Alshon Jeffrey/Brandon Marshall vs. The Legion of Meh
The Panthers defense all around has not looked good. The pass rush isn't getting there, the rush defense isn't stopping the run, and the pass defense just looks pathetic. Tackling, pass deflections, and turnovers seem like dust in the wind with this unit, and they now face one of the top two wide receiver pairings in the NFL. With this one, the Panthers can pick their poison and still end up on the losing end. Brandon Marshall has 16 receptions, 144 yards, and 5 TDs to pair with the 20 receptions, 262 yards, and 1 TD of Alshon Jeffrey. Brandon Marshall has shown great success in the redzone already this season, but both are a matchup nightmare for defenses. The Panthers did bench Melvin White for Josh Norman, giving them more ability to play man to man press coverage. But the secondary will need to either play out of their minds or get some help from the pass rush if they look to stand any chance.
Josh Norman will have a chance to prove himself as a starter, and Antoine Cason will have the chance to bounceback. If not, we could see even more personnel changes next week.
Michael Ola/Jordan Mills vs. Not Frank Alexander
With Jermon Bushrod ruled out, the Bears will either play Michael Ola or Charles Leno at left tackle. Another week, another plus matchup for the Panthers defensive line. Unfortunately, the Panthers have yet to reap the benefits of teams down an offensive tackle, and a position that was once a strength is starting to become a weakness with injuries and suspensions abound. Charles Johnson has been battling a hip flexor, but Rivera is showing some optimism and said that Johnson looked very good in practice. Still, a healthy Charles Johnson can play the majority of snaps and be a force. The Johnson we've seen battling an injury hasn't been nearly as effective. The Panthers will likely have Wes Horton get the start, but expect Kony Ealy and Mario Addison get a healthy amount of snaps at defensive end.
It's funny, this week I was thinking about writing this exact article, wondering how Frank Alexander would capitalize on his opportunity. After all, Alexander is the 3rd most veteran defensive end on roster and has shown flashes of what he could be. However, a few days later I was force fed a big ole helping of NOPE chili when he was suspended AGAIN for 10 more games. With Hardy and Alexander gone for the forseeable future, the Panthers have decided to rotate in Kawann Short at defensive end and have given Star Lotulelei some snaps at defensive end. During the offseason we talked about the possibility of a Nascar set (four defensive ends). Now, we could be looking at a four defensive tackle formation. What would that be called? The Bulldozer set? We will see if the Panthers can find a way to generate pass rush this week.
Kyle Fuller vs. Kelvin Benjamin
Wow, this one should be fun to watch. We all know how good Kelvin Benjamin is. He's been the redzone threat we hoped for, and the all around receiver we need. Every week he seems to deliver some circus catch or jump ball catch that receives all of the highlight attention. And Kelvin Benjamin's play has remained consistent enough to be named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Month. Now, he goes up against fellow first round pick Kyle Fuller. Fuller's logged 3 picks and 4 passes defensed in two starts as a rookie, and his play rewarded him the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month award. The storyline practically writes itself, and the Panthers offense will be directly affected by this matchup, regardless of the outcome.
Will Sutton/Stephen Paea vs. Ryan Kalil and the Guards
It seems everything the Panthers set out to be strong at this offseason has failed miserably. We can't get pass rush, we can't stop the run, we can't force turnovers, and the big one, we haven't been able to run the ball. Part of that comes from lots of injuries at the running back position, but most of it comes from an offensive line that serves as a better door than a window. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart both will not play, leaving the Panthers with Fozzy Whittaker, Darrin Reaves, and Chris Ogbonnaya to carry the load. The Bears defense hasn't been anything special, but with the play of the Panthers offensive line it doesn't seem like they can run on anybody. This is the week it has to change if the Panthers have any hope of trying to compete for the NFC South crown. The Panthers are still in good position to right the ship, that's what happens when you start your season winning rather than losing.