During a midweek conference call with media in Cincinnati, Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said his team’s Week 3 matchup with the Bengals is an “intriguing” one.
The Panthers (1-1) host the Cincinnati Bengals (2-0) on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, and both teams bring talented skill players on offense and tough-to-beat front sevens on defense.
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A lot of the attention falls on the quarterback matchup between Andy Dalton and Cam Newton, but here are five takeaways from what Rivera said about the matchup ahead with Cincinnati:
1. Business as usual for Carolina
Hurricane Florence hit the Carolinas about a week ago and several communities are still dealing with the cleanup from flooding and wind damage. However, Rivera said the Panthers were not affected in terms of their ability to prepare or practice.
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He’s hoping this game can brighten spirits of those who were impacted more.
“We’re very fortunate,” Rivera said. “We got a lot of rain, some wind and we had some trees down and power outages and it affected some of the coaches and players but not to where it’s affected our neighbors on the coast and South Carolina, as well. We are very fortunate. It really wasn’t as bad as it could have been for us, but unfortunately it’s still affected so many Carolinians.”
2. Cincinnati native boosts Panthers’ D
Cincinnati native and St. Xavier High School graduate Luke Kuechly leads Carolina’s defense as a seventh-year starting middle linebacker. He has 19 tackles through the first two games, and Rivera called him a “special young man.”
“He is just one of those guys that just understands the game, knows the game, loves the game, works at the game,” Rivera said. “That’s the whole package. He communicates very well with everybody he plays with, and he is just that kind of guy. We are very fortunate to have him.
“I will say this, too — he’s got the best first step I’ve ever seen, and again, I was around Brian Urlacher, Mike Singletary Jeremiah Trotter and guys like that, and I can’t remember anybody having the type of first step he has. I think that’s one of his greatest assets is his football quickness.”
3. Offense has evolved with McCaffrey
After Carolina took running back Christian McCaffrey with its first-round pick in the 2017 draft (eighth overall), it seemed the Panthers began tailoring their offense around him. He became the first rookie running back to record 70 catches and five receiving touchdowns, but Rivera said it all goes back to quarterback Cam Newton, a dual-threat player who has helped bring McCaffrey along.
McCaffrey had 14 catches for 102 yards last week against Atlanta.
“A big part of it has been the development of our quarterback in the system that Norv Turner is running for us,” Rivera said. “There are a couple things from the game the other day when you go back and look at it that Cam actually decided to put the ball in Christian’s hands when Christian was the third option. Again, a lot of it has been his development as a quarterback but also getting an understanding of what Christian means to our offense now.
“Last year we were just learning and just kind of growing with him and him growing with us. This year we have a much better handle and feel as to how to use him and exploit him.”
4. Bengals bring different running game
Rivera doesn’t expect much of a difference in Cincinnati’s running game production with Giovani Bernard carrying the ball more in Joe Mixon’s absence. Mixon ranked second in the league with 179 rushing yards through two games before undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery to repair his meniscus Saturday.
The 5-foot-9, 205-pound Bernard is clearly a different type of running back than Mixon but capable of being just as effective, Rivera said.
“I think it’s more about the style,” Rivera said. “It doesn’t look like they changed their offense too much. They do what they do and they are going to try to do it as best they can.”
5. Scouting the Bengals overall
A lot jumps out at Rivera when he looks at film of the Bengals, but among the most noticeable to him is the front seven on defense and the Dalton-A.J. Green connection.
“I like what they do in terms of their defense, their physical, attacking, downhill style of defense,” he said. “I think they’ve got some really good front seven players. Their linebackers and D-line get it going, and I like the quickness and athleticism of their secondary. It’s a very well-rounded defense.
“… I’ve always liked the quarterback. He’s a heck of a football player. The tight ends are a good group. Obviously the running game is solid and stout. … But I think a lot of it starts with their wide receiving corps. They are explosive. They’ve got guys that can go vertical very quickly on you, and it’s led by A.J. Green.”