In one of the premier matchups of Week 9, the Green Bay Packers (6-1) head on the road to take on the undefeated Carolina Panthers (7-0). While the Packers lost a brutal one against another unbeaten in the Denver Broncos last Sunday, the Panthers nearly dropped their first game as well, in an overtime thriller against the Indianapolis Colts.
Aaron Rodgers will look to get the Packers headed back in the right direction with a big road victory, while Cam Newton and company will once again look to pick up another big win to add to their solid resume.
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Here are three keys to the game for both the Packers and Panthers.
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1. Have an airtight game plan for Cam Newton
Cam Newton plays a gigantic role in Carolina's offense. The Packers must prepare for him as both a passer and a runner; he's averaging 7.1 yards per pass attempt and 4.5 yards per rush attempt. Newton has had a hand in 15 of the Panthers' 22 touchdowns this season (68.2 percent), so he's the team's main source of scoring. Green Bay has got to get in the 245-pound quarterback's way this weekend or a win in Charlotte will be out of the question.
2. Play keep away from Luke Kuechly
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers will have to be crafty when going against Carolina's defense. He'll have to keep an eye on Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, since he finds a way to disrupt a ton of plays (46 tackles, four pass defenses, one sack). To start, Green Bay's run game will have to keep Kuechly honest. From there, it's on Rodgers to stay on top of him with wits and accuracy. This will be an individual matchup to watch from start to finish.
3. Find a way to beat man-to-man coverage
Last week against the Denver Broncos, the Packers had no success passing the ball. Rodgers only accumulated 77 yards, as his receivers struggled to get open amid the members of Denver's smothering secondary. Carolina's defensive backs, led by cornerback Josh Norman (four interceptions, second in NFL), are just as good as Denver's. Green Bay's wide receivers must step up, run strong routes and beat single coverage in order to get the offense going again.
1. Replicate what the Broncos did to Rodgers in Week 8
The Broncos gave the rest of the NFL a blueprint for slowing down one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. Now, the Panthers need to make it happen all over again. Last week, Rodgers was held to just 77 passing yards with no touchdowns, and the Broncos brought down the star quarterback three times. It was simply a swarming defense, much like we've seen from the Panthers this year, that caused problems. Expect Carolina to come out firing on Sunday with an aggressive approach that forces the Packers to throw the ball outside the numbers.
2. Let Cam Newton use his legs
The Packers have been strong against opposing quarterbacks this year, allowing just seven touchdowns against nine interceptions. Where they have struggled a bit though, is against running quarterbacks. The Packers have given up the most yards in the NFL to opposing quarterbacks on the ground (201). While that number doesn't seem incredibly high, there aren't many quarterbacks like Newton, who can take off and run frequently. Expect Newton to tally quite a few rushing attempts in this one.
3. Give Randall Cobb the Josh Norman treatment
Yes, Cobb has been below average over the past four games, failing to top 44 yards in each outing, but that doesn't change the fact that he's Green Bay's best receiver. On top of that, Cobb is still one of the stronger wide outs in the NFL, and I expect Rodgers to look to him early and often to try to get Green Bay's offense rolling. The answer to slowing that down? None other than Norman, who has been one of the NFL's elite shutdown corners this season.