Thursday night, primetime, the 6-2 Carolina Panthers will take on the 5-2-1 Pittsburgh Steelers in Heinz field. The Steelers are looking to remain at the top of the AFC North while the Panthers are trying to takeover the number one spot currently being held by the Saints. Pittsburgh is currently a four point favorite, but the game will be a challenge for both teams.
Carolina is strong both offensively and defensively. Cam Newton is at almost 2,000 yards so far for the season, with 15 TDs and only four interceptions. He has an average QB rating of 100.8 with 67.3% completion. Not only is Cam excelling in the pass game, he is also the team’s second leading rusher with 342 yards and four touchdowns. Combined with Christian McCaffrey’s 502 yards rushing, the Panthers are second in the league for rush yards per game. And while their rush game is strong, their pass game is a little less. They are 24th in the league in pass yards per game, putting their overall yardage per game rank at 13th. Defensively, they are fourth in the league for interceptions with 11 so far, whereas their opponents have only taken away four interceptions. Their rush defense is also 8th in the league, allowing an average of only 94.1 per game, which will be a key against the Steelers.
James Conner is second in the league in rush yards with 706 and nine TDs. The big key for the Steelers will be to get Conner started quickly and to solidify the run game against Carolina’s strong rush defense. Ben Roethlisberger, with an average of 320 pass yards a game, should be able to blow past Carolina’s secondary. Roethlisberger’s big concern, though, will be the interception rate of the Panther defense. Ben has seven interceptions so far this season with 16 TDs. He has made many mistakes that have turned the tides for the team. Another big key for the Steelers will be their blitz game. The Steelers are fourth in the league in sacks, and with how often Cam Newton scrambles in and out of the pocket, the chances of the defensive line getting to him are high.
The big benefit that the Steelers have is that they are home, however so far this season they are 2-2 at home. Both teams are coming off a substantial win streak, the Steelers at four games and the Panthers are at three. If the Panthers want to pull out this win, they need to contain Conner on the ground and stifle Ben’s passing game. They also need to exploit the weakness in the Steelers’ secondary and throw the ball deep down the field. On the other hand, if the Steelers want to come away with the victory, they need to blitz Cam and get a few sacks. And like previously stated, they need to give Conner the ball and keep the offensive line strong against the Panthers rush defense to allow him to get big yardage like he’s clearly capable of. Either way, this game is sure to be action-packed and exciting both offensively and defensively for both teams.