As the Carolina Panthers head up to the Frozen Tundra to take on the Packers, they’ll probably be without at least one of the main weapons on offense that can bring some heat. Christian McCaffrey was again listed on the injury report this week, and he did not participate in practice today. If he misses another game, and if DJ Moore’s ankle doesn’t heal up quick, it could be a long day in Green Bay.
In a game against the far from great Denver Broncos, the Panthers offense got off to a slow start. Obviously missing CMC played a role in the offense’s ineptitude in the first half. Teddy Bridgewater continues being what most people thought he would be: someone who doesn’t take risks. While Teddy does not turn the ball over as much as the gunslingers normally do, he also does not stretch the defense the way his weapons are able to. The offensive line did Teddy no favors, but he did not help himself with his pocket awareness. Just one more loss (or one more Cardinals win) would officially eliminate the Panthers from the playoffs. That would make the rumblings of replacing Teddy through the draft even louder.
One thing that jumped out at me from the Broncos game was the correlation between Curtis Samuel’s involvement and the offense’s productivity. One target for Samuel in the first half, one touchdown drive (a drive that started at Denver’s four yard line) in the first half. Nine touches/targets for Samuel in the second half, 20 points scored in the second half. That may be coincidental, but if Moore misses another game, this time due to an ankle injury, Samuel’s involvement in the offense will be pivotal.
While not exactly the 2000 Ravens, Green Bay’s middle of the pack (sorry) defense has definitely been good enough this year. Their front seven has some really good players, though some of their pass rushers have been battling injuries this year. Watch out for both the Smiths at outside linebacker, assuming they both play. Za’Darius is a force to be reckoned with, notching 10.5 sacks, 14.5 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries already. While Preston hasn’t been as much of a game breaker, he still needs to be accounted for. Rashan Gary, if he plays, can also get after the quarterback off the edge.
The secondary has some solid players as well, accounting for seven of the team’s eight interceptions so far this season. One area of weakness would be run defense, evidenced by the 4.6 yards per carry they allow, good for 26th in the league. The poor run defense has led to safeties Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage being two of the top three tacklers on the team. Obviously not ideal when your safeties are that involved in the run game.
As with most games this year, the presence of Christian McCaffrey would make me feel a lot better about the offense’s chances. The Packers’ struggles in the run game makes that even more the case this week. Without CMC (and possibly without Moore), I don’t see how this offense can keep up with Aaron Rodgers. The team will need to score a lot of points, which plays into the strength of the Packers defense: the pass rush. This could get ugly quickly.