Panthers’ college-style offense presents Bengals with unique challenge

While the Carolinas continue to recover from the flooding left by Hurricane Florence, the Cincinnati Bengals are preparing for a Week 3 road matchup with the Panthers.

The teams meet at 1 p.m. Sunday at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.

Carolina (1-1) is coming off a 31-24 loss at Atlanta but will provide the Bengals (2-0) with a challenge in the form of a college-style offense that provides a lot of different looks and unique threats.

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Quarterback Cam Newton and running back Christian McCaffrey, the eighth overall pick in the 2017 draft, lead the NFL’s fifth-ranked rushing offense, but McCaffrey also is the team’s top receiver. Last year, he became the first rookie running back with at least 70 receptions and five receiving touchdowns. McCaffrey had 102 yards receiving at Atlanta.

“He’s a wide receiver when he’s out there,” Bengals linebacker Preston Brown said. “He had 100 yards the other night, so he’s definitely a guy we have to have one or two or three guys on because he’s going to find ways.”

The Panthers’ offensive line has been banged up early this season with Pro Bowl right guard Trai Turner missing last week’s game because of a concussion and All-Pro right tackle Daryl Williams on injured reserve because of a knee injury suffered in the opener.

Despite the changes up front, Carolina has had just two negative plays. Newton has been sacked five times and hit nine times. The Panthers average 232.0 yards passing and 134.0 yards rushing, and they lead the league in yards per carry (5.4).

Newton is a big part of that. He has 100 yards rushing, while McCaffrey adds 87 yards on the ground and C.J. Anderson has 66.

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“The biggest thing is to make sure you come in sound, don’t come in happy feet, make sure you’re ready to make the tackle because you’re not sure he’s going to slide or trying to score a touchdown,” Brown said.

Defensively, Carolina is led by middle linebacker and Cincinnati native Luke Kuechly, who has 19 tackles through two games, and cornerback Donte Jackson, who has 10 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble.

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The Panthers rank eighth in scoring defense, while allowing 19.5 points per game, and they are seventh in pass defense, giving up just 205.0 yards passing per game. However, the run defense is more susceptible than others, ranking 25th of 32 teams while surrendering 132.0 rushing yards per game.

“It’s a good defensive front we are about to face,” Bengals offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said.

The Bengals and Panthers have played only five times and have split the series 2-2-1. The teams played to a 37-37 tie in the last meeting, in 2014 at Cincinnati. The Bengals are 1-2 against the Panthers at Carolina.

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Bengals-Panthers connections

Panthers LB Luke Kuechly is from Cincinnati and an alumnus of St. Xavier High School. … Bengals DE Carlos Dunlap is from North Charleston, S.C., WR A.J. Green is from Summerville, S.C., CB Tony McRae is from Laurinburg, N.C., and WR Auden Tate is from Irmo, S.C. … Panthers WR Curtis Samuel played at Ohio State University. … Panthers assistant offensive line coach Travelle Wharton played for the Bengals in 2012. … Bengals special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons was on the Panthers’ coaching staff from 1999-2002, defensive line coach Jacob Burney was on the Panthers’ coaching staff from 1999-2001 and strength and conditioning coach Chip Morton was on the Panthers’ coaching staff from 1995-98.

… Panthers defensive line coach Brady Hoke is a Kettering native and coached at the University of Toledo from 1987-88 … Bengals secondary/safeties coach Robert Livingston is from Hendersonville, N.C., and coached at Furman University in 2010 … Panthers linebackers coach Steve Russ coached at Ohio University from 2001-04, and defensive coordinator Eric Washington coached at Ohio from 2001-03. … Panthers running game coordinator John Matsko coached at Miami University from 1974-75.

AFC North Outlook

Baltimore (1-1): The Ravens opened the season with a 49-3 win over Buffalo but suffered a 34-21 setback against the Bengals last week. They host Denver (2-0) at 1 p.m. Sunday.

Cleveland (0-1-1): After opening with a tie against Pittsburgh in a game the Browns came from behind and had a chance to win, they blew a lead last week and fell 21-18 against New Orleans. They look for their first win Thursday against the Jets (1-1).

Pittsburgh (0-1-1): The Steelers lost a high-scoring affair against Kansas City, 42-37, last week after the tie at Cleveland. They travel to Tampa Bay to play the Bucs (2-0) on Monday night.

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