There may not be a hotter name in the NFL right now than Carolina Panthers’ cornerback Josh Norman. The fourth year player has been playing at an incredibly high level and is currently rated as the fifth best cornerback in the league according to Pro Football Focus.
Already this season, Norman has 10 tackles, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and an interception returned for a touchdown. Against the Texans, he was given the responsibility of shutting down DeAndre Hopkins and only allowed him to catch five passes on 11 targets for 53 yards.
In Week 3, Norman is going to have keep speedy wide receiver Brandin Cooks quiet, which is not an easy task. The second wide receiver is incredibly athletic but has struggled in 2015 with only nine receptions for 111 yards. If Norman is able to contain Cooks, it is going to severely hinder their passing game whether it is Drew Brees under center or Luke McCown.
This probably will be a different looking Saints offense in Week 3 than in year’s past. Generally, it has been an explosive offense thanks to the arm of Drew Brees. However, with Brees’ nursing a shoulder injury the team could look to rely on their running backs, Mark Ingram and C.J. Spiller. Relying on Ingram worked well for the Saints the last time they came to visit Bank of America Stadium as he ran for 100 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
If the Panthers hope to stop this running attack, they will need outside linebacker Thomas Davis to have a strong performance. As expected, Davis has filled up the stat sheet with 15 tackles, one interception, one sack and two passes defended. However, the veteran linebacker struggled against the run last week against the Texans according to Pro Football Focus’ rating of -2.0.
It is important to note that this was the same game that the defense was missing Luke Kuechly. If the star middle linebacker is not able to go again, the Panthers’ defense will need a better performance from Davis against what should be a run-heavy offensive attack from the Saints.
One of the biggest struggles for this offense has been protecting Drew Brees. Through the first two games, the Saints offensive line has allowed six sacks. That is already a 1/5 of the team’s 2014 total of sacks given up. Meanwhile, the Panthers’ pass rush has really struggled, so this could be a great opportunity for them to get things going.
It is going to have to start with their top guy in Charles Johnson. The former Georgia Bulldog missed the entire preseason with injuries but was able to grab a sack in Week 1 against the Jacksonville Jaguars. He has missed practice on Wednesday and Thursday with a hamstring injury but it would be surprising to not see him on the field this week.
Johnson has been as consistent as they come at pass rushing and currently ranks in near the Top 5 in sacks among active players. A steady pass rush from Johnson will be the final piece for a dominant defensive performance in Week 3.
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