How the Carolina Panthers Can Beat the Detroit Lions
The bad news for Carolina is that this game means even more to the Lions, who have lost three of four after a 5-0 start. Detroit's recent skid, along with the run the Chicago Bears are making, make this a crucial game for a Lions squad that looked like Green Bay's top challenger in the NFC after five weeks.
Here's how the Panthers can bounce back from their worst loss of the season and make it four losses in five games for Detroit.
Use the Lions' Pass Rush Against Them
Only six teams have recorded more sacks than Detroit, a team that prides itself on the physical play of Ndamukong Suh and the rest of its front seven. With Suh and Newton's former teammate Nick Fairley at defensive tackle, the Lions rush the passer as aggressively as anyone in the league.
Carolina will have to use screen plays and draws to keep Suh and Co. honest and take advantage if and when Detroit's linemen and backers come flying upfield.
In Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, the Panthers have two sure-handed backs that will come in handy in a game in which screen passes and dumpoffs will be necessities.
Most of quarterback Cam Newton's runs usually come when he scrambles downfield on pass plays, but he should call his own number on more quarterback draws than usual today.
It's vital that the Panthers start this one off on the right foot for a number of reasons.
As mentioned in the last slide, one of Detroit's strengths is its ability to pressure quarterbacks. It's vital that Carolina not fall behind today, because if the scoreboard rules out the threat of the run, Newton will be in trouble.
A good start will also be crucial because Ford Field is probably the most intimidating environment the Panthers have played in this season. It's imperative that Carolina makes plays early to keep the crowd quiet.
Detroit's fans helped force the Bears into nine false start penalties earlier in the season, so anyone who doubts the impact a crowd can have needs to find the tape of Detroit's Monday night romp over the Bears in Week 5.
The Panthers fell behind 14-0 in the first quarter a week ago against Tennessee and never recovered. The last thing they need to is find themselves in another early hole, fighting both a deficit and a feeling of deja vu.
Make Somebody Besides Megatron Beat You Through the Air
Quick, name Detroit's second receiver. It's not easy, is it?
Calvin Johnson is arguably the best wide receiver in the league, but after that, quarterback Matthew Stafford's other options are less than imposing. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew has had a big year, but it's nevertheless hard to imagine a big day for the Detroit offense if Johnson is contained.
But if anything in this slide show is easier said than done, it's stopping Johnson.
Cornerback Chris Gamble has manned up against a number of top wideouts this season, but I think expecting him to lock up Megatron is a bit too much to ask. Whether they have to use zone coverage, multiple defenders or something else that doesn't occur to me, the Panthers should go to any length necessary to make somebody besides Johnson beat them.
No team knows better than Carolina—which becomes a completely different offensive team when Steve Smith is taken away—how hard it is to win when a dominant pass catcher is unable to get open.
The Panthers need to help Detroit understand that feeling today.
Get out of Your Own Way
Only the Oakland Raiders have been more penalized than the Panthers, who have made precious little progress since the season opener toward avoiding mistakes.
And it's not just penalties with this team. Last week was the third time Carolina allowed a punt return for a touchdown.
If Carolina can make the opponent beat it on offense and defense, without the help of penalties, great field position or non-offensive touchdowns, its chances will improve tremendously.