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Carolina Panthers

What to watch: Panthers at Colts


The number 10 often is associated with perfection, something with which quarterback Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts often have been associated.

But after nine consecutive regular seasons with 10 or more victories, the Colts won't be getting No. 10.

Instead, with Manning sidelined with a neck injury, they're 0-10 heading into the Panthers' trip to Indianapolis on Sunday.

"You can't sit there and just figure that 0-10 is 0-10. This is the NFL, and it's hard – every week is hard," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said. "You can throw the record right out too because what our record says, I don't think we are."

The Panthers enter the game not that much better record-wise at 2-8, so they're not in a position to assume anything.

"Trust me, we aren't looking past anyone right now," Panthers quarterback Cam Newton said. "You need to be asking their coach not to look past us. We're a team full of questions, and we've got to try to find some exclamation points somewhere."

For the Panthers to prevail, they can't give the downtrodden Colts a reason to get up off the turf. Following are some areas where the Colts could gain some dangerous confidence if the Panthers don't take care of business.

GET A BIG PASS PLAY: Obviously the area hurt most by Manning's absence is the Colts' usually vaunted passing game, now in the hands of Curtis Painter.

"I know they're missing Peyton, who is really the lynchpin of what they do offensively," Rivera said. "But you still see the playmakers they have out there."

Wide receivers Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon still are capable. In back-to-back narrow losses earlier in the season, Garcon totaled seven catches for 271 yards and four touchdowns.

The big pass plays have been few and far between since, and a Panthers secondary that has been victimized by big plays at times needs to keep it that way.


GET TO CAM: In years past, Colts defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis have treated visiting quarterbacks like Thanksgiving leftovers, feasting on them while changing the course of many a game.

The Colts' pass rush, like most everything else this season, has stumbled, but the talent is still there.

"We've got our work cut out for us. Those guys up front can wreak some havoc," Panthers tight end Greg Olsen said. "We've got to protect well – which we usually do. Our offensive line is really good.

"We've got to get the ball out fast, and that's something we're working on. We've got to get open faster to give Cam somewhere to throw the ball. It's a collective effort."

Newton was sacked a season-high five times two week ago against the Tennessee Titans – another team that had been struggling to collect sacks – and the result was a 30-3 loss.


GET A GAME-CHANGING TURNOVER: Newton has turned the ball over in eight games this season. The Panthers are 0-8 when he commits a turnover and are 2-0 when he doesn't.

That's a pretty straightforward trend. Newton can't give the ball away, especially in an area of the field that would set up the Colts for some easy points.

GET MOMENTUM THROUGH SPECIAL TEAMS: The Panthers' special teams units showed significant progress last week, as evidenced by the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week honor bestowed upon kick returner Kealoha Pilares.

Against the Colts, it will be more about making sure Indianapolis isn't allowed to flip the field via special teams. It's an area of the game that Manning's absence doesn't impact, so the Panthers must guard against letting special teams significantly impact the scoreboard in a negative way.

GET THE CROWD INTO IT: If the Colts are able to gain momentum and confidence through a game-changing type of play, their crowd will awaken and make things that much more difficult for the Panthers.

Carolina doesn't need any additional challenges on the road, having lost 12 consecutive regular season games away from home.

"It would be a great week to establish a different streak," Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy said. "But you can't take it lightly at all."

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