After back-to-back convincing victories, the Carolina Panthers face one of the NFL’s more explosive offenses on a Thursday night matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers. One might argue that with Norv Turner‘s improved playcalling, it will be two explosive offenses showing out Thursday after the Panthers have put up 72 points in their last two contests. The Steelers are still without their superstar Le’Veon Bell but backup running back James Connor has filled in nicely. The focal point of this team, however, is their aerial attack with the other ‘Killer B’s’ in Antonio Brown and ‘Big’ Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers have won four straight games thanks to that duo meaning the Panthers secondary will need to step up Thursday Night if they want to come out victorious.
Daunting Tasks Lie Ahead for Donte Jackson, James Bradberry in Carolina Panthers Week 10 Matchup
A Trip Down Memory Lane
The last time these two teams faced one another in the regular season was back in 2014. It was a game that Panthers fans will want to forget as Bell ran for 147 yards and LeGarrette Blount added 108. Carolina’s secondary got shredded and allowed Brown free for two touchdowns, 90 yards, and 10 receptions. The Panthers managed only 42 rush yards and quarterback Cam Newton had to sit out a couple series after tweaking his leg.
Things have changed a bit since that matchup four years ago. The Panthers currently have the second-best rushing attack in the NFL compared to Steelers who are 22nd. Newton has the ninth-best completion percentage in 2018 while Roethlisberger sits in the bottom half at 20th. However, the Steelers can still put up big yards up through the air and have the fourth-best passing attack in the NFL. The Panthers secondary has improved from last year to this season and will need to have a big game Thursday night.
Thanks to the play of James Bradberry, Donte Jackson and safety Eric Reid, the Panthers secondary this season has not been a liability. In 2017, the defense finished the season with 10 total interceptions. This year’s unit has already registered 11 in only nine weeks. A large part of the credit should go to the rookie Jackson. The Panthers have lacked speed in the secondary in years past and he brings exactly that. But he also brings the technique, instincts, and confidence you see in all-pro corners.
.@panthers @_DJack01 #tigers #LSU @LSUfootball is quickly making a name for himself in the first half of his rookie season . I heard many scouts tell me he was too small to play CB. Really? Action Jaction is all about the action. #BaldysBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/Lpesd7QUKW
— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) October 21, 2018
When you watch Jackson’s tape, it speaks for itself. According to Pro Football Focus, the second-round draft pick has allowed the fourth-lowest passer rating among cornerbacks, ahead of names like Patrick Peterson, Jalen Ramsey and Marcus Peters. Jackson will likely be assigned to Brown for much of the Thursday’s contest due to his skillset and quickness. Brown led the league last year in receiving yards and has five straight seasons of 100+ receptions. He currently leads the league with nine receiving touchdowns and has at least one in the past six games, so Jackson will certainly be tested early and often come Thursday night.
On the other side, Bradberry has had himself quite a spectacular season and is coming off his best game. Unlike Jackson, Bradberry stands at 6’1″ and uses his size and length to stay with some of the league’s bigger receivers. The third-year corner was assigned Mike Evans for much of last week’s game and he blanketed the Pro Bowl receiver.
The Panthers used James Bradberry to shadow Mike Evans in Week 9. Evans saw Bradberry on 86% of his routes. He caught 1-of-7 targets for 16 yards against Bradberry.
— Jeff Ratcliffe (@JeffRatcliffe) November 5, 2018
Due to Bradberry’s skillset, he will be tasked with covering Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster Thursday night. Schuster is coming off a pretty impressive rookie campaign and is on pace to crush his numbers from last season. He’s had four games with seven or more receptions this season with a season-high of 13 in Week Two. Bradberry is going to need to bring his A game in order to slow down the talented young receiver opposite of Brown.
.@Panthers #JamesBradberry smothers @TheWorldof_AJ on this 3-5 holding the @Eagles to a FG attempt. You never know which plays help you win when you come from 17 down. #BaldysBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/qJZAcwqPF3
— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) October 22, 2018
Feed the Hot Hand
If you are Ron Rivera or Turner, the gameplan this week should be fairly simple. Get your young dynamic playmakers the ball in the open field. Wide receivers Curtis Samuel, D.J. Moore and running back Christian McCaffrey have been killing it as of late. Samuel just had his first two-touchdown performance of his career hauling in a pass from Newton and also on this very cool double reverse.
Curtis Samuel is a cheat code 😱
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) November 4, 2018
The Panthers have had a lot of success running the reverse the past few games and it would not be surprising if Samuel was the recipient of one on Thursday. He has good vision in the open field and the Panthers may try and get him the ball more as well on screens and quick passes.
Another receiver with great open field vision is the Panthers first-round pick, Moore. Moore had a quiet start to 2018 but is finally seeing an increase in playing time after Torrey Smith’s injury. The rookie has been handed the ball off four of the last five games and has been targeted five times or more four of the past five games as well.
Panthers second-year running back McCaffrey has also been a player who has been playing great lately. Outside of the loss to Atlanta, the Panthers have won every contest when McCaffrey has touched the ball 16 times or more per game. McCaffrey is very dynamic in the open field and is an underrated runner between the tackles. Last week, he compiled 157 total yards and was very vital in keeping the Panthers offense balanced.
Double screen to Christian McCaffrey with good setup using DJ Moore as the bait. pic.twitter.com/hT9GFemGP8
— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) November 5, 2018
With three dynamic weapons to go along with a talented dual-threat quarterback, the Panthers offense should be giving the Steelers defense nightmares. The Steelers secondary is lacking in speed and since the loss of Ryan Shazier, they have not been the same in open-field tackling either. Expect another big game from Samuel, McCaffrey, and Moore.
Best Case Scenario
The Panthers continue to roll on offense. Turner feeds his young stars in the making, which evidently will make Newton’s life a lot easier. The secondary continues its solid play and forces Roethlisberger to make a lot of bad decisions, while the linebackers continue to rack up tackles in the open-field.
Worst Case Scenario
The Panthers defense completely overlooks Conner and the running game, which sets up the play action and makes life much easier for Roethlisberger. Other receiving threats Vance McDonald, Jesse James and Ryan Switzer have big games due to all the attention to Schuster and Brown.
Score: Panthers 30 Steelers 23
Offensive MVP: Cam Newton (18-26, 241 pass yards, 7 carries, 59 rush yards, 3 total touchdowns)
Defensive MVP: Donte Jackson (holds Brown to under 6 receptions and 50 yards, 6 tackles, 2 pass deflections and 1 sack)