Depth at Cornerback
The top concern for the Carolina Panthers has to be the cornerback position. The team suffered two season ending injuries to two of their top three, losing Bene Benwikere and Charles Tillman in the final four weeks of the season.
They found quality replacements though in veterans Cortland Finnegan and Robert McClain. Both have played well in limited action and Rivera is confident in these two heading into Sunday's game. The concern though has to lie in the inexperience behind them.
Last week, the Panthers called up Louis Young to replace Charles Tillman on the roster and he will be the primary backup along with Teddy Williams. These two players though have combined to play a total of 52 snaps in a regular season game, all snaps by Williams.
The Panthers' may not have any concerns about playing them though as both know the defense well, with Young being on the practice squad since last year and Williams joining the team in the offseason as a free agent. It is tough to know though how a player is going to respond if his number is called in a playoff game with limited to no NFL experience.
Steady Pass Rush
After 13 games, the Panthers' defense had 40 sacks and were averaging just over three sacks per game. The pass rush fell off significantly over the final three weeks though with four total sacks and only one coming from the defensive end position, Mario Addison.
In their first matchup against the Seahawks, the Panthers were constantly getting pressure on Russell Wilson with four sacks and seven QB hits. The pressure though didn't come from the defensive end position but more from Kawann Short who had two sacks and the second level with Thomas Davis registering a sack.
One of the ways the Panthers can take pressure off the banged up secondary would be by reducing the time Wilson has in the pocket. The less time he has to work through his progression in the pocket will only increase the potential for mistakes by Wilson which the defense can capitalize on.
Protect Cam Newton
Over the last three games, the Panthers' offensive line has struggled to protect Cam Newton and he was sacked on average three times per game which is an increase from 1.8 sacks per game over the first 13 weeks. He was sacked at least three times in two of the final three games while only sacked three or more times twice in the first 13 games.
One of those three sack games over the first part of the season was against the Seahawks with Bruce Irvin leading the way with two of the three sacks.
This may not be as big of a concern as the other two listed above and the offensive line has been much improved from a season ago. However, the Panthers' coaching staff needs to be aware of the Seahawks pass rush and one way to slow them down may be to run the ball more. The team is expected to get Jonathan Stewart back this week and if they can establish the run early, it can slow the pass rush down just enough to give Newton the time in the pocket he needs to make the throw.