The Arizona Cardinals and Carolina Panthers have so much in common three weeks into the season.
That’s not necessarily a good thing. But the winner of Sunday’s game in Charlotte, N.C., will have a .500 record and a much better feeling about the status of their season.
The Panthers (1-2) are coming off their first victory. The Cardinals (1-2) won at Vegas in between losing their two home games.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield picked up his first victory with Carolina last week, though the outcome against New Orleans largely hinged on defense. The Panthers are looking for an uptick in production from Mayfield.
“He wants to play better,” coach Matt Rhule said. “I think overall, in general, the passing game has to improve. On third down, it isn’t anywhere near where we want it to be.”
The Panthers won despite Mayfield completing less than half of his passes (12-for-25). That rate isn’t likely to get enough accomplished in most games.
“We’ve got to connect and complete balls,” Rhule said. “Just too many plays hanging out there that we have to hit on. If Baker takes a step, receiving corps takes a step, the O-line continues to take a step. … The challenge is to that whole offensive group.”
Mayfield has connected on 51.9 percent of his throws, the lowest through the first three games of a season in his career. The 183.3 yards per game also marks a personal worst.
The Panthers could find more situations to allow receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. to shine. He played his first game for Carolina last weekend. However, he was limited Wednesday with a hamstring injury.
“Hopefully, his role will be increased now that we see some of the things he can do,” Rhule said.
The Panthers might need that because running back Christian McCaffrey is dealing with a quad ailment. He normally takes Wednesdays off from practice, but the sense is this situation could warrant more than simple curiosity about his status.
Both teams average 20.7 points per game, but that’s not enough for Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray.
“I wish I had the answer right now,” Murray said. “That makes it tough on ourselves.”
The Cardinals could use a splurge of big-yardage plays. They haven’t had an offensive snap go for more than 30 yards.
The Cardinals could be further hindered if receiver A.J. Green, who has a bruised knee, is inactive. He missed practice Wednesday.
Arizona defensive lineman J.J. Watt also landed on this week’s injury report with a calf ailment.
Neither team can claim to be starting games strong.
“We’ve definitely addressed it,” Arizona coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “We’ve talked through it and we know that to be the team we want to be, we’ve got to start faster.”
The Panthers were in comeback mode in their first two games, while the Cardinals have been outscored by a combined total of 56-13 in the first halves of their games.
“I’d love to get off to a great start,” Rhule said. “The NFL today, the game comes down to the end. We’ve got to be great at the end.”
Arizona is trying to shake things up. That might explain cutting safety Deionte Thompson, the top reserve at the position, on Tuesday in order to promote linebacker Jesse Luketa from the practice squad.
Carolina holds a 14-5 all-time record — including postseason — against the Cardinals and has six consecutive victories in the series. Kingsbury is 0-3 versus the Panthers.