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Carolina Panthers vs. Detroit Lions: Five Things To Watch

November 20th, 2011 at 9:00 AM
By Max DeMara

The Detroit Lions will try to restore some order to their season Sunday afternoon, as they prepare for a tilt with the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers enter Ford Field at 2-7, but they have been in every single game with the exception of last week's. The Lions will have to continue that trend by hammering the Panthers while they are down. Carolina packs a potent offense and a defense with plenty of play makers to give the Lions fits, so anybody assuming this game will be a cakewalk is in for a rude awakening.

With the upcoming schedule, this Carolina game has essentially become a must win for the Lions to keep their playoff hopes alive and well. A loss could prove damaging, so finding a reason to focus shouldn't be a problem.

What should fans focus on at home? Here are five things to watch as the Lions tangle with the Panthers in the ultimate cat fight.

Cam Newton. The rookie phenom has been a breath of fresh air in the NFL, and he has been putting up astonishing numbers with his legs and his arm. Detroit gets an up close and personal look at last year's Heisman winner this weekend, and the Lions will need to be extra careful with the physical young quarterback. They will need to have superior gap discipline to limit Newton's running ability, while getting people to his face to slow his sneaky good passing game.

How Aggressive Will The Lions' Defense Be? A week after playing a ruthless, physical game against Chicago, plenty members of the Lions' defense were fined for their actions. Will the Lions be forced to tone down their aggressiveness and their "hit to kill" attitude fearing ejection, suspensions or future fines? The Lions will need to play aggressive with care on Sunday, not losing their salty disposition but keeping it in check. It will be important for them to stay physical and not lose their identity, despite all the claims of dirtiness from other teams and the media.

Matthew Stafford's Performance. Stafford had a dreadful day last Sunday in Chicago. Can he rebound? Will his finger injury be an issue? And how about those gloves, which he is slated to wear again? Tomorrow will be the litmus test, as no wind is expected inside Ford Field. It goes without saying that Stafford's health and efficiency will be important for the Lions to win tomorrow, and is crucial for the Lions' as the season winds down.

Can The Lions Take Care Of Business Against A Team They Should Beat? The Lions making the playoffs is incumbent on winning games like ones against 2-7 Carolina. The Lions need the win badly, not just to erase the painful memories of last week, but to keep pace in the playoff hunt with tougher games remaining. The Lions can ill afford to slip up with this major opportunity ahead of them, and any opportunities against teams they should beat on the upcoming schedule.

The Punting Game. Last week, a critical error in the punting game helped the Bears secure the victory. The Lions apparently were not impressed with Robert Malone as their replacement for the injured Ryan Donahue, and released him in exchange for Ben Graham. Can Graham rescue the special teams unit in the absence of Donahue? One thing is for certain, the Panthers don't have Devin Hester. Still, the Lions will need to cover punts much better and get a better effort from their punting team to have success. 

Tags: Ben Graham, Detroit, Detroit Lions, Football, Matthew Stafford, NFL, Ryan Donahue

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