Jonathan Stewart missed the opener against the Buccaneers and yet he has more rushing yards than DeAngelo Williams, who ended up for -1 rushing yards last year as the Buccaneers, owners of the league’s 31st ranked run defense in 2011, held them to 10 yards on 13 carries, even though the Panthers had the league’s #1 run offense in 2011. That should prove to be a fluke, especially with Jonathan Stewart returning. Cam Newton will continue to run the ball well and open things up on the ground for Stewart and Williams. Williams will get the start this week, but Stewart will have a sizeable role as a backup, as usual. Neither is much more than a low end RB2 or flex play this week though.
Steve Smith, meanwhile, is also expected to play this week, as he normally does through minor injuries. He missed some time during the week in practice, but he’ll be good to go and serve as Cam Newton’s #1 receiver again. When he led the team with 7 catches for 107 yards in the opener, it marked the 12th time in Cam Newton’s 17 starts that Steve Smith led the team in receiving. There might be more productive wide receivers, but it’s hard to argue any receiver means more to his team than Smith does, when you consider their other options.
Meanwhile, on the defensive side of the ball, the Panthers have listed defensive end Greg Hardy as questionable with a knee injury and he’s expected to be a game time decision. If he has to sit, it would be a big loss for the Panthers. He’s not a well known player, but he was an above average pass rusher last year. With 4 sacks, 8 quarterback hits, and 33 quarterback pressures on 503 pass rush snaps, he had a pass rush rate of 8.9%, very solid. The Panthers had the league’s 27th ranked scoring defense last year and didn’t do much at all to upgrade the defensive line or the secondary, the two more important units. They need Hardy this week against a Saints offense that you know can go off at any time, even as discombobulated as they looked in the opener.