If Steelers rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier was viewed as an athletic phenom when the Steelers drafted him in the first round this year, the team must have been thinking of their upcoming game against the Carolina Panthers and quarterback Cam Newton.
However athletic Shazier is, Newton is as well. Shazier will likely be devouring film on the Panthers' third-year quarterback, studying his movement and preparing to shadow him wherever he goes around Bank of America Stadium in Week 3.
Newton missed the Panthers' Week 1 game with a rib injury, but he fell right into the flow of the season last week, continuously taunting Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, referring to him as "Donkey Kong," in a play off the mispronunciation of his first name. Still, Newton has that kind of confidence, and he can back it up - the Panthers ran the Lions out of the stadium in the second half, en route to a 24-7 win and a 2-0 record.
In many ways, Shazier is to the Steelers as fellow rookie Kelvin Benjamin - a player the Steelers met with during his Pro Day at Florida State - is to the Panthers. The young WR will be saddled with plenty of snaps this season due to enormous physical potential and the need for athleticism on that side of the ball. Benjamin will be Newton's primary target, looking to make plays outside the numbers. But he'll run around the middle as well, pressuring the spying Shazier between coverage and mirror responsibilities.
Reining Newton in is ultimately a team effort, but Shazier has the speed to keep him in the box while the Steelers' secondary needs to mark Benjamin all over the field. Add in the technically-inclined, ex-Steelers WR Jerricho Cotchery as well as the solidity a talented run game brings the Panthers, and it's one of the more dynamic offenses in the league.
It can be stopped, but teams have to stop Newton in order to do it. The Steelers have failed to stop mobile quarterbacks during the last year, and Newton is perhaps the best of them all. It's a big test for the rookie - as if playing a defending division champion in prime time isn't tough enough.
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