Last Sunday, the Chargers dropped a painful game to the Tampa Bay Bucs in what essentially ended the Bolts’ playoff hopes.
This week, the Bolts travel to Charlotte to face the struggling Panthers, in a matchup of two of the biggest disappointments in the NFL this season.
As we do every week here at EVT, let’s take a look at the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses.
1. Cam Newton
Last season was a fairy tale for Newton, as he led his team to the Super Bowl and won the league MVP in the process. It’s incredible how things have changed this year for him, as he has struggled mightily for most of the season. Things reached a pinnacle last week when head coach Ron Rivera benched him for violating the dress code. When Newton is right, he might be the most unusual offensive weapon in football because he’s a QB in a TE body. The man is very dangerous and the Chargers can only hope he remains in his slumber on Sunday.
2. Greg Olsen
The Panthers have one of the elite TEs in all of football. The former Miami Hurricane is great at using his body to shield off defenders. He’s also a great red zone target for Newton, who constantly looks for Olsen in crunch time. If Cameron Brate had a huge game on last Sunday, it might be safe to assume that Olsen will be a problem this Sunday. The safeties will have a tough task keeping Olsen contained. Jahleel Addae and Dwight Lowery will need to step up their game.
3. Thomas Davis
Davis is truly a remarkable story. After being drafted in the first round, Davis suffered serious knee injuries three times, and came back every time. He’s great in coverage and rarely gets out of position for the Panthers. Luke Kuechly might be the better defender, but there’s no question that Davis is the heart and soul of their defense. Keuchly is still iffy to play on Sunday, but Davis will be there and he will be the one tracking down Melvin Gordon in and around the line of scrimmage.
The Panthers have Ryan Kalil, but he’s injured and will not play on Sunday. That leaves the Panthers with a very fragile O-Line, and Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram could easily take advantage of that fact. Last week, Seattle was all over them as they were blasted 40-7. The Chargers should pin their ears back and put pressure on them from the start in order to control the line of scrimmage. Expect Newton to run for his life at times as the Chargers get pressure on him.
2. Starting CB
This off-season, Carolina refused to give Josh Norman a long-term deal, and the all-pro CB decided to leave. That left Carolina with a bunch of unproven players in the backfield, and it has not worked out. The coaching staff thought they would be okay, and they are clearly full of regrets. It’s safe to say that they were wrong, as both James Bradberry and Daryl Worley shouldn’t be starting for any team. Both of them have constantly gotten beaten for long plays. I think Tyrell Williams could have a big day on Sunday. Dontrelle Inmann could also be in store for some big plays.
3. The Locker Room Vibe
Last season, when Carolina made a trip to the Super Bowl, everything was fun and games. They were taking selfies, dabbing, hugging each other, and all that stuff. This season looks like they’re just not getting along and it shows in their play on the field. Maybe Cam’s “look at me” attitude is starting to get on the nerves of the coaching staff and/or players. Or maybe the fact that Khalil and Kuechly are not on the field is hurting them. Either way, this team doesn’t look like they want to be out there and they definitely are not having fun.
So there you have it. Both teams are playing for pride, and in the Chargers case, they are playing for their coach’s job.
I think we can expect a low scoring game in which Melvin Gordon should dominate for the Bolts.