Friday, November 06, 2015

Playing The Panthers on the Road Isn't The Same As The Broncos

At first glance, a road game against Panthers for the Green Bay Packers, one week after getting pummeled by the Broncos on the road, looks like a terrible matchup. The Broncos defense is far and away the best defense in the league, according to Football Outsiders, but the Panthers are ranked No. 2 overall. They have a lot of talented players on defense, highlighted by LB Luke Kuechly and CB Josh Norman, and their offense has played a whole lot better then the Broncos this season. If the Broncos can completely outplay the Packers, so can the Panthers.

On the other hand, facing the Panthers is completely different than facing the Broncos:
Last season, the Packers hosted the Panthers and beat them 38-17. Sure the game was at Lambeau and the Packers still had WR Jordy Nelson, but for the most part these are the same two teams and the Packers crushed them. The game wasn't even as close as the score would appear because the Panthers had two late touchdowns (it was 38-3 entering the 4th quarter).

The Panthers haven't exactly played an awesome schedule. Winning at Seattle is impressive and they just beat a 2014 playoff team at home (Colts) but four of their wins have come against teams from two of the worst divisions in football (AFC South, NFC South) and another win was against the Eagles, who don't have a NFL caliber QB. Their defense has taken advantage of playing against teams that feature some of the worst QBs in the NFL (even the Saints game was against Luke McCown). The best QB by far they've faced this season is QB Russell Wilson. The 2nd best QB was Blake Bortles. They haven't been tested much.

The Panthers secondary isn't the same as the Broncos. CB Josh Norman is arguably the best CB in the NFL but the Panthers also feature arguably the worst pair of cover safeties (Kurt Coleman and Roman Harper) of 2015. Harper's more of a linebacker than safety and Coleman is on his 3rd team in 3 years. All these guys aren't maintaining coverage against the Packer receivers for several seconds like the Broncos did last week, and the Panthers' pass rush is struggling (they traded for DE Jared Allen to provide some type of outside pass rush). When QB Aaron Rodgers extends plays because of his pass protection, he's going to find open receivers on Sunday.

The Packers can stop the run if they want to. The Panthers might have the worst group of wide receivers in the NFL, headlined by WR Ted Ginn, who dropped everything he touched in his last game. Even without CB Sam Shields, I don't expect the Packers to give the Panther WRs a ton of respect. The Packers run defense is a lot better if either safety drops down into the box. They also appear willing to bench ILB Nate Palmer mid-game, as he was against the Broncos. If the Panthers struggle with their passing game and don't force the Packers to play two deep safeties, then their offense is going to be in a lot of trouble.

This is still a road game (always tough) and a really good opponent but in no way am I expecting a repeat of last weekend's game vs. the Broncos. The Packers will start looking like the Packers again in Carolina.

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