Football preview: Panthers at Packers

Carolina Panthers

CHARLOTTE, S.C. (WSPA) – The Carolina Panthers will take on an NFC North opponent for the second time in three weeks when they head to Green Bay to take on the top-seeded Packers Saturday night at Lambeau Field. 

Carolina 

The Panthers have had a rough go since beginning the season 3-2. They’ve dropped seven of their last eight games, and seven of their losses this season have come by eight points or less. Carolina has certainly been involved in its share of close games, but a positive result has been elusive. 

There was optimism that running back Christian McCaffrey would be returning to the lineup this week, but once again the Panthers will be without its offensive star. McCaffrey has started just three games in 2020, most recently in week nine before suffering a shoulder injury. Mike Davis is in line for a heavy workload as he makes his eleventh start of the season. Davis has totaled at least 70 yards from scrimmage in each of the last three games, and has been routinely involved as a receiver out of the backfield as well. 

Bridgewater is coming off of one of his more efficient performances as he completed 30 of 40 passes for 283 yards against the Broncos. He didn’t throw a touchdown or interception in the game, but did run for a score and led the team on two pivotal scoring drives in the second half. They trailed 25-10 in third, and had a chance at a game-winning drive with under two minutes left. Despite the loss, there have been positives to come out of this season, and Bridgewater’s efficiency as well as chemistry with the receiving corps has been a plus. The Panthers are going to need another productive outing from their quarterback on Saturday as they get ready to take on one of the most explosive offenses in all of football. 

On defense, the team has shown improvement throughout the year, especially against the run. After allowing over 115 yards rushing in each of the first five games, the Panthers have given up one hundred yards just once in the last five. Rookie Jeremy Chinn has proved to be a great selection by Rhule and company, and it’s clear they have some building blocks for the future. As it pertains to this week’s matchup with Green Bay, it’s going to be one of their biggest tasks of the season. 

MAN OF THE YEAR: The Panthers recently nominated linebacker Shaq Thompson as their candidate for ‘NFL Man of the Year’ after he provided meals to healthcare workers and relief to families with unstable housing in the Charlotte area. Head Coach Matt Rhule talked about Thompson’s candidacy and the importance of the award, especially with all the obstacles that presented themselves in 2020, in the video below: 

Green Bay

The Panthers have faced some dynamic offenses this season in Kansas City, Tampa Bay, Arizona, New Orleans etc. But the Packers are humming as of late. They’ve scored at least 30 points in five of their last six games. And they’re second in the league, behind only the Chiefs, in total yards this season. 

Of course it begins with future hall of fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He’s among the leading contenders for NFL MVP and is on pace to set career highs in completion percentage, touchdowns and yards. And he’s within range of his career high 122.5 passer rating from 2011. So far this season Rodgers has completed 69.6% of his passes for 3,685 yards and 39 touchdowns to just four interceptions. 

Even though running back Aaron Jones isn’t having as prolific of a season as he did a year ago, at least in terms of touchdowns, he still provides the team with great balance on offense. The fourth-year Packers is registering over five yards per carry and is a reliable three down player. In addition to his impact on the ground, Jones has 38 catches for 285 yards and a couple touchdowns through the air. He’s a well-rounded high-motor back that’s tough to bring down. And Jamaal Williams is one of the better backups in the league. He’s utilized far more often than most number two running backs, and for good reason. He’s also dangerous through the air and on the ground, and provides fresh legs for consistent production every drive. While Carolina has been better against the run lately, it’s going to have its hands full with this backfield. 

Davante Adams headlines the receivers. He’s one of the best in the league with a rare blend of size, speed, and exceptional route-running. At 6’1” 215 lbs he’s able to go toe to toe with physical corners at the line of scrimmage, and has the strength to win 50/50 contested catch battles. He, too, is having a career year. He’s already set a career high with 14 touchdown catches, and is just over two hundred yards away from his best mark of 1,386 yards. He’s been Rodgers’ go-to target for years, but he’s being even more effective with his targets in 2020. So far this season, Adams has a 75% catch rate, ten percentage points higher than his next-best season. Tight end Robert Tonyan has become a fan favorite in Green Bay and is a big red zone threat. His nine touchdowns this season ties Travis Kelce with the most among the position.

On defense, their leading tackles come from the safety positions. Free safety Adrian Amos leads the team with 62 total tackles. He’s a solid hybrid safety that can contribute significantly in the run game. And they’ll blitz him every now and then as well. They’ve taken a big step back at linebacker with the loss of Blake Martinez, but outside linebacker/edge rusher Za’Darius Smith is having another big season. Smith leads the team with 10.5 sacks and has forced three fumbles. His counterpart Preston Smith isn’t having nearly as impactful of a year as he did last season; he has just three sacks compared to 12 in 2019. But he’s still someone that offenses need to key in on every down as he’s always around the football and making tackles behind the line of scrimmage. 

Cornerback Jaire Alexander is likely the team’s best defensive player. He’s become a quality shutdown corner in the league, in just his third season. When targeting Alexander this season, quarterbacks are completing just over 54% of their passes to the tune of a 72.8 rating. He’s allowed just two touchdowns this season and has two interceptions.  Alexander is a tough matchup for Robby Anderson, who he’ll likely shadow. 

Bridgewater discussed the Packers defense below:

Matchup

Overall, the Packers are clicking on all cylinders, especially offensively and present a huge challenge for the Panthers. Carolina has kept so many games close this season to give themselves a chance, so if they’re hoping to have victory within reach they’ll likely need to do whatever they can to keep Aaron Rodgers and company off of the field. 

Time of possession will play a key role in deciding this one, but Carolina desperately needs to be on the plus-side of that state by game’s end to get a win. Mike Davis needs to continue his recent success on the ground for this to happen, and Anderson will have to win some battles against Alexander to open up the offense and keep the defense honest. And avoiding turnovers is a given if you want to win in the NFL, but when you’re up against one of the best teams in the league it becomes paramount. 

On defense it’s all about the pressure. If Carolina can push the pocket and force Rodgers to get the ball out quickly they’ll be able to limit the big-play deep shots downfield and stay within striking distance of the Pack. 

Bridgewater talks about the importance of sustaining drives:

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