3 critical factors that will decide Carolina Panthers game at Lions in Week 5

After an 0-4 start to the season, this game may dictate how the Panthers operate the rest of the way.

Bryce Young
Bryce Young / Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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Carolina Panthers OL must step up against Aidan Hutchinson

It is no secret that the performance of former top-10 pick Ikem Ekwonu has been one of the biggest disappointments for the Carolina Panthers this season. The left tackle ranks second in the entire league in penalties and has struggled mightily at protecting Bryce Young in both the preseason and over the early stages of 2023.

Outside of Ekwonu, the Panthers are still missing veteran Austin Corbett. Chandler Zavala has allowed the most quarterback pressures of any guard in football, and he leads that statistic by double the amount of second place.

In short, it has been a struggle for the Panthers' offensive line. To make matters worse, one of the most fierce pass rushers in all of football will be across the line of scrimmage this weekend.

Star defensive end Aidan Hutchinson is the most lethal weapon the Detroit Lions have had since the Megatron days. He can and will shut down the Carolina offense single-handedly if they let him.

One of the top tasks for Frank Reich, offensive coordinator Thomas Brown, and offensive line coach James Campen will be preparing the protection for his explosiveness. They must come up with a game plan that gets the ball out of Young's hands quickly.

Young has not performed well under pressure so far - very few rookie quarterbacks do. If he is consistently under duress from a rusher as fast as Hutchinson, the Panthers offense might as well say goodnight. Carolina's top offensive priority must be getting eyes on No. 97.

The Panthers will need good games out of both Ekwonu and Taylor Moton, while also preventing Hutchinson from penetrating the interior of the line with stunts, spin moves, and positional movement. If they can keep him in check, they have a legitimate shot against a Lions secondary that is missing starting safety Brian Branch.