After a lopsided game between one-win teams last Thursday, fans should be in for a better product on Thursday Night Football in Week 10 as the Carolina Panthers (6-2) head to Heinz Field to meet the Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2-1). Kickoff is set for 8:20 PM ET on November 8th. The Steelers opened as 4.0-point favorites.
Carolina’s offense is relatively balanced compared to parts of the Cam Newton era, but it’s still highly dependent on its ability to run the ball. That’s not a bad thing. The Panthers average 27.5 points per game (12th) and have the second-ranked rushing attack, pounding out 143.9 yards per game.
Second-year back Christian McCaffrey is proving that he’s not just a weapon in the passing game. The Stanford product leads the team with 502 rushing yards (14th) and three TDs this season, with two of those scores coming last week against the Buccaneers. His ability to run between the tackles is proving his draft sceptics wrong.
Meanwhile, Newton is thriving in first-year OC Norv Turner’s offense. He’s thrown for 1,893 yards and 15 touchdowns with a career-best 67.3 completion percentage and 100.8 passer rating. Even in his 2015 MVP season, he only had a 99.4 passer rating, and he’s only finished with a completion percentage above 60% once in his career (61.7% in 2013).
Cam Newton hasn’t thrown an interception since the second quarter against Washington in Week 6.
He has a completion percentage of 70.8 since that game, with 735 yards and six touchdowns. He’s also rushed for 134 yards and a TD.
And perfected his Norv Turner impression. pic.twitter.com/lwzaTZI9Ss
— Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) November 5, 2018
The Panthers’ receiving corps is proving more potent than most thought it would be entering the year. Devin Funchess (36 receptions, 445 yards, 3 TDs) leads the team in yardage, while rookie DJ Moore (19 receptions, 297 yards, 1 TD) had a breakout, 90-yard performance in Week 8, and injury-bitten TE Greg Olsen has found his stride the last couple games, with 10 receptions, 132 receiving yards, and 2 TDs combined.
Of course, McCaffrey is still a huge part of the passing game, as well, leading the team with 49 catches while adding a healthy 387 yards and 2 receiving TDs.
On the defensive side, the Panthers pride themselves on stopping the run. They only cede 94.1 yards per game on the ground (8th), compared to 250.6 through the air (19th). The Panthers’ stinginess against the run has led to them allowing a respectable 22.5 points per game (13th), and the unit is trending in the right direction.
They moved up three spots in defensive DVOA last week (from 20th to 17th) despite giving up 28 points to Tampa (42-28). The unit could be relatively passive in the second half after taking a comfortable 35-14 lead into the break.
Panthers vs Steelers Statistical Comparison
|27.5 (T11th)||PPG||28.1 (9th)|
|371.6 (13th)||YPG||415.3 (4th)|
|143.9 (2nd)||Rushing YPG||101.6 (22nd)|
|227.8 (22nd)||Passing YPG||313.6 (4th)|
|22.5 (T12th)||PPG Allowed||23.5 (15th)|
|344.8 (11th)||YPG Allowed||347.9 (12th)|
|94.1 (8th)||Rushing YPG Allowed||90.3 (6th)|
|250.6 (19th)||Passing YPG Allowed||257.6 (21st)|
|+8 (4th)||Turnover Differential||-3 (T21st)|
Carolina’s defense will certainly be tested this week against a Pittsburgh offense that is scoring points nearly at will. Thanks to a potent passing attack, the Steelers are averaging 28.4 points per game (9th). Ben Roethlisberger has been solid for Pittsburgh this season, tossing for 2,560 yards (5th) with a 16:7 touchdown-to-interception ratio, good for a 93.9 passer rating.
Since throwing three picks in Week 1 against Cleveland, he’s tossed just four INTS over the last seven games. In the last four games — all Pittsburgh wins — his passer rating is a very solid 99.4.
RT steelers Ben Roethlisberger talks about the use of no-huddle, recovering on a short week and James Washington’s development. pic.twitter.com/vaJz24NRKA
— StlrsDieHard 🏈 / T1D (@StlrsDieHard) November 6, 2018
Of course, Roethlisberger has a great group of receivers to work with. While it may be hyperbolic to say that JuJu Smith-Schuster has supplanted Antonio Brown as Big Ben’s go-to receiver, the second-year wideout does lead the team with 53 receptions (on 78 targets) and 672 yards. Brown, however, leads Pittsburgh in both targets (91) and TDs (9).
Even with Le’Veon Bell continuing his holdout, the Steelers ground game remains dangerous when turning to James Conner. The former Pitt Panther has 706 rushing yards on 151 carries (4.7 YPC) and has found the end zone nine times on the ground. He’s also pitching in the passing game, just like Bell before him, with 379 yards and 1 TD on 38 catches.
Defensively, the Steelers are a pretty average unit, if you just look at the overall numbers. They allow 23.5 points per game (15th) and 247.9 yards per game (12th). But that doesn’t tell the whole story. Since losing 26-14 to the Ravens in Week 4, they have held four straight opponents to 21 points or fewer, averaging just 18.0 points against in that span.
— Steelers Depot (@Steelersdepot) November 5, 2018
They haven’t just been holding down impotent attacks, either. Their four-game win streak includes a 41-17 rout of Atlanta, a 28-21 win in Cincinnati, and a 23-16 payback win in Baltimore.
On the whole, the unit has been better against the run (90.3 rushing yards per game; 6th) than the pass (257.6 yards per game; 21st).
The last time these two teams met was all the way back in 2014 when the Steelers stomped Carolina 37-19 on the road, upsetting the Panthers as three-point underdogs. That is the only previous meeting between Cam Newton and Ben Roethlisberger.