Key Players On Panthers' Defense in Week 8

The Carolina Panthers' defense has been dominant through their first six weeks but have yet to face a prolific passer like Colts' Andrew Luck. These are three players on the defense who will be key to another strong game in front of a prime time audience.

Bene Benwikere

The second-year cornerback has not gotten a great deal of attention this year due to the impressive play of his teammate Josh Norman in the Carolina Panthers defense. However, he has seen his playing time increase as the season has gone on as the coaching staff tries to limit Charles Tillman playing time. The team is trying to keep the veteran fresh and rested as the Panthers' get deeper into the regular season and this means more playing time for Benwikere.

The Panthers will most likely try and put Norman on the Colts' number one wide receiver, T.Y. Hilton, which means Benewikere will see plenty of Andre Johnson and Donte Moncrief on Monday. While opposing quarterbacks try to avoid throwing Norman's direction, this has increased the work for Benwikere who has seen his targets increase from five targets per game in 2014 to 7.2 targets per game this season, according to Pro Football Focus. 

This has resulted in an increase in receptions allowed from 3.4 per game in 2014 to 5.2 per game this season however, Benwikere has improved in limiting the big play as opponents have only averaged 7.9 yards per receptions this year which is down from 10.7 a season ago.

A strong game from Benwikere could make the game that much tougher for Andrew Luck and really limit where he can go with the ball.

Ryan Delaire

Another way to make Andrew Luck's job difficult is a strong pass rush and limit his time in the pocket. If the Panthers can cut down the time Luck has to survey the field, they should be able to limit the Colts' passing attack.

This is where Ryan Delaire comes into the equation as the Panthers' will most likely be without their speed rusher, Mario Addison this week due to a shoulder injury. The defensive end position has looked much better as of late but could struggle with the loss of Addison, who is second on the team in sacks.

This presents an opportunity for Delaire, who has shown speed at the position that the other defensive ends have failed to show. In his first game with the Panthers, Delaire registered two sacks on Bucs' Jameis Winston and for the season has two QB hits and three QB hurries. If the undrafted rookie is able to get pressure off the edge, this should force Luck up into the pocket and hopefully right into Kawann Short, who has been playing incredible football this year.

Star Lotulelei

The last piece for the Panthers to have a dominating performance will be finding a way to shut down the run game of the Colts and this is where Star Lotulelei comes in. As a rookie, Lotulelei was one of the best defensive tackles against the run, seventh best in the NFL at a rating of 12.3 according to Pro Football Focus. He has struggled since then but this could be due in large part to injuries he has battled from an ankle injury midway through last year and a broken foot that he suffered in the playoffs and forced him to miss almost all of training camp.

As the season has gone on though, Lotulelei looks to be getting healthy and playing like he did during his rookie year. The defense has played very well but the one achilles heel this group has right now is stopping the run, where they rank 18th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game (110.0). The Colts may try to establish the run early, especially with how well the Panthers' secondary has been playing, which means a heavy dose of Frank Gore. A strong game from Lotulelei will help stop the Colts efforts on the ground.

Twitter @BrandonCroce.

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