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Houston Texans v Carolina Panthers

by Sharon Thorsland

It’s been a lot more fun this week for Panthers fans – and the coaches and players also enjoyed the first win of the season. Now they’ll look to build on that success as they take on the Colts on Sunday at Bank of America stadium. Kick-off is set for 4:05.

At the start of the season this looked like it would be another match up of top rookie quarterbacks. But Colts starter Anthony Richardson landed on IR with a shoulder injury after leading the team to a 3-2 start. Now it’s Gardner Minshew running the offense, and things haven’t gone so well – the Colts have lost three in a row and are now 3-5 on the season. Minshew is still putting up big numbers, the Colts are averaging over 362 yards and 25 points per game behind him. But he’s also been prone to take chances and that’s resulted in nine turnovers in the past three games. Minshew’s top target is fourth year player Michael Pittman, Jr., he’s got 50 catches, three of them touchdowns. Right behind him is rookie Josh Downs. The former Tar Heel has been impressive since day one, he’s got 40 receptions for 473 yards and two touchdowns. They’ll face a Panther defense that is ranked 6th in the NFL allowing under 187 passing yards per game.

The Panthers haven’t been so good at stopping the run, they rank 29th in the league giving up over 129 rushing yards a contest. That’s exactly what the Colts average on the ground behind a pair of the best running backs in the game. Fourth year player Zack Moss has been the go-to guy most of the season, he’s got 589 yards and five touchdowns. But All-Pro Jonathan Taylor is back and looks to be getting back to form, he’s picked up 170 yards and a touchdown in the past two games. “They’ve got a 1-2 punch now,” said Panther linebacker Deion Jones. “They’re feeding off each other, getting the ball, finishing runs, flying around. We’ve gotta play tough nose ball with them.”

The Colts defense has really struggled this season, they’re ranked near the bottom of the NFL in total defense, passing defense and rushing defense, and are dead last in the league allowing over 28 points per game. But they are good at forcing fumbles, they’ve got nine on the season, two each from All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner and defensive end Dayo Odeyingbo. Buckner and Samson Ebukam each have four sacks. Middle linebacker Zaire Franklin is playing at an All-Pro level this season, he leads the NFL with 102 tackles. The Colts secondary is having similar problems to the Panthers, though, both of their starting cornerbacks are out so a rookie and special teams ace have taken over. They do still have veteran Kenny Moore at nickel though, and safeties Julian Blackmon and Rodney Thomas have combined for three interceptions.

This is just the 8th meeting between these teams, the Panthers lead the series five to two. They’d like to make it six to two, and start a winning streak at the same time. “Keep the energy high, stay focused on the details,” said receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette. “Prepare to go out there and win again and keep this thing rolling.” Sounds like a good plan to me