Three things to watch Sunday when the Carolina Panthers host the Detroit Lions:
Monsters in the middle
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton referred to Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh as “Donkey Kong” this week, saying it five times during his Wednesday press conference. Newton meant it as a joke, albeit one that wasn’t creative or funny, and it’s unclear how Suh received it. You can bet Suh and defensive tackle Nick Fairley, Newton’s teammate at Auburn, already were gunning for Newton’s cracked ribs. It will be up to center Ryan Kalil and the Panthers’ guards to keep Suh and Fairley off Newton, who can play through foot-in-mouth disease but not more broken ribs.
Make Detroit one-dimensional
This sounds counterintuitive, considering the Lions’ receiving corps features the NFL’s top wideout in Calvin Johnson, a dangerous No. 2 receiver in Golden Tate and two pass-catching tight ends in Brandon Pettigrew and rookie Eric Ebron. But if the Panthers shut down the Lions’ rushing attack, as they did vs. Tampa Bay last week, it makes it easier for defensive coordinator Sean McDermott to scheme against QB Matthew Stafford. The Lions averaged only 2.5 yards a carry in a Week 1 win vs. the Giants, and didn’t have a run longer than 12 yards. The Panthers have enough to worry about with Megatron; they don’t need to let Reggie Bush get loose.
Timing is everything
Don’t be surprised to see Newton struggle to connect with his wideouts early in the game. Timing was an issue with Newton throughout the preseason, and that was before he missed two weeks with the rib injury. He would be well served to follow the lead of backup QB Derek Anderson, who took the check-down passes to backs and hit some easy throws to get in an early rhythm last week against the Buccaneers. If the Panthers can establish their running game, that should take some of the pressure off Newton and give him time to get in sync with Kelvin Benjamin, Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant.