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Saturday, December 14, 2013
W2W4: Jets at Panthers

By David Newton

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- An examination of five key issues for the Carolina Panthers (9-4) as they play host to the New York Jets (6-7) on Sunday at 4:05 p.m.:

Forget New Orleans: This is twofold. First, the Panthers have to put the 31-13 drubbing they got from the Saints out of their minds and write it off as a bad performance against a team that beats everybody in the Superdome. To dwell on it could be disastrous. Second, they can't look past the Jets at next weekend's rematch against New Orleans in Charlotte. New York may have its problems, but it already has beaten the Saints and New England.

Home sweet Cam: As I noted earlier in the week, quarterback Cam Newton has the second-best quarterback rating (82.1) in the league at home behind Denver's Peyton Manning. He's 43.1 points higher at Bank of America Stadium than he is away from it. Whatever the reason, Newton must maintain that level against a Jets team that ranks second in the NFL against the run. As Newton goes, so do the Panthers.

Rattle rookie: Jets quarterback Geno Smith isn't Drew Brees. He has more turnovers (20 interceptions and four lost fumbles) than any player in the league. The Jets have 28 turnovers, the second-most in the NFL. The Carolina defense has 26 takeaways -- fourth best in the league -- though it didn't get one for the first time since Week 13 of 2012 against the Saints. Sixteen of those takeaways have been interceptions, so forcing Smith into one or two seems highly likely.

Stop the run: This doesn't sound like a difficult assignment for a defense that ranks first in the league against the run (79.4 yards per game), but the Jets and their 11th-ranked rush offense will try to run to take the pressure off Smith. Carolina must make the Jets one-dimensional to make the above happen.

Red zone blues: Carolina has been one of the best teams at scoring touchdowns inside the 20-yard line this season, but against New Orleans was only 1-for-3. As coach Ron Rivera & Co. said repeatedly all week, you don't win games by settling for field goals. The Jets rank fifth in the league in red zone defense.