clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Steelers vs. Panthers: Carolina's offense looking for early-down success

The fewer long downs the Panthers have, the more the Steelers will struggle. Winning first down will be essential for the road underdog Steelers.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Beware the short ball.

The Steelers, through two games in 2014, have largely taken away deep passing, and that appears to be just fine for their opponents. The Browns and Ravens both had success against Pittsburgh throwing away from blitzes and getting the ball in the short field, setting up second- or third-and-manageable situations.

The Steelers are allowing 11.5 third downs per game, which is the sixth-lowest total in the league, but since they're allowing 5.5 yards per play (19th) in the NFL, teams are balancing their attack against them on all three downs.

This kind of methodical approach is what the Panthers will want to establish when they host the Steelers on Sunday Night Football in Week 3, but it's a fair question to wonder if it's the team's highest and best use. Newton missed the team's Week 1 win but played in Week 2, catching fire in the second half. They ran the Lions out of the building largely on Newton's arm strength, and a variable offense.

With one of the league's worst rushing teams through two weeks (Carolina) meeting one of the league's worst defenses after two games (Pittsburgh), it wouldn't be surprising to see the Panthers look to employ a short passing attack similar to what Cleveland and Baltimore did. In doing so, the Panthers can minimize their long passing downs and, again, neutralize the exotic blitz packages of LeBeau.

A smart counter-attack to this would be playing Cover 2 while trying to maximize the pressure brought over the A gap. Getting hands in the face and bodies at the feet of Newton can make him uncomfortable enough to force a bad throw or two - a key component to setting up second- or third-and-long. These gap blitzes also serve well against the run, provided the Steelers' edge can hold against the Panthers' zone-read approach.

Expect the Panthers to look to run outside, but they'll pressure the Steelers up the middle if they aren't willing to defend it. Rolling Newton out and giving him room to breathe and deliver the ball downfield, utilizing his enormous arm strength, seems like a solid bet. To do that, they will have to establish the run, so how these teams play each other early in the game and on early downs will be the key to how this game will be decided.

Check Out Football Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with The Standard3 on BlogTalkRadio