Cam Newton made headlines this week for all of the wrong reasons. But don’t expect that it will be a distraction when his Carolina Panthers play the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on Sunday.
Just expect two 3-1 teams going about their business.
No doubt, the mobile Newton can be a challenge for defenses. But the Panthers haven’t played this year’s version of the Lions’ defense.
Five Lions to watch:
1. Matthew Stafford ha thrown 137 passes without an interception. He’s coming off a win at the Vikings in which the Lions’ offense wasn’t all of that. In his defense, he was sacked six times. “Let’s say I’m not referring to the streak that he’s on right now. I’m just going to say that obviously he’s done a nice job in terms of navigating some very difficult terrain with a lot of people around you, getting the ball down field, making the proper decisions,’’ coach Jim Caldwell said. “There may have been a time or two that he maybe had to take a sack as opposed to throwing it up in the air. But I think he’s done a really nice job at that. But I think he’s been doing that for a while now when you look at just his trajectory over the years, he’s been improving in that area consistently.
“And we constantly preach that that’s the most important part of what we do is to win that turnover battle and so I think everybody’s kind of bought into it at this point in time. But we haven’t had any of those freaky interceptions. Sometimes it happened where there’s nothing you can do about it. You throw, it bounces off a guy’s hands and up in the air of another guy, and all you see is on the stats sheet, there was an interception but a quarterback there’s a lot of other factors involved,’’ Caldwell added.
2. Ameer Abdullah ran for 94 yards at Minnesota. Part of what makes the running back special is that h finds yards when it appears there is nowhere for him to go. “Really good runner, makes some plays, puts it where it needs to be a lot of times and then creates a lot, which is what you want out of a running back,’’ offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said. “So, he made some nice runs last game, really high effort runs, kept fighting for yards and some of those ended up being really huge runs for our team. So, Ameer’s a good player, hope he keeps improving, getting better and let’s keep this thing going.”
3. Theo Riddick has not had a breakout game in the first quarter. “I think he gets attention. Whether that’s more than the past, it probably is a little bit, I mean I’m sure guys have their scouting reports and No. 25’s on there,’’ Cooter said. “He’s run a lot of routes over the years where he’s beaten guys and gotten open. I wouldn’t say defenses are drastically changing their structure, but every now and then might be a vital call, where Theo may have been one-on-one in the past and now he’s sort of doubled. There’s also been a time or two where he’s gotten open and we hadn’t hit the pass or whatever. It hasn’t been these things all happen during the year, especially for games like this. So, Theo’s still doing a really nice job, Theo’s going to be really productive for us.’’
4. Quietly TJ Jones has been quietly productive averaging 16 yards per catch with eight catches for 128 yards. “TJ’s extremely reliable. Good quickness, gets open a lot, catches the ball, versatile, can play multiple positions at receiver. Intelligent, can handle a pretty heavy workload mentally,” Cooter said. “Sometimes we put a lot on certain guys and he’s one of those guys. He’s been around here awhile, he’s been in a spot where he’s sort of playing every spot or maybe backing up every spot. Now, he’s in a spot where he’s sort of playing a bunch of reps, but he’s still expected to be able to play every other spot in the offense, and sort of handle the week-to-week mental challenge of different defensive looks, and who do I block on this play, and how are we running this route, is it a little different than last week, and all that stuff. He’s really good at that, the quarterback trusts him, where he’s going to be and I think that’s really valuable. TJ’s done a nice job, he’s got to keep coming, he’s not a finished product either, but we’re happy with TJ, he’s having a good year so far.”
5. Tahir Whitehead moved to the outside linebacker position after Jarrad Davis was drafted. “I think Tahir has embraced every time he’s moved. I don’t think he has to embrace anything. He likes playing football and he just wants to help our team win. So, I think that’s the big thing. He’s played well,’’ defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said. “He’s bounced around a little bit in terms of position but everywhere he’s been, he’s been productive for us. He just really has – again, he’s playing well this year. He’s playing probably more confident than ever. I guess that comes with being in the same system for a while. You kind of know the ins and outs. He kind of knows me, knows what I’m going to call maybe at certain times. So, I think that’s been good for him, and he’s played really well. I’m really happy for him.’’
PREDICTION: Lions 27, Panthers 17