Three things to watch in Sunday’s Carolina Panthers game against the Green Bay Packers:
Read it and sweep
Mike Shula went from 0 to 60 mph with Cam Newton last week at Cincinnati, where Newton carried a career-high 17 times for 107 yards after getting 14 rushes in his first four games combined. The Panthers had 12 read-option runs for an average of 5.75 yards per attempt vs. the Bengals, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Look for more of the same against Green Bay, which struggled vs. Miami’s zone read last week – and that was with Ryan Tannehill running it. If the Packers over-commit to Newton, Jonathan Stewart has proven he can exploit defenses on the belly runs.
Stay away from big plays
That’s easier said than done for the Panthers’ defense, which has allowed six gains of 50 yards or longer in six games after giving up only two such plays in 16 games last season. Ron Rivera keeps saying it was only one play – Gio Bernard’s 89-yard TD run – that skewed the numbers vs. the Bengals. Well, one big play by Aaron Rodgers against safeties that often miss tackles (Thomas DeCoud) or take bad angles (Roman Harper) is all the Packers need to get the crowd energized at Lambeau Field, where the Packers have averaged 30.8 points per game since 2009.
Mix up the third-down looks
The Panthers allowed the Bengals to convert 10 of 16 third-down chances and on the season have let opponents convert 50 percent of third downs. Only Oakland is worse. Carolina was more successful on third down two weeks ago vs. Chicago when defensive coordinator Sean McDermott varied his calls, rushing anywhere from three to six players and occasionally dropping defensive ends into coverage. He’d be wise to do the same against Rodgers, whose third-down passer rating of 124.1 trails only Philip Rivers (136.1).