The Panthers have not fared well against AFC North teams this season having been blown out by both the Steelers and the Ravens. As they try to avoid falling to 0-3 against the division, they will have to jump its highest hurdle in the Cincinnati Bengals. When the Panthers visit Cincinnati on Sunday afternoon they will do so with decimated positions on both sides of the ball. The injury bug continues to bite hard in Carolina, but Cincinnati has proven not to be immune themselves. The injury report looks gloomy for both teams as they both head into this Sunday’s match-up in search of a win that will keep their season rolling in the right direction.
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In what has seemed redundant all season this week features both good and bad news in this group. Earlier this week TE/FB Richie Brockel was moved to IR with an ankle injury. Brockel was filling in for FB duties in the absence of Mike Tolbert, who will be out until November. The loss of Brockel creates a bit of an issue for the Panthers in running sets that feature a full back. It will be interesting to see how they adjust to this change in line up. The good news is that Jonathan Stewart is closer to returning. He is listed as questionable for this weekend but we will most likely see him sit out another week for precautionary reasons; much like Fozzy Whittaker was treated last week although Stewart probably won’t suit up for the game. There is a good chance we will see more of Whittaker after having another week to recuperate. Darrin Reaves has been nicked up with a hip injury but he is probable for the game. DeAngelo Williams of course is out but has had the cast removed from his sprained ankle. His return is a matter of eventuality.
Guess whose back?
When these guys grouped together at practice on Tuesday they suddenly understood what the running backs felt like following a Chicago game that saw two of their teammates go down. Josh Norman put it all on the line to make an impressive one on one stop of Matt Forte at the line of scrimmage during the game last Sunday. It was awful seeing him lay on the field afterwards with a shoulder injury and concussion, but he made a play he can be proud of. Norman is now going through league concussion protocol and his return is simply a matter of time. Bene Benwikere has been a terrific rookie addition to the team but after twisting his ankle on Sunday he has been ruled out for this weekend. The team resigned James Dockery to serve as an emergency back up in their absence. Having played with the Panthers before, Dockery knows the playbook and should be able to step right in if his number is called. Charles Godfrey will serve as top option at nickleback, but with A.J. Green out for the game the Panthers may not use as many nickle packages.
The Panthers stayed in a nickle package for the majority of the game against Chicago in an effort to thwart their aggressive passing attack. It worked, obviously, but this weekend will be different. The Panthers are likely to face a heavy dose of running and we will see more of A.J. Klein and Chase Blackburn. The Panthers will need everything they can get out of DE Charles Johnson who is expected to play but listed as questionable for the game. Johnson is great against the run but continues to play through a troublesome hip flexor injury that has bothered him all season. His hip will surely be tested against the quickness of Giovani Bernard. Johnson played well despite the injury last week and hopefully can do the same this weekend.
Oct 5, 2014; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers outside linebacker Thomas Davis (58) is introduced before the game at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Davis is listed as probable for the game with an elbow injury. It should be of limited concern as he proved to be a significant difference maker last week while playing through injuries. Davis played every single defensive snap against Chicago and recorded eight tackles. Davis is more than a great linebacker but a great leader on the field. His presence in the huddle and in the heat of the moment will enhance the play of the entire defense.
Listed as questionable for the game with an ankle injury but expected to play. Olsen injured his ankle during the game this past Sunday but returned to the field and continued to produce. Catching 6 passes for 72 yards and 2 touchdowns against the team that drafted him and traded him to Carolina.
Oct 5, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green (18) fumbles the ball under pressure from New England Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis (24) during the second quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Green has been ruled out with a toe injury that saw him carted off the field during practice this week and currently has him in a walking boot. The top playmaker on the team being unavailable certainly changes the strategy for both the Bengals and Panthers. Green is a tremendous threat when on the field and his absence will be felt by the Bengals offensively. If that wasn’t bad enough the potential availability of fellow WR Marvin Jones is in question too. Jones is questionable for the game with an ankle injury. It should be kept in mind that the Bengals are deep at receiver and the absence of Green or Jones shouldn’t be taken for granted. Andy Dalton has been having a great season and is easily capable of adjusting to the personnel he has on hand.
The stud linebacker will return to the field for the first time after missing the last two game because he hit someone so hard he gave himself a concussion. Burfict is a difference maker for the Bengals defense and his presence on the field Sunday will boost their play. He has great blitzing capability so we can only hope that with another week having passed, Cam Newton might be more mobile.
The starting RG is listed as doubtful for the game with a calf injury. This leaves the burden of blocking the likes of Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short to second year linemen T.J. Johnson. Johnson has filled that spot well enough in Zeitler’s absence but this will will be challenging for the young man. The Bengals will look to take advantage of a Panthers’ D that is suddenly susceptible to the run and it will be up to Johnson to open holes for the running game.
Both teams will be feeling the adversity presented by injuries this weekend, but both of these teams still have a lot of fight in them. The Panthers grinded out a big win last weekend and the Bengals are looking to bounce back after an embarrassing loss on prime time television Monday night. When the whistle blows at 1 PM on Sunday, both sides will be hungry for a win. The Panthers continue to go into games black and blue but they know how to KEEP POUNDING and they will show up in Cincinnati ready to roll come game time.