Once 3-0, the Panthers are a far cry from their early season success
The Carolina Panthers and the Buffalo Bills will face off against one another on Sunday for the first time since the 2017 season. In that game, the Bills traveled to South Carolina only to drop a heartbreaking 9-3 decision where Buffalo had a chance to win at the end of the game, but Tyrod Taylor and Zay Jones couldn’t connect on what would have been the game-winning touchdown pass.
Thankfully for Buffalo, their offensive skill group is a tad more talented than it was in 2017. Perhaps just as fortunate is the fact that Carolina’s offensive unit is a far cry from that group this year. They are struggling to score points, averaging just 19.8 points per game for the season.
Carolina comes to Buffalo with plenty of question marks, but Buffalo has a few questions to answer of their own. After their loss last weekend to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Buffalo is essentially out of mulligans. They need to win at least three of their last four to make the playoffs, and they may even need all four in the win column to qualify for postseason play.
Here are five players to watch for Carolina as Buffalo tries to snap a two-game losing streak.
QB Cam Newton
The Panthers are playing two quarterbacks, with Newton and P.J. Walker both expected to play. Last week against the Atlanta Falcons, neither player was particularly good, as they combined to go 21-of-33 for 253 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions. Newton added ten carries for 42 yards and a touchdown on the day. Against Buffalo’s stout passing defense, I expect that both quarterbacks will struggle, but it’s Newton’s ability to run that makes him the more dangerous weapon. Linebacker Tremaine Edmunds will probably be used to spy the big-bodied quarterback, and he’ll need to keep his eyes on Newton at all times.
RB Chuba Hubbard
No Christian McCaffrey means that Hubbard is the feature back for the Panthers, which is a big plus for Buffalo’s battered rush defense. McCaffrey, when healthy, is among the league’s best players. Hubbard is averaging just 3.5 yards per carry this season, totaling 460 yards and four touchdowns on 132 carries. Buffalo can’t afford one of those big run busts that they’ve allowed this year. Big plays and turnovers are basically the only way Carolina wins this game. If the Bills are sound in their assignments and they hold Hubbard to his average, they’ll be just fine.
WR D.J. Moore
Regardless of how bad the quarterback play has been in Carolina, Moore has remained a stud. He’s caught 72 passes this year for 938 yards and four touchdowns. He’s a legitimate deep threat, which plays into Buffalo’s hands—as the Bills don’t allow many big plays in the passing game. With the speedy Robby Anderson opposite him, though, corners Levi Wallace and Dane Jackson are sure to be tested again this week. They held their own against the Tom Brady-led Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and whether it’s Wallace or Jackson on Moore this week, I expect that the Bills will be up to the task again.
DE Brian Burns
Carolina’s first-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft continues to have a productive career. After totaling 7.5 sacks as a rookie and nine sacks last year, Burns has eight thus far in 2021. He’s added 16 quarterback hits. There have only been two games—Week 4 against the Dallas Cowboys and Week 5 against the Philadelphia Eagles—where Burns hasn’t registered at least one quarterback hit in the contest. Whether he lines up across from Dion Dawkins or Spencer Brown, the Bills and quarterback Josh Allen are going to need to know where he is at all times. Add in Allen’s foot sprain, which should limit his mobility this week, and stopping Carolina’s pass rushers becomes paramount to victory.
OLB Haason Reddick
Speaking of stud pass rushers, Reddick leads the Panthers this year with 10.5 sacks. This is his first year in Carolina, as he came over from the Arizona Cardinals after totaling 12.5 sacks last season. Reddick is on the smaller side at 6’1” and 235 lbs, but he does a great job attacking quarterbacks. He’s also totaled 17 hits on opposing quarterbacks this year. Sure, the Panthers have a good secondary led by Stephon Gilmore and A.J. Bouye, but it’s that pass rush that has the potential to undercut anything the Bills want to do offensively. Protect Allen, win the game. Stopping Reddick will help the accomplish just that.