Skip to main content
Carolina Panthers

What to watch: Panthers at Texans


The Carolina Panthers have won twice as many games as they did all of last season, yet they can't help but feel like they should have won twice as many as they have.

Sunday, they'll get another chance to try to put four good quarters together against a quality opponent when they visit the AFC South champion Houston Texans.

Carolina (4-9) has led at some point in all but one of its 13 games, but the Panthers still are seeking their first victory over a team with the winning record.

Houston (10-3) certainly qualifies.

"That's a good football team - just turn on the film and watch the way they play," Panthers left guard Travelle Wharton said. "They play together, physical and fast. You can't help but be impressed."

The Panthers have been impressive for parts of most Sundays, like last week when they claimed a 23-7 halftime lead against an Atlanta team in good shape to make the playoffs. The Falcons, however, rallied to a 31-23 victory, an all-too familiar storyline that Carolina wants to avoid this week.

"We started fast, but we just didn't finish the game," Wharton said. "When you play in this league, you have to finish every game."

Here are some keys to finally finishing on top.

ATTACK THE QUARTERBACK: To date, the Panthers' four victories have come against a rookie quarterback making his first start (Jacksonville's Blaine Gabbert); a quarterback who hadn't started since 2007 (Washington's John Beck) and one that hadn't started since 2009 (Tampa Bay's Josh Johnson); and a career backup in his first season as a starter (Indianapolis' Curtis Painter).

Sunday, Texans rookie T.J. Yates will make just his third start.

But while those previous victims all play for teams with losing records, Yates is undefeated as a starter for a team that has now won seven games in a row.

"You can tell he's a very smart football player. He understands exactly what they're doing out there, and each week he seems to play better and better," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said. "They have a good offensive line in front of him and a good running game, plus they've got weapons at wide receiver and tight end."

Yates has been sacked eight times in his first two starts, yet the Texans have won narrow decisions. The Panthers have to keep testing him with pressure and hope he breaks this time.


FOSTER FILES: The one inexperienced quarterback to beat the Panthers so far is Minnesota Vikings rookie Christian Ponder, in large part because he got a large amount of assistance from running back Adrian Peterson.

Yates has a similarly strong running back at his disposal in Arian Foster, who will try to gouge a Panthers defense that ranks 23rd in the NFL against the run.

"It's going to be a long day if we don't come in ready to fit the gaps and be in a dogfight," Carolina defensive end Greg Hardy said.

Foster (957 yards) has endured his share of injuries but has enjoyed ample assistance from Ben Tate (820 yards), helping the Texans rank second in the NFL in rushing offense.

"It's a speed and vision combo," Hardy said. "Those guys know when to hit it and where to hit it."

The Panthers defense must hit back.

ANSWERING BACK: The Texans haven't scored more than 20 points in their last three victories, but they haven't allowed more than 20 points in any game during their seven-game winning streak.

"They're the No. 1 defense - that's where it starts," Panthers rookie quarterback Cam Newton said. "You can pick your poison: the defensive line, the linebacking corps, the secondary. Those guys are solid on all fronts, and their scheme is giving offenses fits. Hopefully we can come up with a scheme to be successful."

Carolina has beaten a pair of top-11 defenses (Jacksonville, Washington) with its fifth-ranked offense. For the Panthers to pull off the upset, Newton and Co. must be on point.


SPEAKING OF POINTS: The Panthers can't afford to let any scoring opportunities pass them by against Houston.

Touchdowns are far preferred to field goals, but missed field goals could hurt the team's psyche not to mention on the scoreboard.

Whether veteran Olindo Mare or rookie Adi Kunalic gets the call, the Panthers need to get back to feeling like field goals of any reasonable length are sure points. That task goes beyond the kicker and includes the blockers as well as snapper JJ Jansen and holder Jason Baker.

MOTIVATED MEN: The Panthers can't say they technically have more to play for than the Texans, but they might be more motivated.

"These guys could shut down but they haven't, and we won't let them," Rivera said. "It was a good week."

While the Panthers are playing for pride but also to build confidence that could carry into next season, the Texans are playing their first game since clinching the first playoff berth in franchise history.

If the Texans have a letdown, the Panthers have to make sure Houston has a problem on its hands.

Related Content