On Thursday night, the NFL gets a chance to showcase two of the better teams in the league in primetime. The AFC North’s top team the Pittsburgh Steelers take on the NFC South’s Carolina Panthers in a matchup between two teams that would be in the playoffs if it started today. Lets take a look at a few things you should keep an eye on as both teams will try to continue their winning ways.
1. Cam Newton has to have a rushing touchdown
Carolina Quarterback Cam Newton might be having his best season of his career in 2018, but his team has lost 2 of their 3 games on the road this season. He has been just as good throwing the ball at home as he has been on the road. But the major difference is what Newton is doing on the ground. At home this year he has 4 touchdown rushes and Carolina is undefeated at home. On the road, he only 134 rushing yard and 0 touchdowns running the ball. It’s a weird concept, because most teams don’t want their starting quarterback to take contact. Especially one who is nursing a shoulder injury, but Newton is the biggest regular ball carrier on the roster.
Tonight’s matchup isn’t the best one for testing out this theory. Pittsburgh is still one of the more physical teams in the entire league and will attempt to hit Newton as much as possible. Don’t be surprised if Cam gets a chance at the goal line and attempt to keep the teams winning streak alive when he scores a touchdown.
2. Both teams aren’t the best against defending the pass
Pittsburgh has always been known for their hard-hitting style, but they aren’t very good against the pass. They have allowed four 300+ yard passing games and nothing less than 250 yards in the air in any game this season. Good news for Panthers fans is that Greg Olsen looks like he’s 100% healthy now. He’s scored in every game since coming back from a foot injury. Devin Funchess is the leader among the Wide Receivers, but the favorite target is Christian McCaffrey. Not only does he lead the team in targets and catches, he’s also has the highest catch percentage among any receiver on the team with 84.55%.
Carolina has to deal with the most dynamic duo of receivers they will face all season. No offense to their own division who has an amazing group of receivers, but none are better than Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster. They have combined 104 catches, 1266 yards and 11 touchdowns this season. Brown has caught at least one touchdown in eight of the Steelers nine games this season. Ben Roethlisberger will test the corners of Carolina all night. He’s thrown to those two guys 169 out of his 339 attempted passes this season.
3. Can Carolina keep Newton on his feet?
Pittsburgh is fourth in the league in sacks at 26 and have had success pressuring the passer all season. TJ Watt leads them with 7 sacks and they have four players with at least three sacks and none of them are named Cameron Heyward. Heyward lead Pittsburgh with 12.5 sacks last season has gotten off to a slow start. Even with Heyward not having the numbers of last season, Pittsburgh as a team has been very good rushing the passer. Now they haven’t faced a quarterback all year with the size and strength of Newton.
Expect Pittsburgh to blitz Newton all night long and force him to throw under pressure. Newton is known for making mistakes when he has pressure.
With both teams ranked in the 20′s in pass defense, this has all of the makings of a shootout. Not to mention both running backs (McCaffrey and James Conner) can catch the ball out the backfield, gives both quarterbacks (Newton and Roethlisberger) every chance to throw for over 300 yards a piece. The difference is Carolina is focused on keeping up with New Orleans in the NFC South race. Their focus will allow them to force a few turnovers and give Newton and Olsen the ability to connect a for big play or two. Watch D.J. Moore in this game, this could be his coming out party on national TV.
Carolina 27 Pittsburgh 24
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