Carolina Panthers

Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers look to stay among NFL’s undefeated

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton basks in the morning light during Thursday’s practice.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton basks in the morning light during Thursday’s practice. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Joseph Person’s three things to watch in Monday’s Carolina Panthers game against Indianapolis:

Andrew Luck vs. Cam Newton

There’s a reason the NFL put this game on “Monday Night Football,” and it’s not because Ron Rivera and Chuck Pagano are nice guys. Newton and Luck, the No. 1 picks in 2011 and 2012, will meet for the first time. Newton has the Panthers off to the best start in franchise history, while Luck is mired in the worst stretch of his career. Luck has been playing with fractured ribs since Week 3, Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer reported Sunday. That might explain some of Luck’s struggles, but the Colts’ O-line hasn’t helped much. The Panthers have to mix their coverages and blitz occasionally to keep Luck off rhythm. Newton has a 102.8 QB rating and has thrown seven touchdowns in three previous Monday night games.

Will Luck avoid Josh Norman?

Norman’s ascension to among the game’s top corners was confirmed when Russell Wilson and Sam Bradford refused to throw his way the past two weeks. Norman wouldn’t say definitively that he’d be shadowing T.Y. Hilton, but expect that to be the case. Norman expects Luck to test him, and he’s probably right assuming Luck gets protection. Hilton caught a pair of second-half touchdowns against the Saints, while second-year pro Donte Moncrief has developed into a solid No. 2 wideout. One of the keys for the Panthers will be their ability to cover tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener, a favorite target of Luck’s since their time at Stanford.

Kalil’s injury and the running game

Mike Shula’s M.O. is to establish the running game to set up play action, and the absence of Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil won’t change that. Kalil is a game-time decision after an ankle injury prevented him from practicing all week. Veteran Fernando Velasco would start in his place. Jonathan Stewart has run for 203 yards and two touchdowns the past two weeks to help the Panthers become the league’s top rushing team at 144.7 yards a game. Stewart should have running lanes against a Colts’ defense ranked 23rd against the run (122.7 yards allowed per game). The Saints rolled up 183 yards on the ground against Indianapolis last week. Advantage, Panthers.

Colts at Panthers

Where:

Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte

When:

Monday, 8:30 p.m.

Watch:

ESPN

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