Once tipped as a Super Bowl contender this season, the struggling Indianapolis Colts travel to Carolina to face the unbeaten Panthers on MNF.
The Colts have struggled on both sides of the ball this season. Andrew Luck hasn’t been playing well and missed two games with a shoulder injury. The Colts have won games against each of their weak divisional opponents, but have failed to win outside of the AFC South. They are 3-4 and lead the AFC South despite losses to Buffalo, the New York Jets, New England and New Orleans.
The Panthers have defied expectations this season and reached 6-0 despite having virtually zero targets for quarterback Cam Newton to throw too. They lead the NFC South after wins over the Saints and Buccaneers, and have also beaten Jacksonville, Houston, Seattle and Philadelphia.
Three Keys to the Game:
- Protecting Andrew Luck
The Colts have struggled at the line of scrimmage this season after failing to properly address the unit in the offseason. The Colts have allowed 15 sacks so far this season, which isn’t awful by any means. But Luck has been hit a lot, and it cost him two games after he suffered a separated throwing shoulder earlier in the season. Keeping Luck upright will be crucial, especially against a strong Carolina defense.
- Stopping Cam Newton
Indianapolis have also struggled defensively this season. Like most defenses who have faced Cam Newton this year. Newton has always been known as a dual-threat quarterback. But this season he has taken his game to a near-MVP level, having grown as a pocket passer as well as a runner. Newton’s physical style will create problems for the Colts defense, which ranks last in the NFL in total yards allowed.
- Jonathan Stewart
With Carolina lacking for field-stretching receivers, Stewart has had to step up in order to provide Cam Newton with some support. The Panthers have the league’s best rushing attack behind Stewart and Newton. The Colts have allowed 122.7 rushing yards per game this season, 23rd in the league. If Stewart can continue to play well in support of Newton, the Panthers have a good chance to win.
Matchup to watch:
Andrew Luck vs Cam Newton
These two young quarterbacks are often described as the game’s next two biggest quarterback stars for the next ten years. Over the last few years, it’s Luck who has had the edge on a playoff contending team. The Panthers have been contenders as well, but struggled last season while the Colts reached the AFC Championship game. But on Monday, it’s Newton who will have the advantage, with a better running game and a stout defense behind him. With Luck seemingly a shadow of his former self, it’s hard to see how he can beat Newton.
The Panther are a much better all-round team than the Colts, who have really taken a step back this year. Carolina’s defense will have an answer for Indianapolis’ offense at every turn, with a strong front seven backed up by Josh Norman and a promising young secondary. The Colts have really struggled against the run over the last few years, and Cam Newton and Jonathan Stewart should have a field day on Monday night.