Pan­thers, Steel­ers ready for of­fen­sive battle

Gulf Times Sport - - SPORT -

Tonight’s matchup of the vis­it­ing Carolina Pan­thers and the Pitts­burgh Steel­ers shapes up as a show­down of big of­fenses. Pitts­burgh run­ning back James Con­ner has emerged as one of the top sto­ries in the NFL. A fillin for the dis­grun­tled Le’Veon Bell, Con­ner has four con­sec­u­tive 100-yard rush­ing games to stand se­cond in the league with 706 rush­ing yards over­all. He also has proven ef­fec­tive catch­ing the ball out of the back­field.

“He’s a beast,” Carolina line­backer Luke Kuechly said of Con­ner, ac­cord­ing to the Pan­thers’ web­site. “They are re­ally good up front — they’re big and phys­i­cal. They work re­ally to­gether, but that guy is re­ally good. He’s play­ing with a lot of con­fi­dence.

“He’s like these new-age backs where they are good, ob­vi­ously, run­ning the ball, but he can catch the ball and cause some mis­matches as well.”

The two other big­gest names in Pitts­burgh’s of­fense haven’t changed. Re­ceiver An­to­nio Brown is off his stan­dard pace with 51 catches for 594 yards, but he is tops among re­ceivers with nine touch­downs.

Quar­ter­back Ben Roeth­lis­berger has spread the ball around pri­mar­ily to Brown, JuJu SmithSchus­ter, his tight ends and Con­ner. His av­er­age of 320 pass­ing yards per game ranks third in the NFL.

The Steel­ers (5-2-1) have won four in a row. The Pan­thers (6-2) have won three straight.

Roeth­lis­berger’s coun­ter­part, Cam New­ton, has been lim­ited in prac­tice be­cause of a right shoul­der prob­lem, but that is con­sid­ered to be pre­cau­tion­ary, and New­ton should be ready to go.

With 1,893 pass­ing yards, New­ton eas­ily could eclipse 2,000 to­day. He has av­er­aged 245 pass­ing yards a game dur­ing the win­ning streak, with two touch­down tosses in each of the games. He has rushed for 342 yards and four touch­downs this year.

Chris­tian McCaf­frey is Con­ner’s coun­ter­part. He leads the Pan­thers with 502 yards rush­ing, and like Con­ner, is also a threat catch­ing the ball.

“You should start with Cam New­ton be­cause he can run it, he can throw it, he’s strong, he can make all the throws (with) ac­cu­racy from a dis­tance stand­point,” Steel­ers coach Mike Tom­lin said.

“But I re­ally think what’s go­ing on with them is look­ing at the in­fu­sion of roles be­tween what he and McCaf­frey are able to do. You talk about mul­ti­tal­ented play­ers, mul­ti­di­men­sional play­ers that are re­ally per­form­ing well to­gether.”

The short week can ex­ac­er­bate in­jury sit­u­a­tions, but that seems to be af­fect­ing Carolina more than Pitts­burgh.

Ryan Kalil did not prac­tice Mon­day and Tues­day, but coach Ron Rivera said the Pan­thers “feel pretty com­fort­able” about the cen­ter be­ing ready to­day.

“He did some stuff with the train­ers and he’s feel­ing pretty good,” Rivera said.

Carolina safety Eric Reid has been lim­ited in prac­tice after he fin­ished Sun­day’s game against Tampa Bay de­spite a sprained right shoul­der. Re­ceiver Tor­rey Smith (knee) did not prac­tice Tues­day, and he could miss a third con­sec­u­tive game.

Pitts­burgh looks to be in good shape. The only new in­jury was to re­ceiver James Wash­ing­ton (knee), who was a full par­tic­i­pant in prac­tice Tues­day.

Roeth­lis­berger was lim­ited in prac­tice Tues­day, but that was be­cause of a bro­ken left (non­throw­ing) in­dex fin­ger, which did not stop him from play­ing a full game Sun­day against the Bal­ti­more Ravens.

Steel­ers of­fen­sive tackle Mar­cus Gil­bert (knee) seems likely to miss his third game in a row, but Matt Feiler has filled in ca­pa­bly as a starter for two weeks, play­ing a part in Con­ner’s rush­ing to­tal.

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