Carolina Panthers - TeamReport
NFL Team Report - Carolina Panthers - INSIDE SLANT
When he played linebacker for the Chicago Bears, Ron Rivera was coached by legendary defensive guru Buddy Ryan. Now as the head coach for the Carolina Panthers, Rivera will face one of Ryan's twin sons for the second straight week.
Saints shut down Carolina's offense in Week 14, Jets head coach Rex Ryan received some scouting help ahead of his matchup with Rivera and the Panthers in Charlotte this Sunday.
"I've already talked to (Rob)," Rex Ryan said on a conference call with Carolina media Wednesday. "Our defenses are two different defenses. He has his own style, so do we. But again, without question I've already talked to him about the things that he picked up. Just anything you would do against any opponent, but in particular he just played them this past week so yeah, absolutely I've definitely already talked to him."
Rob Ryan and the Saints held the Panthers to 13 points and 111 net passing yards, but it's not like Carolina had been lighting up the scoreboard. Their 22.9 points per game average is 17th in the NFL and their 191.7 passing yards per game ranks 29th.
The Panthers lead the league with a 33:07 time of possession average and with 27 5-plus minute drives. But while they're doing a good job staying on the field, they're also lacking big plays.
"We don't go into a game thinking we want to average just enough to make a first down every three plays," offensive coordinator Mike Shula said. "That's hard and our guys have done it a lot this year. We haven't had a lot of explosive plays, but we do have explosive personnel and they just keep rolling, finding ways to stay on the field."
So why aren't those explosive players making explosive plays?
"It might be a throw here, it might be you've got the guy open and a little bit of protection and you can't get it there on time. So it's not like it's one thing here and one thing here," Shula answered.
While the Panthers were blown out in New Orleans, they are still in a good spot to make the playoffs. At 9-4, they should get in if they win two of their final three games. After the Jets, they host the Saints before finishing up the year in Atlanta.
But as Rivera has constantly reminded his team each week for the last month, "this game is the most important because it's the next one."
"You most certainly don't want to look past your next opponent, especially the Jets coming off a win. They're a physical football team and do some creative stuff on both sides of the ball. We've got to be on top of our game," Rivera said. "This is a football team that's riding a little bit of a high. They're still in the mix of everything, just like we are. So this should be a very competitive game."
The Jets are 6-7, but they have only won once on the road this year. So while the Panthers may be eager for the New Orleans rematch, that won't be as important if they don't take care of business in a winnable game this week.
SERIES HISTORY: 6th regular-season meeting. Jets lead series, 3-2. New York won the last time the two met, 17-6 in 2009.
NFL Team Report - Carolina Panthers - NOTES, QUOTES
--The Panthers have seen a number of players go down with knee injuries this year, including running back Jonathan Stewart. He suffered an MCL tear when he took a direct hit to the knee from cornerback Keenan Lewis. It was one of many hits the league has seen since implementing new rules protecting the head.
"Is the concern about the hits to the head such a big thing that the targets are being lowered? That's something that's probably going to have to be looked at as far as the league is concerned to see what's happening and what we can do to help these guys," head coach Ron Rivera said.
"We have lowered the strike zone. It's kind of like baseball with pitchers getting squeezed big time and now the tacklers are getting squeezed. Hopefully there is a solution out there and hopefully during the offseason the league will get a chance to look at that and see if they can rectify that."
--Despite giving up a season-high in points and yards, the Panthers actually improved in a couple defensive categories.
They allowed Saints quarterback Drew Brees to throw for 313 yards, but Carolina moved up a spot to fifth in pass defense. They also went from second to first in run defense after holding New Orleans to 69 yards on the ground.
Even though they gave up 31 points, they held onto the top spot in scoring defense at 14.1 points per game.
--The 2011 Heisman Trophy winner had trouble making his vote this year.
Panthers QB Cam Newton, who led Auburn to the 2011 national title, said Florida State QB Jameis Winston and Auburn QB Tre Mason both had good cases.
"With me knowing Jameis and me knowing Tre, it's going to kind of be hard to be talking to Johnny (Manziel)," Newton said. "It was a pretty hard pick."
Newton voted for 2012 Heisman winner Manziel last year, but he would not reveal who he submitted his vote for this year.
BY THE NUMBERS: 16 -- Number of touchdowns the Panthers have given up this season, the fewest in the NFL. Despite giving up four touchdowns to the Saints, Carolina has allowed four fewer scores than second-place Seattle.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "The best thing about this is we have an opportunity to face (the Saints) in two weeks. But our focus is not on that right now. Our focus is on the New York Jets." -- QB Cam Newton, on moving past Week 14's blowout loss to New Orleans.
NFL Team Report - Carolina Panthers - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--DE Charles Johnson was awarded half a sack from the Saints game on Wednesday, splitting it with DE Mario Addison, who was originally given a full sack. Johnson now has nine sacks this season, making him the first player in Panthers history to record nine or more sacks in four consecutive years.
--RG Nate Chandler will continue to start despite the return of RG Chris Scott. Chandler, a converted DT, has started five straight games after Scott injured his MCL in Week 9.
--RB Kenjon Barner is expected to get a jersey Sunday. The rookie has been inactive for seven games this year, but he should get some more work while RB Jonathan Stewart is out.
--QB Cam Newton has tossed 20 touchdown passes this season, one short of his career high of 21 he threw as a rookie.
--WR Steve Smith is 14 yards away from passing Charlie Joiner for 19th all-time in career receiving yards.
--DE Charles Johnson, who has been dealing with a sprained knee, practiced in full Wednesday.
--G Chris Scott, who missed the last five games with an MCL injury, returned to a limited practice. He will backup starting RG Nate Chandler.
--TE Greg Olsen did not practice. He has been dealing with a foot injury, but he is not expected to miss the Jets game.
--RB Jonathan Stewart, who suffered an MCL tear against the Saints, did not practice and will not play against the Jets.
--LB Jordan Senn, who missed the Saints game with a hamstring injury, returned to a limited practice.
The Jets are tough to run on, but they're susceptible to the pass. QB Cam Newton may likely have to lead the Panthers in rushing for a fifth time this season, but he has to be better passing the ball than he was versus the Saints. The Jets are 24th against the pass, so Newton and the Panthers offense need to find a way to get more vertical than they have in losses to New Orleans, Arizona, Buffalo and Seattle.
The Panthers also need to protect Newton better. He has been sacked on 8.3 percent of his pass plays, and he has gone down 36 times, which equals a career-high set last season.
Defensively, Carolina will look to shut down the Jets 11th-ranked run game. They will force QB Geno Smith to beat them, and if the Panthers throw enough pressure at the rookie, they should be able to earn their 10th win of the season.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Panthers DEs Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy, who have combined for 16 sacks, vs. Jets QB Geno Smith, who has been sacked on a league-high 10 percent of his pass plays.
Johnson and Hardy were held in check by the Saints and that allowed QB Drew Brees to pick Carolina's suspect secondary apart. The defensive end duo need to do a better job getting to Smith, a rookie who has struggled when pressured.
--Panthers run game, which is ranked 9th in the league, vs. Jets run defense, which is ranked 2nd.
RB Jonathan Stewart will not play with an MCL injury, so carries will be split by RB DeAngelo Williams and FB Mike Tolbert. The duo did a solid job when Stewart was on the physically unable to perform list for the first seven games of the season, but the Jets are allowing just 82.6 rushing yards per game.