Well, if anyone had 16-0 in the season prediction pool, you lost. Carolina is coming off its worst game of the season and (not surprisingly) its first loss. The Steelers were physical and pushed the Panthers around for most of the game, and a late blunder by Philly Brown meant the door slammed shut on maintaining sole possession of first place in the NFC South.
Protection of the King is of the upmost importance. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports
Perhaps more troubling than the loss was the rack of injuries the Panthers accrued while taking the L. Mike Tolbert, Jonathan Stewart, and Cam Newton were all taken out of the game because of injuries or injury concerns. It isn’t surprising that a Pittsburgh vs Carolina game produced a slew of injuries (Ike Taylor and Jarvis Jones will also miss all or the majority of the remainder of the season with their own ailments).
With all that said, the show must go on, so let’s take a look at the matchups Panthers fans have to look forward to heading into the 1pm kickoff against the Ravens.
Carolina Offensive Line vs Baltimore Defensive Line
Any conversation about the Panthers has to start with the offensive line. After two weeks of surprisingly solid play, they hit a quick 180 and fell apart against Pittsburgh. Byron Bell replaced a retiring Jordan Gross; Gross was one of the best left tackles in the league and his abrupt departure left a hole. The Left Guard soon followed suit, and suddenly the entire left side of the line was new and unfamiliar with one another. In the Steelers game, even former Pro Bowler Ryan Kalil was playing poorly. With Newton ailing, he wasn’t able to extend plays and compensate for missed assignments up front. In addition to the multiple hits on the quarterback, the team only managed 10 rushing yards in the first half; it was a completely inept performance from a unit that’s essential to the offense.
The Ravens defensive line features Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, two of the most accomplished pass rushers in the League. So far Suggs is without a sack, but with Carolina’s porous line, he will look to cause serious trouble. It will be essential for the line to not only pass-block well, but to create running lanes. Having a consistent and effective running game will slow down any pass rush that the Ravens would like to unleash, and keep Newton upright and playing throughout the game. The Ravens are allowing the 8th fewest rushing yards per game in the League, so it will be no small task to get a steady yards per carry to keep the chains moving and the Panthers offense out of obvious passing situations.
Steve Smith vs Everybody
What’s scarier than an ex-player with a grudge? Steve Smith walking his dog. Ok, Smith is (understandably?) upset that Carolina let him go. I still don’t know the reason we got rid of our best Wide Receiver weapon; the idea of pairing him with Kelvin Benjamin is still enticing (it also might’ve been nice to have Ted Ginn back there fielding punts instead of Philly Brown—but I digress). Smith has undoubtedly been looking forward to this game. If Carolina thought he was done, Smith has proved them incredibly wrong. The elder Steve Smith has averaged nearly 100 yards per game and already found the end zone. The secondary is improved from last year. Moreover, Smith is unfamiliar with this group of DBs due to massive turnover in the secondary. Time to ice up, guys.
Mandatory Credit: Ron Schwane-USA TODAY Sports
Carolina vs Health
Last week couldn’t have been good for Superman. He was battered and bruised to the point where he was taken out of the game before it ended. He’s trying to get better in a sport that physically breaks down even the healthiest of players. It’d be great to rely on the running game but DeAngelo Williams listed as “probable” is the healthiest running back with experience on the team (Mike Tolbert was placed on the IR and Fozzy Whitaker and Jonathan Stewart are both questionable with leg injuries).
Add to that the fact that Thomas Davis is questionable with a hip injury, and the Panthers are the walking wounded. Like I said, ice up.
The Panthers are coming off a loss, battling through serious injuries, and going on the road. We’re all going to get a good look at the soul of this team. Let’s hope we like what we find.