Cardinals-Panthers Preview

Arizona Cardinals rookie quarterback John Skelton’s solid showing in his first NFL start appears to have earned him another one this week.

The Carolina Panthers are expected to stick with their struggling rookie QB.

Panthers coach John Fox said Jimmy Clausen "will more than likely" start when his league-worst club hosts Skelton and the Cardinals on Sunday.

Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt said Monday that he is planning to go with Skelton even if veteran Derek Anderson is cleared to return from a concussion.

"I think we’ll stick with what our plan all along has been," Whisenhunt said, "and that’s to play the best player, the player that gives us the best chance to win. I think right now that’s John Skelton."

With Anderson and backup Max Hall injured, Whisenhunt turned to Skelton for last week’s game against Denver.

The fifth-round draft pick out of Fordham didn’t connect on his first seven passes – four were dropped – but finished 15 of 30 for 146 yards. More importantly, he didn’t have an interception and wasn’t sacked in the 43-13 rout for the Cardinals (4-9).

"I think what I really liked was his demeanor and how he handled himself," Whisenhunt said. "He was able to handle (the pressure) and make some throws. There’s potential there to grow into that position and that’s the exciting part of it."

Despite being drafted 107 spots ahead of Skelton, Clausen hasn’t generated that same excitement this season for the Panthers (1-12), who have yet to win when he’s played.

The second-round pick out of Notre Dame hasn’t cracked 200 yards, has no touchdowns in six straight contests and has been picked off in five of his seven starts.

Clausen, who has one TD and seven interceptions, was 14 of 24 for 107 yards in last week’s 31-10 loss to Atlanta. He apologized to linebacker Jon Beason for the offense’s performance.

That led to an angry response from receiver Steve Smith.

"You should apologize to the people in the huddle with you," Smith said. "He has a lot to learn. He ain’t at Notre Dame anymore, that’s for sure."

Despite those struggles and teammates’ frustrations, the beleaguered Fox said he didn’t see going to another quarterback, even with his team on the verge of losing eight in a row for the first time since Sept. 29-Nov. 24, 2002.

"I don’t think our struggles either (last week) or up to date have been all the quarterback position, because we’ve fielded a few of them," Fox said. "We’ll evaluate that this week. We won’t announce starters, but I don’t see it changing moving forward."

The inexperience under center could result in Fox and Whisenhunt relying more heavily on the ground game, as each team has one of the worst rush defenses in the league.

Carolina ranks 25th against the run at 132.6 yards per contest, allowing at least 100 in six consecutive games. Arizona is 30th at 143.3 yards and has given up at least 110 in five straight games.

Last Nov. 1, the Cardinals allowed the Panthers to gain 270 yards on the ground – the second-highest rushing total in franchise history – in a 34-21 home loss. Carolina’s DeAngelo Williams ran for a team-best 158 yards, but he’s out with a foot injury.

Jonathan Stewart and Mike Goodson, though, combined for 203 of the Panthers’ season-high 212 rushing yards last week.

The Cardinals also had a strong rushing performance, getting a career-high 148 yards from Tim Hightower.

Carolina, winner of six straight regular-season meetings with Arizona, has scored an league-low 164 points – 61 fewer than the next-closest team.

The Cardinals, who have lost seven of nine all-time meetings, beat the Panthers 33-13 in the 2009 playoffs en route to their only Super Bowl appearance.