Carolina Panthers

Carolina Panthers focused on now, but win over Packers could be huge later

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) wouldn’t turn his back on the importance of Sunday’s visit to Carolina. “We both have goals bigger than this game,” he said.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) wouldn’t turn his back on the importance of Sunday’s visit to Carolina. “We both have goals bigger than this game,” he said. AP

Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera are both aware of what Sunday’s game between their teams potentially means for later in the season.

Only one was willing to discuss it.

“We both have goals bigger than this game, but this could go a long way when the weather starts to change,” Rodgers said Wednesday.

As for Rivera, he’s trying to minimize distractions for his undefeated Panthers.

“I want to stay focused on the one-game-at-a-time mentality,” he said. “I get asked about what are the implications going forward. Well, we all know what they are. I don’t want to put them out there because I don’t want to think about that part of it. I want to think about the now, and that’s playing this game.”

A victory over the Packers (6-1) on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium would send Carolina to 8-0, continuing the best start in franchise history. But more importantly, it would put the Panthers two games ahead of the Packers in the NFC playoff standings.

And with head-to-head results being the first tiebreaker for teams vying for home-field advantage in the playoffs, the Panthers – the top seed in the conference midway through the season – would ostensibly hold a three-game advantage over the Packers.

That would mean that any potential meeting between the Panthers and Packers in January would come in Charlotte and not Green Bay, Wis., where the Packers have historically dominated their opponents in the playoffs.

We both have goals bigger than this game, but this could go a long way when the weather starts to change.

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, on the playoff implications of Sunday’s game vs. Carolina

The Denver Broncos laid out the blueprint on how to beat Green Bay when they throttled the Packers 29-10 on Sunday night. Denver held Rodgers to a career-low 77 passing yards, and after the game Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy said he hadn’t gotten his butt kicked like that in some time.

Denver loaded up the box against the Packers and played with a single-high safety with a lot of man coverage on the outside. Packers receivers struggled to get open, and Denver’s fast, athletic front seven was able to get consistent pressure on the reigning NFL MVP.

“They performed at a very high level,” McCarthy said on a teleconference Wednesday. “It’s definitely something that we need to learn from because people are definitely playing us a lot more aggressively than they have in the past.”

But it will be difficult for the Panthers to emulate what Denver was able to do last week. First, Carolina plays a 4-3 defense while Denver plays a 3-4, so many concepts are different.

And Denver’s pass rush is stronger than Carolina’s. Together, the Broncos’ front seven is faster and more athletic than the sum of the Panthers’ front seven.

Denver was able to get good pressure from its ends in passing situations, and on rushing plays those ends set the edges and bottled up running back Eddie Lacy inside for just 38 yards on 11 touches.

“It’s really good tape and there are some things that they do that we don’t because they’re a 3-4 and we’re a 4-3,” Rivera said.

“There are some things, when you watch the personnel Denver has, it’s a little bit different than some of the personnel we have, as well. There are some things we can use and some things we won’t even consider.”

What Denver did do well, and what Carolina needs to replicate, is not allowing Green Bay to get off to its usual fast start.

The Packers lead the league in points per game in the first quarter, at 9.4. They’re outscoring opponents this season by a margin of 50 points in the first quarter, 15 more than No. 2 New Orleans.

Last year, the Packers jumped out to a 21-0 first-quarter lead against Carolina and won handily in Green Bay. That game was part of Carolina’s two months of futility as the Packers marched on to the NFC Championship Game.

This game is important because it’s the next game, Rivera will tell his players. But the Panthers aren’t ignorant to what a win could ultimately mean for this team come early 2016.

“I think they understand and they know what’s at stake,” Rivera said this week. “They’ll hear it. You guys will write about it. They’ll hear about it. And it’s true: This game is important and it could have implications as we get into January. We’ll be aware of it, but we’ll focus on what it means now and hopefully be able to stay in the now.”

Jonathan Jones: 704-358-5323, @jjones9

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