At the risk of upsetting any Carolina fans that may be reading this - although I'm not sure I could really upset them any more than they're used to this season - the Panthers have a truly putrid offense. Objectively putrid. In terms of "passing the eyeball test," it has to be one of the worst units in recent memory. Through fifteen weeks of the regular season, they struggle in nearly every metric of offensive competence compared to the rest of the league:
-P- red zone appearances per game (31st)
-P- third down conversion rate (29th)
-P- first downs per game (32nd)
-P- yards per pass attempt (32nd)
-P- sack percentage allowed (31st)
-P- touchdowns per run (29th)
-P- touchdowns per pass (31st)
-P- total yards per game (32nd)
-P- points per game (32nd)
You really have to stand in awe of the heroism necessary to remain a loyal Panthers fan this season. Those whose team has been dead for months, we salute you.
That said, the Panthers still have the 15th-best rushing attack in the league in terms of yards per carry. At the forefront of their ground game is the resurgent runner, Jonathan Stewart, a former first-round bulldozer who's averaged 5.5 yards per carry and 109 rushing yards per game over the last three weeks.
This shouldn't surprise anyone. Stewart has always been an effective power runner (4.8 career ypc) and before tackle Jeff Otah went down with a catastrophic knee injury, the Panthers were even more fearsome on the ground. Tackle Jordan Gross and center Ryan Kalil remain to lead an underrated group up front.
So if the Steelers want to get back on track after their last-minute loss to the New York Jets, they would do well to focus on Stewart and Carolina's conservative ground attack. (Backup Mike Goodson (4.5 ypc this year) is no slouch, either.)
Beyond Stewart and the rushing game, there's almost nothing left to threaten Pittsburgh's defense. Under center is rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen, who has yet to flash much ability (52.7 completion percentage, 5.4 ypa) and the Panthers don't really have anyone scary outside. Look for inside linebackers Lawrence Timmons and James Farrior to run-blitz up the middle more often than not en route to a Steelers route on Thursday night.