Winners of their last four, the Pittsburgh Steelers host the Carolina Panthers for Thursday Night Football. Carolina has won four of their last five games and comes in with a 6-2 record, however, Thursdays typically favor the home team and that has been the case thus far for Pittsburgh.
9-9 in games played on Thursdays, the Steelers have an exceptional 7-2 win-loss record when playing those games at Heinz Field. They have also won their last five-straight against the Panthers and hope to continue that streak on a short week with a relatively healthy team that is trending upward.
There are some keys I’ve picked out for the Steelers to continue with their winning ways against the Panthers in primetime.
It didn’t start out as an advantage, but now the Steelers have an opportunity to be better than .500 on their home turf. The color rush jerseys will be broken out for Thursday, and I feel the Steelers will be more than hyped up to make a statement in this game.
Look for the Steelers faithful to share in the same enthusiasm.
Conner needs 20-25 touches
This has become a no-brainer. The key to Steelers wins this season is when RB James Conner is involved in the offense.
In games where the second-year back has failed to touch the ball at least twenty times, the Steelers have lost (Chiefs and Ravens). In the others, they haven’t lost.
Conner is the engine that keeps Pittsburgh’s train (or incline) moving!
Contain Cam Newton
Cam Newton has only been sacked 12 times in eight games this season, once more than Ben Roethlisberger. Newton has also had 15 touchdown passes, one less than Big Ben as well, but has added four more rushing TDs to his 2018 stats.
Along with a 67.3% completion rate, this should tip off even the most casual of fans to the improvements the Panthers offense has experienced under offensive coordinator Norv Turner. Getting pressure on Newton will be paramount to a Pittsburgh win on Thursday.
Also contain Christian McCaffrey
Also, a second-year running back in the league, McCaffrey is a dual-threat in the Panthers running and passing games. He’s only run for more than 80 yards once all season (against Cincinnati, 184) but has already caught 49 passes for 378 yards and scored a total of five touchdowns with a total of 880 yards from scrimmage.
Keeping an eye on Christian is a major key to slowing down the Panthers scoring attack, which ranks two spots below the Steelers at 11th overall in the NFL.
Combined with Cam Newton, the duo has helped the Panthers rush for 143 yards per game: also second-most in the league.
Convert on kicks
With both defenses playing eerily similar in style, the final score could come down to the specialists. We’re aware of Chris Boswell’s struggles at times this season, but Gano has also missed two extra points. Yet, he’s perfect in all field goal attempts, hitting all four from 40-49 and all three from 50-plus yards out.
Chris Boswell must keep pace if given the opportunity in this game. He’s missed three attempts from 40-49 yards and has yet to attempt any kick of 50 yards or more in 2018.