At 4-8, the Carolina Panthers have struggled as the defending NFC Champions. After losing in primetime last Sunday, the team is attempting to put the 40-7 crushing loss in the rearview mirror as they focus on their next opponent: San Diego.
"Offensively, you see the explosiveness," mentioned Panthers Head Coach Ron Rivera. "A lot of things begin with Philip (Rivers) and you see their ability to go vertical very quickly. The thing you always are concerned with is the ability to run the football because if they run the football with Melvin (Gordon), they set up that play-action, which is so dangerous…. I like their speed; Travis Benjamin is somebody who we feel can really run and stretch things. They've got a number of other guys like (Dontrelle) Inman and guys like that who have the ability to get vertical."
The head coach also coach specifically referenced Antonio Gates, and the pair go way back to when the coach was with the Bolts from 2007-2010.
"You always have to be concerned about Antonio (Gates)," Rivera said. "Gates still has that ability to make plays and he knows how to sit down and find the holes. He has the ability to body up and make the big plays."
"It's obviously very impressive with what he's been able to do from a production standpoint and consistency and longevity perspective," added fellow tight end Greg Olsen. "It's a hard position to play; physically and mentally, there's a lot to ask of guys…. (He) and Philip have had as good a quarterback-tight end connection the league has ever had."
Olsen said he studies Gates as well as other tight ends like Jason Witten and Tony Gonzalez. Yet, he believes number 85's success is predicated on his camaraderie with the signal caller in addition to his own natural talent.
"One of the biggest things (is his) and Philip's connection is pretty good to say the least! They've played a long time together and have seen every sort of look and every sort of defense. Every sort of matchup you could possibly ask, they've seen it. When guys have seen things through the same lens for a long time, they can anticipate each other's moves, body language, cuts and the feel for the routes. And then obviously, his talent. His ability over the years to get in and out of breaks and change direction. His footwork and athletic ability have obviously been big parts of his success."
Meanwhile, Carolina is also impressed with the Bolts' defense.
"(It's) aggressive by nature," said Rivera. " I think (Defensive Coordinator) John Pagano has done a nice job with that group. They have some playmakers there. Again, I think this is a unit that you have to most certainly pay attention to because they're aggressive. It reflects his nature, and I think that you see it through Corey (Liuget) and Melvin (Ingram). These are guys that are playmakers up front. Joey Bosa is a rookie who is coming along really nicely for them. I think they're secondary is a group of guys that make plays and that's a thing you've got to pay attention to."
"I've been impressed," added Olsen. "I think they play hard and have a good mixture of some veteran guys and young guys…. I think both (Joey) Bosa and (Melvin) Ingram are obviously very talented down guys who can move around and get after the quarterback. I think they're good in the secondary. And overall in all three levels I think they're talented, have a really good scheme and are aggressive. I think they present a good challenge."