3 critical matchups that will decide Carolina Panthers vs. Colts in Week 9

Time to start building momentum...
C.J. Henderson
C.J. Henderson / Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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C.J. Henderson vs. Josh Downs

The Indianapolis Colts may be without their top pick from 2023 after quarterback Anthony Richardson was ruled out for the season with a shoulder issue. But there is another rookie to keep an eye on.

The Colts have been looking for that true top target that simply hasn't been there over the last few years. It looks like they may have finally found it in Josh Downs.

Downs is not the fastest player on the field - or the biggest. Not by a long shot. But the young wideout has proven that he can make an impact.

For a rookie wide receiver to have multiple games over 70 yards on an offense that has struggled at times to move the ball through the air is accomplishment enough. But Downs also turned in a masterful performance to the tune of 125 yards against a fairly stout Cleveland Browns defense that most have heralded as one of the league's best.

Downs can blow a game open if afforded enough space. That is exactly what this Carolina Panthers defense doesn't need right now.

C.J. Henderson will likely get the call to cover Downs more often than not. That isn't necessarily as scary a prospect as it has been in the past. The often-maligned cornerback has turned in some solid performances in relief of Jaycee Horn, who is still sidelined by injury.

However, Henderson has still shown those struggles against faster opponents - especially double moves. This is exactly what Downs relies upon to get open down the field.

This game may begin and end with the run. But it will live and die with the coverage of Downs.