Carolina's Newton returns to site of NFL debut
Twenty-three months ago, Cam Newton was a No. 1 draft pick about to play his first game. Skeptics wondered if his college resume would translate into success in the NFL.
All Newton did that Sunday afternoon in Arizona was throw for 422 yards, including a pair of touchdown passes to Steve Smith. The Cardinals won 28-21, but Newton had the Panthers at the Arizona 2-yard line at the end.
It wasn't his first big game at University of Phoenix Stadium. It's also where he led Auburn to the BCS title a year before.
Newton and the Panthers return to Arizona on Sunday, and he says there's nothing sentimental about this particular arena.
"'I don't look at it like that. If that were the case, every stadium has something influential in my life since I'm playing in the NFL," he said. "I can't go about it like that. I got to make this stadium something that, at the end of the day Sunday, I leave it being 2-2. That's about as symbolic as it gets."
The Panthers (1-2), who haven't played since their 38-0 thrashing of the New York Giants two weeks ago, are slight favorites against the Cardinals (2-2), who scored all their points in a fourth-quarter comeback for a 13-10 win at Tampa Bay last Sunday.
Here are five things to look for when the teams meet:
RUN OFFENSE VS RUN DEFENSE: Carolina's running game ranks third in the NFL. Arizona's is second in the league in run defense.
Something has got to give on Sunday.
"It's going to be a physical game in the trenches," Cardinals defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. "One of those games again, just like last week. Put it on the defensive line, the linebackers."
Carolina's DeAngelo Williams has rushed for 291 yards in three games, averaging 4.7 yards per carry. Newton has 98 yards in just 16 tries, an average of 6.1 yards per attempt. The Panthers' ground game should be bolstered by the presence of Kenjon Barner, the speedy rookie from Oregon, who is expected to make his NFL debut after missing the first three games with a sprained foot.
Arizona is giving up just 75 yards per game on the ground and held Tampa Bay's Doug Martin to 45 yards on 27 carries.
WASHINGTON'S RETURN: Arizona's Pro Bowl inside linebacker Daryl Washington is back after a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.
His first task will be to zero in on Newton.
"It's a plus to have D-Wash back to kind of have a guy that has almost the same type of speed or is a bit faster," Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson said.
Washington didn't want to reveal too much about being that "spy" who would constantly shadow Newton.
"He's very mobile, an athletic quarterback," Washington said, "a big guy. Once you get to him you have to bring him down. We have to force him to throw the ball, so hopefully I can get after him, we can get after him."
ARIZONA'S O-LINE: The Cardinals' offensive line has been erratic, a big component in Arizona's struggles with the ball so far this season.
Now there's a new, largely untested, left tackle. Bradley Sowell, a second-year pro, will make his first NFL start after Arizona traded Levi Brown to Pittsburgh this week. Expect the Panthers to try to take advantage of the newcomer.
Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer called Carolina's front seven the best his team has faced so far.
Sowell will go up against his former college teammate at Ole Miss, Greg Hardy, who had three sacks against the Giants and was the NFC defensive player of the week.
Last year, when Carolina played Oakland, Hardy knocked Palmer out of the game with a ferocious hit. Hardy was flagged for a personal foul on the play, but Palmer said he shouldn't have been.
"Those kind of hits now, just because they look pretty gruesome, get flagged," Palmer said, "but it was a legal hit and my own fault for not getting rid of the football."
SMITH VERSUS PETERSON: Like Hardy, Peterson was an NFC defensive player of the week — after two fourth-quarter interceptions in Tampa. The first set up the tying touchdown, the second sealed the victory.
Smith says he's long accustomed to facing the opponent's best cornerback.
"That is an opportunity, that is a challenge, and it's added pressure," he said.
ARIZONA ON THIRD DOWN: The Cardinals have been awful on third downs, and coach Bruce Arians says it's all due to a lack of attention to detail. They were 1-for-10 against the Buccaneers.
There were hints that Arians might try to simplify the offense a bit as a possible remedy.
"Not out-thinking our opponent," Palmer said, "really just lining up and playing fast."
AP sports writer Steve Reed contributed to this report.