Panthers & Broncos Meet for Fourth Time in History
Bank of America Stadium (73,504) / November 11, 2012 • 1:00PM / PANTHERS.COM
Charlotte, NC – After a victorious trip to the nation’s capital, the Carolina Panthers return home for a stiff test against the AFC West leading Denver Broncos Sunday at Bank of America Stadium. The 21-13 victory over the Washington Redskins last week broke a five-game losing streak by the Panthers with the last four defeats coming by a total of 12 points.
“This has been a resilient group and I was very happy to see them get a win after working so hard in the face of some very tough losses,” says head coach Ron Rivera.
Carolina had lost by two (30-28 at Atlanta), four (16-12 versus Seattle), five (19-14 versus Dallas), and one point (23-22 at Chicago) before Sunday’s win. Although saddled with a 2-6 record, the Panthers have still outgained their opponents by 15 yards for the season.
“We are making progress, but it’s hard to talk about progress when you are not winning,” says Rivera. “However, this group has continued to work even though the results are not what we wanted.”
Nowhere has the progress been more evident than on the defense, where the Panthers have held their last four opponents to two touchdowns or less while moving from 28th in total yards allowed to a tie for 13th in the League. During that span, the Panthers have ranked fifth in points allowed (17.8) and fourth in passing yards allowed (189.0) and total yards allowed (292.3).
However, those statistics and that progress will face the absolute test Sunday when quarterback Peyton Manning and Denver’s thirdranked offense comes to Charlotte. The Broncos, under former Carolina coach John Fox, feature one of the League’s top defenses as well.
“The Broncos are a very good football team,” says Rivera. “They have one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game and a defense that is very talented. It will be a great challenge for our team.”
The catalysts for the Panthers defensive improvement have been numerous. Ends Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy have led a sack attack that has the Panthers second in the NFL in sacks per pass play. Both were instrumental in last week’s victory as Johnson had two sacks and Hardy had 1.5 to increase their season totals to 7.5
for Johnson and 6.5 for Hardy.
However, Carolina can’t count on sacks against a Denver unit that has allowed only 10 for the season and that could leave the Panthers linebackers with a lot of field to cover. So far they have been up to the task as rookie middle linebacker Luke Kuechly leads the team with 93 tackles after recording 15 at Washington while his outside mate, James Anderson, is second with 68. Thomas Davis, who is has moved into the starting lineup with the loss of Jon Beason (knee) has added 42 tackles and his own explosiveness.
Despite the loss of Chris Gamble (shoulder), the Carolina secondary continues to make strides with rookie Josh Norman and Captain Munnerlyn at the corners and Charles Godfrey manning one safety while Haruki Nakamura and Sherrod Martin split time at the other safety.
“We have had continuity on our defense in recent weeks and that has been a big help,” continues Rivera.
The Panthers have not been so fortunate along the offensive line where guards Amini Solatolu (8) and Jeff Byers (2) have combined for 10 starts between them and center Geoff Hangartner was playing guard until four games ago. However, the unit has allowed just two sacks in the last two weeks against the Bears and Redskins.
Last week quarterback Cam Newton was also playing without starting receiver Brandon LaFell, but still put together a solid effort with 13 completions in 23 attempts for 201 yards and a touchdown for a 100.1 passer rating.
His touchdown pass went to wide receiver Steve Smith, who remains on pace for another 1,000 yard season with 38 receptions for 630 yards and a 16.6 yards per catch average. Greg Olsen continues to complement Smith with 34 catches including a team high five at Washington, but the biggest play of the game was an 82-yard reception by Armani Edwards.
Carolina also proved efficient on the ground, running for 129 yards with a team high of 51 by Jonathan Stewart and a 30 yard touchdown run by DeAngelo Williams.
“We did some things well at Washington, but there are also things we need to do better,” says Rivera.