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Cardinals focus on Panthers RB McCaffrey with Allen at QB for Newton

Christian McCaffrey #22 of the Carolina Panthers celebrates after a touchdown in the fourth quarter during their game against the Los Angeles Rams at Bank of America Stadium on September 08, 2019 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)

TEMPE, Ariz. — No doubt the Arizona Cardinals catch a break in Week 3 against the Carolina Panthers.

Carolina quarterback Cam Newton is out with a foot injury. Regardless of his health status, lack of accuracy or puzzling lack of aggression as a runner, any opponent would take a one-time MVP being replaced by a quarterback with one NFL start under his belt.

Kyle Allen, a second-year pro who went to Desert Mountain High School in Scottsdale, will start in Newton’s place — for better or worse, regardless of whether the Cardinals win or lose Sunday at State Farm Stadium.

But it doesn’t matter when it comes to game prep.

“Overall, it doesn’t,” Arizona defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said. “You gameplan for the offensive system that you’re seeing. Obviously, certain quarterbacks have certain talents you have to prepare for. It’s not about one player. It’s about the entire offensive scheme.”

If it were about one player, that one player might not be Newton anyhow.

Running back Christian McCaffrey’s 2018 season of 1,098 rushing yards and 867 receiving yards looked something like the 2016 campaign put together by Cardinals running back David Johnson.

“He’s a problem. He’s a special player,” Joseph said of McCaffrey. “I think it goes through him. Whoever’s the quarterback on Sunday, it goes through Christian. He is a bear to contain, running and in the pass game.”

McCaffrey had 29 combined touches in a Week 1 loss to the Los Angeles Rams and their dominant front-seven. He averaged 6.7 yards per carry for 128 yards and added 82 yards through the air.

Lining up as a back, a receiver and even in a Wildcat formation, he will surely get his touches with Allen running the show.

Perhaps Arizona can find keys to stopping McCaffrey from last week’s game.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers held the 23-year-old running back to 2.3 yards per rush on 16 carries. He added two catches for 16 yards, and his 2.9 yards per touch were a career worst, per ESPN Stats & Info.

A happy or hurtful homecoming?

Allen presents a mystery for the Cardinals.

The top high school quarterback recruit in 2015, he didn’t win the Texas A&M starting gig until midway through his freshman year. As a sophomore, he and Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray swapped stints as the starter throughout the season. After a transfer, Allen struggled at Houston yet decided to leave for the NFL with a year of eligibility left.

But there’s a reason he has latched on in the NFL.

“I recruited Kyle briefly,” Kliff Kingsbury said. “He was the No. 1 prospect in the country, so he probably threw all our letters away and red-buttoned me every time I called him, but I remember watching him. He was very, very talented.”

Allen’s college numbers look alright. In total he completed 62% of his passes for 7.2 yards per attempt, tossing 37 touchdowns to 18 interceptions.

Yet Allen’s single NFL start, on Dec. 30 last year against a resting New Orleans Saints team, was impressive. He went 16-for-27 for 228 yards and two touchdowns.

“It’s not easy to step in like that on the road and find a way to win,” Kingsbury said. “Very accurate, gets the ball out quick and continued that play in preseason. He was a great prospect coming out of high school and has really developed so far in his time in the league.”

Eyes on defending the tight end

If there were one eye-sore for the Cardinals defense through two games, it’s in keeping tabs on tight ends in the passing game.

Detroit Lions rookie T.J. Hockenson torched Arizona for 131 yards in Week 1, while Baltimore Ravens tight end Mark Andrews added 112 yards last week. Both scored touchdowns.

“Couple of them were … guys falling down, getting back up,” Cardinals middle linebacker Jordan Hicks said, “guys through the zone on the other side of the field, from play-fake run-action in the B-gap to (the tight end) running out.

“They’re trying to scheme ways to get it through our zones. We just got to be disciplined in our coverage and we’ll be fine. Not worried about that.”

Joseph said the issues were “all us.”

The tight end pass coverage could be an issue again with veteran Panther Greg Olsen appearing likely to play. He is listed as questionable (back) but practiced Thursday and Friday.

He has 10 catches for 146 yards through two games.

“We have to play better, obviously,” Joseph said. “That’s overall.”

Extra points

— Arizona right tackle Justin Murray, who started the first two games, could split time with Jordan Mills, a veteran free agent addition from after Week 1.

“Still kind of working through it but both guys had really good weeks of practice and I wouldn’t be surprised if both of them play at some point,” Kingsbury said.

— Carolina’s defense has been a mixed bag this year. While it has allowed the seventh-most rushing yards through two games, the 4.2 yards per carry given up is tied for 19th and says the total is more from a high volume of rushes against the Panthers. Against the pass, they are tied for sixth by allowing just 6.2 yards per attempt.

— Linebacker Luke Kuechly is the familiar face leading the team with 26 tackles. He also leads the Panthers with three tackles for loss and two passes defensed.

“He’s good at anticipating what we’re doing,” the Cardinals’ David Johnson said. “He has a pretty good guess of whether I’m running the ball or going out for the pass. I got to really make sure I disguise a lot of stuff.”

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