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5 Things To Watch: Being careful with the ball


CHARLOTTE — Yes, there will be familiar faces Sunday when the Panthers visit the Bills.

But there's nothing normal about this meeting, or the days leading up to it.

The Bills' brain trust of head coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane (both former Panthers staffers) has had to worry about the injury status of their star quarterback, in addition to having lost five of their last eight after beating the Chiefs in Week 5.

The Panthers are similarly struggling, having lost their last three since an emotional win at Arizona.

There are plenty of storylines, so here's a look at five things to keep an eye on during Sunday's game.


There's a difference between simple and easy.

The reason for many of the Panthers' struggles this year is reasonably uncomplicated — they give the ball away too often. Fixing it is a much more complicated issue, especially against a team that plays the way this week's opponent does.

"We're playing a Buffalo Bills team where they thrive off turnovers," offensive play-caller Jeff Nixon said this week. "When they win the turnover battle, they're tough to beat. When we win the turnover battle, we're tough to beat.

"So that's been a big emphasis this week is protecting the football, not beating ourselves, and giving us the best chance to pull out a win on Sunday."

Nixon is not wrong; the trends are clear. The Panthers are 5-1 when they win or tie the turnover margin in a game. When they turn it over more than they take it away, they're 0-7. The Bills are 6-0 when they win the turnover battle, and 1-6 when they tie or lose it.

Having the ball is one of the most basic tasks of a football team, and the Panthers are too far on the wrong side of it this year (minus-8). Getting that moving in the right direction is easier said than done. When Panthers head coach Matt Rhule was asked how to coach turnovers out of a team, he began by saying: "That's a really deep, long question."

"They come from a lot of different places, but the simple answer is execution, right?" he said. "Most turnovers come from the quarterback position, so you have to protect the quarterback from getting hit, because being affected in throwing the ball, . . . most of the turnovers we've gotten have come from us hitting the other teams quarterback and knocking the ball out. I think we have to continue to be better in the passing game.

"And then you have to avoid catastrophic mistakes. It's one thing to have giveaways; it's another thing to be falling to the ground, and trying to reach a ball out. We've had too many turnovers just on exchanges. Those things have to be continually improved upon.

"Improve technique, improve scheme, improve the way that you do things. I think our team recognizes how important it is; it's just making it the standard that you don't do it. But obviously, that hasn't happened yet, so we have to continue to work at it."


The Panthers have struggled at times this year against power-running teams.

The Bills are not a power running team, as they're built around quarterback Josh Allen's ability to spread the ball around. Their running backs have the second-fewest carries in the league this year.

The Panthers have the league's best pass defense, though they're not as deep in the secondary as they have been.

Having veteran cornerback Stephon Gilmore back as a full-time player helps in that regard, but they'll be without A.J. Bouye this week because of a foot injury that could cost him some time, in addition to having Donte Jackson and Jaycee Horn on injured reserve.

But Allen has struggled a bit of late, with eight interceptions since Week 9, which is tied for the most in the league over that span (he had just three picks in the first seven games).


Panthers quarterback Cam Newton didn't want to delve too deeply into the topic this week, but the comparisons between Allen and the younger version of himself are valid.

Newton and Allen are the only two quarterbacks in league history to each have more than 25 rushing touchdowns in their first four seasons. Newton had 33 from 2011-14, while Allen's at 29. They're far ahead of Daunte Culpepper (22) and Lamar Jackson (21) on that list.

They're also two of just three quarterbacks in league history with 12,000 or more passing yards and 2,000 or more rushing yards in their first four seasons, a club Russell Wilson is also a member of. Newton had 14,426 passing yards and 2,571 rushing yards over his first four seasons, while Allen's at 13,231 and 2,093 with four games left in his fourth year.


Like the Panthers, the Bills have one of the league's top defenses.

Like the Panthers, it hasn't looked that way lately.

The Bills still lead the league in yards allowed per game, and the Panthers are still second in that category.

But the Bills gave up 488 yards in last week's overtime loss to the Buccaneers. That was the first time they've given up more than 400 yards in a game this year.

The Panthers have likewise regressed a bit. In their last three games, they've allowed an average of 334.0 total yards per game (41.0 yards per game over their season average), and 46.3 percent of third-down conversions (nearly 10 points higher than their season average of 36.4).


While Panthers leading wideout DJ Moore is questionable for Sunday's game with a hamstring injury, he and teammate Robby Anderson have picked up the pace lately.

As part of some general improvements in the passing game, Anderson and Moore each gained 84 receiving yards last week against the Falcons. That's the first time this season they've both hit 80 or more yards in the same game.

Anderson's seven catches last week were also a season-high for him.

Moore's 14th in the league with 938 receiving yards this season, continuing to show that he's one of the NFL's best big-play threats.


Make Harris Teeter your choice for pre and post game tailgate celebrations! Enjoy this recipe from Harris Teeter & Tyson – Buffalo Chicken Dip