Top 3 Individual Matchups
Bills Top 2 Advantages
Good advantage – Pass rush – Although Cam Newton is tough to corral, the Bills constantly morphing defense managed a pair of sacks and seven quarterback hits on Tom Brady despite his quick release.
Best advantage – Passing game – The Panthers have an above average pass rush, but Buffalo’s receiving corps should have success against a secondary that is not deep and lacks elite speed.
Bills Number 1 Must
Pass protection – New England did not blitz
A Star is born
The Panthers finished a respectable 14th against the run in 2012, but head coach Ron Rivera wanted a top 10 run defense. Carolina subsequently took Star Lotulelei with their first pick in the draft (14th overall). They took another defensive tackle in round two in Kawann Short. It’s been Lotulelei that has anchored down what was already an impressive run front. In Week 1, Seattle RB Marshawn Lynch managed just 43 rushing yards against Carolina. In his regular season debut, Lotulelei was disruptive in Seattle’s offensive backfield, registering four tackles including one for loss.
Chunk yardage needed
Much like the Bills, the Panthers were not happy with the lack of big plays in what wound up being a 12-7 loss to Seattle last week. Carolina had just one play that covered more than 20 yards, a 27-yard pass play from Cam Newton to Greg Olsen. They’ve been candid this week in saying they intend to stretch the field, especially with a nicked up cornerback contingent for the Bills.
Carolina’s linebacking crew is among the most athletic in the league. Led by Luke Kuechly, who led the NFL in tackles last season and was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, the second-year middle linebacker is flanked by veterans Jon Beason and Thomas Davis, though Beason is a question mark with a knee injury. Their collective range makes it very difficult for opponents to run wide on the Panthers and convinced the Seahawks that using any read option with Russell Wilson wasn’t worth it. Wilson had five carries for just seven yards.
Carolina has one of the more unheralded pass rush tandems in Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy. The duo combined for 23.5 sacks last season with Johnson logging 12.5 and Hardy a career high of 11. Johnson and Hardy were one of just five tandems in the league where each had 10 sacks or more. Johnson had a sack in Week 1 as the Panthers posted a pair of quarterback takedowns last week on Russell Wilson.
Cam Newton is known as a dual threat quarterback, but he averages just under eight carries per game in his career (7.8). Where Newton makes his runs count are in the red zone. In his first two NFL seasons Newton has scored 22 rushing touchdowns, the first quarterback in league history with at least 20 rushing TDs in his first two seasons. Fifteen of his 22 rushing touchdowns have been six yards or less (68%). Nine have come from a yard out (41%).
Closing the door
They ranked a pedestrian 17th in the league in 2012 in red zone defense, but the Panthers are off to a solid start in 2013. Last week against a good Seattle offense, Carolina held the Seahawks out of the end zone on each of their three red zone trips. They forced a pair of field goals and got a takeaway on a sack and forced fumble by Charles Johnson at the Panthers 18-yard line right before halftime.
Quote of the Week
“If you want to become one of the great players you have to be able to win or lose put that game behind you and move on. I’m not worried about that performance derailing or having an effect on the whole season. It’s just one game. I’ve put that behind me and I’m focused now on another tough task in Carolina.”
Stat of the Week
In his last four games against NFC opponents C.J. Spiller has averaged 5.9 yards per carry.
Milestones in reach
The Panthers have allowed one touchdown or less in three of their last four games dating back to last season.