Over the last year, the Detroit Lions have become much improved at limiting the rushing attacks of the opposition. That notion will be put to the test this weekend.
The Carolina Panthers, quarterbacked by the elusive Cam Newton, are not an average, straight ahead ground attack. The Panthers like to pound Newton into the opposition’s line and let him freelance, and also enjoy hammering away with a pair of running backs. All have shifty moves and quick feet laterally.
DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, with a mix of speed and power, can create headaches for the opposition. Throw Mike Tolbert into the mix, and it’s clear Carolina has a trio of runners that can both deliver punishing blows in the second level and change the game with speed.
When the Panthers and Lions last played in November 2011, Williams collected 73 yards, Newton 37 with a pair of scores and that was it. As a whole, the Panthers rushed for 137 yards, which helped them get into a shootout with the Lions that they eventually lost thanks to Newton interceptions.
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Knowing this, the pressure will not only be on Detroit’s defensive line to hold up, but the collection of linebackers which will be in charge of keeping Newton in check in the middle of the field and slowing the runners if they break through to the second level.
Stephen Tulloch will have to be a tackling machine, DeAndre Levy will have to play responsible and Tahir Whitehead will need to be an impact play maker like he was in the preseason. Detroit’s linebackers will need to not be fooled by the quick, powerful legs of all the Panther runners they will face, and tackle well in space.
Detroit’s linebackers will need to not be fooled by the quick, powerful legs of all the Panther runners they will face, and tackle well in space.
Week one, without Newton, the Panthers still collected 113 yards on the ground (72 by Williams) against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a team many figured would begin to take on a stingy defensive look under Lovie Smith.
Detroit’s cornerbacks and safeties will certainly be under fire with Newton slinging the ball around, but the damage he and his running backs can do after passing through the line of scrimmage is most significant. If Detroit’s linebackers can spy Newton while stopping Carolina from gaining extra rushing yards after contact, they will likely win the game, and be able to have success against the passing attack.
Should the Panthers continue to use their sweet moves to hypnotize linebackers and elevate into the third level, the Lions could be on the wrong end of a shootout three years after winning the first one at home.