."

The Panthers (1-12) have started slow in nearly game played at Bank of America Stadium this season, forcing a team not equipped to play catch-up to do exactly that.

Against the Cardinals (4-9), the Panthers see an opening for turning that trend around and getting off to a strong start that could translate to a strong finish.

"That would be great," cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said of the possibility of ending the home schedule on a high note. "We've had a down year, so to leave it out there with a win, hopefully it could carry over to next year and we could get things rolling next year."

If the Panthers are to have the kind of start and finish they've been hoping for, here are some things that have to happen.

YOUNG GUNS: The Cardinals are one of the few teams that can relate to the Panthers' quarterback issues this season.

Kurt Warner retired after last season, but Arizona went into the season thinking Matt Leinart would be the man. That didn't pan out, so the Cardinals turned to veteran Derek Anderson. Next they turned to rookie Max Hall, and now they're on rookie No. 2, with John Skelton scheduled to start again after leading the Cardinals to victory over the Denver Broncos last week.

Arizona ranks next-to-last in the NFL in passing yards per game. Carolina ranks last.

In this battle of rookie quarterbacks, it might well come down which one makes fewer mistakes more so than which one makes more plays.


THE "FEWER MISTAKES" APPROACH: If Clausen can manage the game well enough, his running backs might just manage to make enough plays to stop the losing skid.

Carolina's running game has been running on all cylinders of late. With starter DeAngelo Williams on injured reserve, first Mike Goodson and now Jonathan Stewart have gotten going.

They face an Arizona defense that ranks 30th in the NFL against the run, coughing up 143.3 yards a game.

Still, just being able to run the ball isn't enough. The Panthers must convert their positive-yardage plays into points, and that's where Clausen comes in. Carolina has far and away the least efficient red zone offense in the league, so Clausen needs to pose enough of a threat to turn yards in scores.

THE "MORE PLAYS" APPROACH: While the Panthers do have enough ability to bludgeon their way to victory with their ground game, the Cardinals can strike quick via wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald is having an off-year by his standards thanks to the Cardinals' inconsistent play under center (much like Carolina wideout Steve Smith), but he's still scary. Even with all the issues, Fitzgerald ranks 10th in the NFL in receptions (69) and 15th in receiving yards (861).

The Panthers haven't been burned too bad by an individual receiver since back in Week1, when Hakeem Nicks of the New York Giants found the end zone three times. But Fitzgerald undoubtedly knows about Carolina's recent struggles and surely sees Sunday's game as an opportunity to get his numbers closer to his typical ones - if Skelton can get him the ball.


THE MENTAL APPROACH: Neither the Panthers nor the Cardinals are playoff-bound this season, so it will be interesting to see if one team appears to be more bound and determined than the other.

The struggles have taken a toll on the Panthers, but they haven't thrown in the towel. In fact, they've taken offense to the notion among some fans that losing the rest of the way wouldn't be such a bad thing with the No. 1 pick in next year's draft in sight.

The Panthers still have the will. Only time - 60 minutes to be exact - will tell if they can find a way.

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