Newton looks to rebound from his poor showing last week
Week 3 has finally come to a close and the Carolina Panthers are looking ahead to Week 4 and a date with division rival Atlanta Falcons. Unfortunately, their task is still a daunting one, as they find themselves on the road and facing one of only three undefeated teams in the league. Yes, the Panthers have their work cut out for them.
Three games into the 2012 season and Carolina has been inconsistent on both sides of the ball. The offense has looked out of sync and struggled to put up points, while in the team's lone win, it looked almost unstoppable while it had possession.
The defense has been a nightmare, and so far this season, it has allowed point totals of 16, 27 and 36. The scariest thing though is its competition keeps getting stronger.
So, what kind of numbers can be expected of the Panthers after the dust finally settles within the confines of the Georgia Dome Sunday afternoon?
In a game that could possibly make or break their season, the Panthers need to play flawless football and execute the way we know they can. The quality of their stats and production will help their cause tremendously.
The following will look at projections at where the Panthers' starter and key reserve players figure to finish after their game against the Falcons.
The offense starts and ends with him and if Newton continues to dwell on his mistakes, this will be a very long, unproductive day on his part. As of now, he is 53/83 with 798 passing yards and two touchdowns.
Through three games, Newton is averaging 266 yards per game and the Falcons are giving up almost 208 yards per game; ranking them eighth in pass defense. While Newton will be able to throw, he will need to make the most of his throws and maintain a degree of accuracy in order to keep the Panthers in the game.
The biggest key to the game for Newton is to not turn the ball over. Easier said than done because the Falcons are coming off an impressive Monday Night Football performance which saw them pick off Peyton Manning three times. Newton already has five picks on the season and the most troubling trend regarding his interceptions is the Panthers have yet to win after being picked off in a game.
Needless, to say Newton will have to bring his "A"-game and be on target to keep this one close and competitive.
Projection: 20-of-32, 234 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT; 6 rushes for 33 yards
The Panthers have arguably one of the best backfields in the league, but it seems as if the coaching staff has been quick to abandon the running game after falling behind.
Injuries have kept Jonathan Stewart out of action for two games, and his absence was deeply felt in both losses. Both DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert have done their best to carry the burden, but in the end, their efforts haven't been enough.
The Panthers do not have a 100-yard rusher on the year, but with the Falcons' weak rush defense, look to buck that trend. Atlanta has given up an average of 128 yards per game, placing them 24th in the league. With any luck, Carolina will do their best to exploit this to their advantage.
Williams leads the team with 118 yards rushing, followed by Newton at 81.
As of now, Stewart is questionable, but having him on the field will be a huge boost to Carolina. If he is able to play, the Panthers have a key player back in the mix and Newton should be able to concentrate more on passing instead of making the plays with his feet.
If all goes well, the running backs will get the bulk of the carries, and even if they don't get a 100-yard rusher Sunday, they should be able to combine to get over the century mark.
Williams: 14 Attempts, 61 yards; 2 receptions, 14 yards
Stewart: 8 Attempts, 42 yards; 1 TD*; 2 receptions, 12 yards
Tolbert: 5 Attempts, 10 yards
*Projection assuming Stewart plays in game, otherwise look for Tolbert to get a lot of red zone/goal line touches
Despite the slow start for the Panthers, Steve Smith is still doing what he does best. He leads the team in receiving and is on pace for another 1,000-yard season. Smith is to Newton what Roddy White is to Matt Ryan—the go-to guy in the offense who can make the big play.
Last week, Smith ripped into Newton about his attitude following their blowout loss to the New York Giants, and if Newton wants to help get the Panthers to the promise land, he needs to take Smith's words to heart.
In the game against the Giants, Smith had his lowest production of the season, yet it was still a decent performance. He has 14 catches for 296 yards on the year but no touchdowns. The latter is a stat Smith would love to rectify against the Falcons on Sunday.
The one thing going for the Panthers is that the emergence of Brandon LaFell is starting to pay dividends as opposing defenses are beginning to take away double-teams from Smith in order to keep all of Newton's receivers in check.
Being a fierce competitor, Smith will look to torch the Atlanta secondary and do what Carolina has been able to do only once, so far, this year—put a lot of points on the scoreboard.
Projection: 6 receptions, 106 yards; 1 TD
The combined efforts of tight end Greg Olsen and wide receiver Brandon LaFell have been beneficial to the Panthers offense and have given the fanbase a little more faith in their ability to produce and score points.
LaFell has shown the team he is very capable of being a complement to Smith and even drew a double-team earlier in the season, allowing Smith to get wide-open.
Olsen had his best game of the year against the Giants and has proven to be a reliable target on short-yardage situations. He is very strong and has the ability to turn a short reception into a long gain. He is averaging 12 yards per catch and is a legitimate threat anywhere on the field.
The production of both of these players will be important because their production, good or bad, will set the tone for the Carolina offense.
LaFell: 4 receptions, 64 yards
Olsen: 5 receptions, 50 yards
There really is no other way to say it. The Carolina defense is awful. The unit is 18th in pass defense and 27th in rushing defense. Linebacker James Anderson leads the team with 29 tackles.
The sack leader for the Panthers is defensive tackle Dwan Edwards who was brought in virtually at the last minute. Charles Godfrey and Jon Beason lead the team with one interception apiece.
The team needs help on this side of the ball, and going against a potent Falcon offense, they will need to step up their game considerably. Nobody should really expect much from the defense, and until the Panthers prove otherwise, it will be a constant liability to the team's chances at winning games.
Charles Johnson: 3 tackles, 1 sack
Greg Hardy: 4 tackles, 1 pass defensed
Dwan Edwards: 4 tackles, 1 sack
Jon Beason: 6 tackles
Luke Kuechly: 4 tackles
James Anderson: 8 tackles, 1 pass defensed
Charles Godfrey: 7 tackles
Josh Norman: 7 tackles, 1 interception
Chris Gamble: 8 tackles, 2 passes defensed
The Panthers have a lot of quality players in backup roles, and while players like LaFell and Tolbert were mentioned in earlier slides, it would be an injustice to leave out notable players who have done their part to keep Carolina somewhat productive. The only thing left is to start translating those efforts into wins.
On offense, Carolina has Louis Murphy and Kealoha Pilares as adequate receivers and reliable options. Pilares has proven to be a decent option in the special teams department and may be seen fielding kicks this weekend. Murphy has been a nice surprise and can make the big play if his number is called.
Murphy: 3 receptions for 24 yards
Pilares: 2 receptions for 15 yards
Defensively, the Panthers seem to have players looking to step up, and it seems, before too long, there will be a change in the guard at certain positions. Defensive end Thomas Keiser has looked to be more effective in the pass rush than Greg Hardy and may be pegged as a starter if Hardy doesn't improve his performance.
Captain Munnerlyn and Thomas Davis are veterans of the defense who are resigned to situational roles.
The key to solving the defensive woes of the Panthers may rest on their depth chart but they are still a long way from fielding a dominant unit.
Keiser: 3 tackles
Davis: 4 tackles, 1 sack
Munnerlyn: 2 tackles