Sun, Nov 13 vs. Tennessee Titans
The Titans have been granted their comeuppance a little sooner than the Carolina Panthers have, and their confidence is spilling throughout the games they are playing. The problem with the Titans’ success is that it has come even though they are missing their key component coming into the season.
Chris Johnson’s offensive absence has definitely allowed Tennessee to build an offense that does not include him, but they are going to need every ounce of offensive strength necessary to win this game against the Panthers at home.
In Week 8, against the Minnesota Vikings, the Vikings' fiercest moments were with Adrian Peterson bursting through lanes to get big yards. Right after Newton’s fumble, with the Panthers up 14-7, Minnesota was lined up at the Panthers’ 19. Christian Ponder went for the fake hand-off to Peterson, and while three linemen were chasing him down, Peterson was left unguarded for the short pass.
The result? The Vikings tied the game. The defense was too aggressive and the Vikings were able to expose that, as the linemen had already penetrated too far to stop the short pass.
You could also look at how Minnesota got after Cam Newton defensively to figure out how the Panthers were beaten with home field advantage, not to mention they were the favorites.
However, the Titans do not have a single signature win on their schedule to make anyone believe the team is prepared and stacked enough defensively to stop all of the weapons that are at Newton’s disposal.
Their wins have come against Baltimore’s one-dimensional (during that specific meeting) offense, where Chris Johnson was the lead rusher with only 53 yards. Baltimore’s defense was so hell-bent on stopping any opportunity Johnson had at the line of scrimmage that Matt Hasselbeck was allowed to have his way in the air.
Hasselbeck finished the game with 358 passing yards and a TD. The Titans defense definitely did get after Flacco in that meeting, while forcing three turnovers, including two interceptions.
Against a mobile quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger, the Titans’ defense was more than mildly unsuccessful. Big Ben was only sacked once, and barely grazed throughout the rest of the game.
The pressures from Tennessee’s defense were down, and Roethlisberger was operating on one foot, almost limping around during the entire game. The Panthers, with at least average play at pass protection, should not be concerned with the Titans’ pass rush defense. Tennessee will have their hands full with Cam Newton, as he has shown that he can be accurate on the run and convert on third downs with his arm.
Third down conversions were the main reason why the Titans lost their contest against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Newton will have another field day, and Steve Smith will be hounded with attention, which will add to the reasons why the Panthers will rout the Titans. There are so many receiving options on the field that the Titans' defense’s heads will spin. The Panthers will also thoroughly trump the running game, and DeAngelo Williams will put up big numbers.
CAR 30, TENN 13
Sun, Nov 20 @ Detroit Lions
This will be a huge test for Carolina’s offensive line, as Detroit’s front four has had a huge impact on how offenses function through four quarters of the game. Ndamukong Suh, a man-eater at his best, will be head-hunting and have his eyes locked in on Cam Newton, unless his meeting with the commissioner prompts any changes in the way he plays defense.
Newton has had the pleasure of escaping a broken pocket when the defense pierces gaps in the O-line. But in this game he will undoubtedly have to unload the ball a lot quicker than he has been forced to in the past. Newton will still be effective, but will not be allowed the cushion of his athleticism.
On Detroit’s end, the defense must bring down the ball carrier. The Denver Broncos have a rushing game that solely relies on the efforts of Willis McGahee. Without him in the starting lineup against the Lions, the Broncos were not able to expose Detroit’s willingness to excuse the running back that is carrying the ball for the sake of taking off the quarterback’s head.
Against the Atlanta Falcons, a game that Detroit had every opportunity to win, the Falcons regained their identity and put the pedal to the metal in Mike Turner’s favor. The Lions missed twelve tackles against Atlanta, eleven of which were from starters.
Detroit missed a huge stop against rookie running back Jacquizz Rodgers, who picked up the first down during the play to solidify the win for the Dirty Birds.
It took a moment for Williams to fall into line with the direction of Carolina’s offense, but he seems ready and willing to fulfill his responsibilities. If he slacks off, Jonathan Stewart is man enough to take over at the position. Both are very powerful players, and the Detroit Lions will have a lot on their plate containing either one. Detroit’s rush defense is subpar, and adjustments must be made before they go into the contest.
Carolina’s defense, on the other hand, has not been aggressive enough to shut out, or at least temporarily shut down, NFL offenses. Peterson’s success should mirror that concept. As a whole, there must be improvement. But Matthew Stafford’s offensive line should be tightening up at the line of scrimmage to combat the kind of game Greg Hardy might have again.
Against the Minnesota Vikings, Hardy had a pair of batted passes, a hit and three pressures. If the Panthers’ secondary is able to lock up Detroit’s receivers and run Calvin Johnson off of his routes, Stafford will have a hard time adapting.
When being forced to get out of the pocket and make decisions on the run, any quarterback in the league struggles to make that big play that the Lions’ offense is known for.
The biggest telltale of all will be the Detroit Lions’ crowd. If the fans are willing, they could provide just the noise to shake the rookie’s psyche or force a few false starts from Carolina’s offensive line.
DET 25, CAR 13
Sun, Nov 27 @ Indianapolis Colts
The Indianapolis Colts have not impressed anyone on either side of the ball, and regardless of what the players say, the drought will not be broken this season. Peyton Manning was the franchise, and without him, the offense cannot function and the defense is playing very poorly.
Sure, Curtis Painter gives Indy a slight chance at success, but it is a very small margin. Without pressure, Painter could be mistaken for a gem in disguise. With pressure, he looks like he is headed for a consistent role in the league as a non-factor.
The Indianapolis Colts can keep the pressure off of him for a short while. But keeping him steadfast long enough so that he will read the field well enough to keep the ball away from Carolina’s Chris Gamble will be too much to ask.
Gamble has emerged as the Panthers’ shut-down corner, covering any opponents’ leading receiver. The DB held Larry Fitzgerald, one of the league’s most prolific receivers, to only three catches for 62 yards.
The Panthers also have Captain Munnerlyn (yes, his name really is Captain) to lock down the other side of the field. Not that the Panthers’ secondary has to do much in the event of Indy’s receivers. Once upon a time, the Colts’ receivers were in high regard.
They were mentioned in the conversation of some of the best the league had to offer. Now, without Peyton Manning, Pierre Garcon and Reggie Wayne are forced to forge their own identities with an inexperienced quarterback. Fortunately for the Colts’ race for Andrew Luck in the 2012 NFL Draft, they are failing.
As far as the Colts’ defense is concerned, there are extremely talented players that remain on the roster from the 2009 Super Bowl team. It is not as if the team cannot make stops or create turnovers.
The coaching staff, namely defensive coordinator Larry Doyer, is not putting them in the position necessary to take risks or shift the momentum in the game. After a few rough games, the Colts were expected to bounce back in some fashion, although they were still without their leading man.
Now that nothing has seemed to work in their favor, the coaching staff is not even attempting to switch the way they attack the game.
Carolina’s offense needs to play as they have been and everything will go over quite smoothly. The obliteration of the sloppy blocking and the risqué penalties is needed, but with minor errors, there is no reason the Panthers should lose this game.
CAR 27, IND 10