In just three days, the Carolina Panthers will face off against the Cincinnati Bengals at home in Bank of America stadium. Carolina heads into the game looking to improve on their .500 record meanwhile the Bengals will look to remain perfect. Kickoff is set for 1:00 p.m. (ET) while being televised exclusively on CBS network. Ahead of the AFC vs. NFC matchup, I’ll break down the five keys in order for the Panthers to come out victorious.
- Slow down A.J. Green
Obviously, this is easier said than done. A.J. Green has been one of the most productive wide receivers ever since he entered the league in 2011. If Carolina is going to have any shot against the red-hot Bengals, the Panthers secondary is going to have to slow Green down. Last week, Green was miraculous as he went on to torch the Baltimore Ravens for three touchdowns on five receptions for 69 yards. With no true star in the Panthers secondary, Carolina is most likely going to have to throw multiple bodies on him including James Bradberry, Donte Jackson, and Captain Munnerlyn. If they can manage to just contain Green to under 100 yards receiving and zero touchdowns, I like the Panthers chances.
2. Produce Turnovers
Carolina comes into this game in the bottom half of the league when it comes to turnovers. Through two games, the Panthers rank No. 18 in producing turnovers. On the year they have just one interception from rookie cornerback Donte Jackson in Week 2 and three forced fumbles while only recovering one. Being able to produce turnovers is the easiest way to jump-start an offense, and that’s exactly what Carolina needs after a poor defensive showing last week. It won’t be easy though as Bengals QB Andy Dalton has protected the ball well, throwing only one pick so far this season. If the Panthers want Dalton to make mistakes the defense will have to get back on track similarly to Week 1 when they had 6.0 sacks.
3. Pound the rock
The Panthers have always been a running team ever since Ron Rivera became Carolina’s head coach. Whether it be Cam Newton or former teammates DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, the Panthers always pounded the rock. Except now, this season particularly, they have gotten away from that. Although Carolina is ranked fifth in the league in team rushing yards, that doesn’t mean they have been all that effective. Cam Newton has and will continue to pose as a running threat, especially on third-downs and redzone opportunities. But I’m not talking about him. Specifically, I want to address the “thunder and lighting” rushing tandem between Christian McCaffrey and C.J. Anderson. So far, The two have not had the type of production the team expected. In two games, McCaffrey has rushed just 18 times for 87 yards and zero touchdowns meanwhile Anderson has rushed for 66 yards on 10 carries and zero touchdowns. Going forward, the team is going to have to run the ball effectively without Newton being their primary rushing leader.
4. Get D.J. Moore the ball in space
The Carolina Panthers selected D.J. Moore as the first wide receiver in the 2018 NFL Draft, taking him No. 24 overall. In doing so, they expected Moore to quickly rise up in the depth chart and produce at a high level. The only problem is, so far, that hasn’t happened. Through two games, while mostly playing in the slot position, Moore has just one catch for 51 yards and a touchdown. Clearly, that is just inexcusable for a first-round talent. Furthermore, even though he only has one catch, its obvious Moore has a lot of playmaking abilities. His only catch was a 20 yard pass from Newton to which he then turned it into six after breaking a tackle and blowing past the Falcons defenders untouched. Either way you look at it, offensive coordinator Norv Turner has to find ways to get Moore the ball.
5. Protect Cam Newton
The Panthers franchise quarterback has been under heavy pressure this season. Rightfully so, that’s what happens when you only have two starting lineman in the lineup. Now, I know Newton is a good scrambler and he knows how to avoid some of the pass rush, but he still needs to have time in the pocket. If the Bengals pass rush can get going early, Newton could be in for a long day similarly to Week 2 where he got sacked twice and threw an interception against the Atlanta Falcons.