Joseph Person’s three things to watch in Sunday’s Carolina Panthers game against Green Bay:
Panthers can’t afford a slow start
Several early defensive penalties and a couple of 3-and-outs by the offense doomed the Panthers last year, when Green Bay scored touchdowns on its first three possessions. The Panthers have yet to allow a first-quarter touchdown this season, and only Denver has given up fewer first-quarter points. The Packers have averaged 9.4 points in the first quarter this season, tops in the league. Carolina’s offense can help by putting together a long early drive, even if it means Ron Rivera going full Riverboat Ron, as he did last week against Indianapolis.
Benwikere has to come up big in the slot
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With cornerback Josh Norman locked in on the outside, one of the game’s most interesting matchups will be Panthers nickel back Bené Benwikere against slot receiver Randall Cobb. While Cobb is well off his pace from his 1,200-yard receiving season in 2014, his ability to change directions in a hurry present problems. Benwikere missed the Green Bay game last year, when Cobb had six catches for 121 yards and a touchdown. With help from outside linebacker Thomas Davis, Benwikere was able to neutralize Eagles slot receiver Jordan Matthews two weeks ago. But Cobb is quicker and more dangerous.
Keep Julius Peppers at bay
The ex-Panthers’ Pro Bowler has had some big games against his former team, with three sacks in his last two meetings. At 35, Peppers has lost a little of his explosiveness, but only a little. He leads the Packers with 5.5 sacks, and has 10 sacks in his last 11 games (including playoffs). With Green Bay using Peppers both outside and in, keeping him off Cam Newton will be a team effort. If Newton gets time to throw, look for him to test rookie cornerback Damarious Randall. Randall, a first-round pick from Arizona State, is expected to make his first career start in place of injured corners Sam Shields and Quinten Rollins.
Packers at Panthers
Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte
When: Sunday, 1 p.m.