An epic showdown between NFC powerhouses will take place on Sunday in Charlotte, NC as the unbeaten Panthers will face off against the one-loss Packers.
Carolina’s wild win on Monday night has them with a zero in the loss column and Green Bay’s beat-down loss to Denver ended their undefeated start and knocked them to number two in the conference.
This matchup with the Packers will be the biggest of the season for Carolina as a lot is on the line in terms of playoff seeding and home field advantage and a win against a top team like the Packers would only further their impressive start to this season.
Here’s what to watch for in this battle between the NFC’s number one versus number two.
Handling Mr. Rodgers
The number one aspect that will determine the outcome of this game is how the Carolina defense fares against one of the league’s best quarterbacks, Aaron Rodgers. The Packers’ offense has not been as prolific as usual and ranks just 28th in the league in total offense. Rodgers and the passing game recently haven’t been able to get much going and the impact of Jordy Nelson's absence has been evident. Luckily for the Panthers, they have the secondary to make life difficult for Rodgers and his wide receivers. Josh Norman, Charles Tillman and Bene Benwikere will once again be called upon to shut down wide outs Randall Cobb and James Jones and will need to be at their best against a top gunslinger like Rodgers. The pass rush last week was almost nonexistent after about the first quarter and that cannot be the case this week if Carolina wants to take this one. Denver’s defense gave Green Bay the most trouble and is the best in the league and following their ‘blueprint’ isn’t as easy as it may seem. But a Carolina defense that ranks as one of the top units itself must find a way to shut down the receivers and fluster Rodgers.
Offensive Line Issues
The offensive line has been one of the best surprises this year in Carolina ranking as one of the highest performing units in the league with a cast dominated by relatively no-name talemnt. Recently, the group took a hit as veteran leader and center Ryan Kalil and left guard Andrew Norwell have been afflicted with injuries. Kalil was inactive last week with an ankle sprain and Norwell left the game early in the first quarter with a hamstring injury. Kalil has already said he is good to go for Sunday but Norwell has officially been ruled out meaning backup Amini Silatolu will get the start. The absence of these two starters was certainly felt last week in the run game, a staple of the Carolina offense, and against a more imposing front seven like Green Bay’s they will need to be as close to full strength as possible. Clay Matthews will be their biggest concern as he has only gotten better since moving to inside linebacker and now can wreak havoc in a variety of ways from all over. The line will have their hands full come Sunday but even just having Kalil will be a big difference maker.
Deciphering the Defense
Consistency has been the trademark of Cam Newton and the Panthers’ offense this year but it hasn’t all been good. They’ve had a number of key drives where they look impressive with Newton making pre-snap reads and marching his team down the field but other times they struggle to move the ball. The Packers’ defense is an interesting one. Overall, they’ve done well this season but recently have allowed some big yardage and are ranked just 23rd in total defense. The secondary specifically has struggled at times and cornerbacks Sam Shields and Quinten Rollins may not play due to injuries which would be a big hit. Defensive Coordinator (and former Panthers’ head coach) Dom Capers also throws a lot of different schemes and alignments out on the field that will make Newton’s reads even more critical. The receivers as always will need to get open and make the necessary catches but tight end Greg Olsen should be looked at often as he could be able to find solid separation against this defense. Offensive performance is always a key for Carolina but despite their shakiness at times, Newton has done a good job decoding the defense and putting up points.