The Carolina Panthers look start the season 3-0 and keep sole control of the NFC South, as they take on a Pittsburgh Steelers team that is trying to bounce back from a mediocre 6 point offensive performance against the Baltimore Ravens last Sunday.
What to watch for
The Steelers are very defensive minded and have pass rushers that can come at you from all different directions. Look for a lot of blitz packages using Troy Polamalu and their first round pick Ryan Shazier. If the Panthers want to expose the defense, Cam Newton will have to throw the ball deep to his receivers to keep the Steelers defense honest. Look for Mario Addison and Kony Ealy to step up and have a break out performance in place of the inactive Greg Hardy.
Key Match ups
Kelvin Benjamin vs. Ike Taylor- This seems like it will be a very physical matchup between a 6-5 receiver and a 6-2 cornerback. Benjamin will have his toughest task yet as Taylor has 11 more years of experience that the rookie. While Ike Taylor is clearly the more experienced out of the two, Benjamin has less wear and tear on his body and can catch the ball at its highest point over Taylor. Benjamin will have to use that 6-5 frame and limit his drops if he wants to win this matchup.
Antonie Cason vs. Antonio Brown- Cason couldn’t have pictured a better start to his career as a Carolina Panther than his 2 forced fumbles and 1 interception performance throughout the first 2 weeks. His natural ball-hawking instinct has boosted a secondary that many thought were just a product of their great defensive front. Brown, who led the NFL in catches last year, is no “Megatron” or Vincent Jackson height wise; but the 5-10 receiver is a solid route runner who can get himself open enough to make the catch. Cason needs to jam him off the line to create timing problems between Brown and Ben Roethlisberger.
Panthers Front Seven vs. Le’Veon Bell- Luke Kuechly and company will have their hands full with one of the best dual threat running backs in the NFL. In just 2 games, Bell has 168 rushing and 136 receiving yards and has proven to be Big Ben’s “go-to” when teams send blitz packages. The Panthers defense will have to be constantly aware of where Bell is at and keep from getting to the outside so the speedster doesn’t break out for a long run.
Jericho Cotchery- In his first matchup against his former team, Cotchery will play a big role in a Panthers victory. He knows how the Steeler defense works after going up against them in practice every day for the last three years, and will use that experience to create big play opportunities. Stat Line: 8 catches, 99 yards, 1 touchdown
Final Score Prediction
It will be a defensive struggle in the beginning, but the Panthers will come alive in the second half using the crowd to fuel them.
Final: Carolina 20 Pittsburgh 10