Chasing Cam: Can Pack Handle Superman?Posted:Oct 17th, 2014 1:11 pm
The best thing that happened to the Pack last Sunday was Aaron Rodgers' virtuoso performance in the final drive against the Dolphins. The second best thing that happened was Cam Newton's 17 carries for 107 yards performance against the Bengals.
Why? Prior to that ground burst, Newton had carried just 14 times in four games for a total of 32 yards. That shows that Newton is finally healthy and able to become the dual threat QB he's always been. Why is that good news for the Pack? Well, it's not, really. But at least the team won't be surprised by it and got to spend the week watching tape and preparing for the dangerous read option--the Achilles heel for Dom Capers, Clay Matthews and company.
Newton presents the largest obstacle in the Pack's attempt at its fourth straight win. With rookie and budding star WR Kelvin Benjamin not yet cleared to play with a concussion, Cam has few legit targets to throw to. Former Bear nemesis Greg Olsen is having a solid season again at tight end; the team will need to account for him. But other than that, the passing game is pretty average.
The Panthers get running back Jonathan Stewart back from an injury on Sunday, something they desperately need, with fellow tailback DeAngelo Williams still out. But even with Stewart, Cam will be by far the most dangerous ground weapon the Panthers employ. They put up 37 in Cincinnati last week against a good defense, with Newton leading the way. He did most of his damage with his legs in the fourth quarter, rushing 11 times for 70 yards, when the Bengals D was clearly running out of gas.
But thePanthers also gave up 37 last week, mainly because their defense is a shell of its former self. It starts with the loss of Greg Hardy, whom they finally suspended after the team was feeling pressure to act. Without him, their pass rush has gone into deep freeze and it has magnified the unit's shortcomings, predominantly in the secondary.
They have three new starters on the back end and they're not very good. Corners Melvin White and Antoine Cason are giving up passer ratings of 126.1 and 113.1 respectively. The pass defense ranks 20th in the league overall and the team has given up at least 30 points in each of its last four games. They're also miserable on third downs, ranking 31st in the league allowing 50% conversions. And they average giving up one play of 50+ yards in every game.
Which means it should be a good day for Aaron Rodgers and company. The emergence of Davante Adams (six catches for 77 yards plus the alert fake spike reception) comes just in time for a unit that was becoming a bit too Jordy-centric. Even Andrew Quarless is showing that he might be ready to step up to a larger role, if the line can protect well enough to allow him to run some patterns.
Mike McCarthy rotated Lacy and Starks equally last week, due in large part to the hot, humid conditions. But it wouldn't be a surprise if that trend continues this week. Keeping both of them healthy and humming for the back half of the schedule is vital.
The Pack should be able to put 30 on the board against Luke Kuechly and his pals. The question will be how does the Pack handle Cam and his legs? What have they learned from their previous failures against talented running quarterbacks? Newton is likely the final dual threat QB they will face in the regular season. But should they make the playoffs, they'll likely need to show their chops against the read option if they find themselves matched up against Russell or Colin.
Looks like the Pack will be without both starting corners this week, though Tramon Williams may have a shot to play. It would be great to have them both back for next Sunday's prime timer in New Orleans, though with the bye looming the team may err on the side of caution. For this game, with the Panthers' dearth of receiver star power, the team should be just fine with Davon House and Casy Hayward doing the heavy lifting. The Pack's supreme depth at corner pays off in spades.
The Pack is back home, on a roll, and up to the Cam challenge (though he'll be productive, as usual).
Packers 31 Panthers 24
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