By Christina Rivers
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton appears to have overcome the issues that hindered him during the NFL preseason and stepped back into his role of fearless leader. On Sunday, Newton orchestrated a game in which he threw for 281 yards and a touchdown and scrambled for 19 yards on four carries against the Detroit Lions, pushing the Panthers to 2-0 for the first time since the 2008 NFL season. After coming out slowly, Newton completed 22 of 34 passes despite being sacked five times. With Newton back in form, the Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1), coming off of a disappointing loss to the Baltimore Ravens, will need to keep the Panthers honest in every aspect of their play, challenging with all healthy personnel.
Newton was rusty due to a rib injury and a surgically-repaired ankle during the offseason, but didn’t back down from the Lions. Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said of Newton following the Lions game, “The thing that I’m pleased with is once (Cam) got the rust off he settled down and made some really good decisions.” Newton’s teammates on defense welcomed the challenge that Detroit threw at them. With four sacks against Matthew Stafford, the Panthers added three takeaways and held Detroit scoreless in the first half. Without Greg Hardy, Mario Addison added an exclamation mark with 2.5 sacks. Cornerback Antoine Cason recorded ten tackles, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
The Steelers looked completely lost in their week two loss to the Baltimore Ravens on the road and will need to have taken advantage of the extra time to prepare for Newton and company. Newton has the capability to get the ball anywhere on the football field, which puts extra pressure on the Steelers’ ailing defense. To combat Newton’s arm and his ability to scramble to keep the play going, the Steelers will need to mix pass-rush schemes effectively with the nickle and dime defenses. After hearing from fans that it’s time for him to retire, Dick LeBeau will most likely focus on fundamentals of his defense to combat areas that were taken advantage of by Joe Flacco.
The Steelers will need better pass protection for Ben Roethlisberger if they want to control the pace of the game and the clock. Marcus Gilbert was the offensive lineman that appeared to struggle the most against Baltimore’s pass rush. Offensive line coach Mike Munchak will need to address what Greg Hardy can bring if the Panthers allow him to play against the Steelers after he was benched just before the opening kickoff against Detroit for legal issues he faces related to domestic abuse – a sore subject in the NFL, particularly during week two. Munchak will need the line to be prepared for Addison as well. If Roethlisberger can’t find a cushion, the Steelers offense will suffer.
Statistically, Carolina has a much better run defense than Pittsburgh does this season. The Panthers have held their opponents to just 86.0 average yards-per-game, earning a seventh place spot in the league. That bodes poorly for the Steelers who will most likely use the combo of Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount with fullback Will Johnson in place of injured Dri Archer for their run attack. The Steelers don’t necessarily have to get creative, they just need to execute. They can push the run to keep the Panthers’ defensive backfield in over-pursuit and then use the pass to create yards and put points on the board.
Stafford attributed the Lions’ loss to Carolina to missed opportunities and turnovers. The Steelers should use that information as motivation to protect the ball, get back to fundamental football and take control of the game before it gets away from them. Pittsburgh was guilty of not playing to their own standard against Baltimore and if they want to win against Carolina, they will need to go above and beyond that standard.
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Christina Rivers has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers and National Football League professionally as a reporter and photographer for over a decade. Rivers studied exercise physiology and sports psychology at Brigham Young University as a student-athlete. Christina is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. Her work can be found on