Following a win against Kansas City, the Panthers face the New England Patriots on a short week. While the Panthers got the bulk of their starters' snaps in against KC, Ron Rivera still expects the Panthers starters to play nearly all of the first half. Here are the key matchups for that span.
Julian Edelman/Danny Amendola vs. Antoine Cason/Melvin White
In two preseason games, we have seen two different performances from the Panthers starting cornerbacks. In the first game, Cason struggled mightily while Melvin White didn't mess up horribly. In week two however, both cornerbacks played some very physical run defense and made some nice plays on the ball. Both ended the game with 6 tackles and 2 for a loss apiece, and each tackle for a loss was an impressive play in key situations. Melvin White looked like he had really started to grasp the game and appears to be playing more instinctively. Antoine Cason looked like he had finally started to settle into the system.
The Panthers have historically struggled against up tempo quick offenses. Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola are both good fits for the quick toss and catch style offense that can nullify the Panthers pass rush. The Panthers will face some high powered offenses in their division this year, and it will be on Cason and White to stick with their man long enough for the pass rush to be a factor. This is their first big test going against one of the greatest of all time and his tandem of shifty receivers.
Vince Wilfork vs. Amini Silatolu/Ryan Kalil
Amini Silatolu was a huge factor last week as he helped lead the way with outstanding blocks for both of Jonathan Stewart's touchdowns. This week, our guards will match up against another great nose tackle in Vince Wilfork. While Dontari Poe is also a force to be reckoned with, Vince Wilfork is an 11 year veteran who is still playing at a high level. Partner him with under tackle Tommy Kelly, another veteran who had back to back 7 sack seasons for Oakland two years ago, and you have a pretty good defensive tackle group. They will also rotate in Chris Jones, Sealver Siliga, and Joe Vellano, all of which were waiver claims and free agent signings who contributed last year.
The Panthers looked to try and get the interior run game going last week, and succeeded once Jonathan Stewart was brought in to pound the rock. However, Trai Turner will likely be sitting out this one so Chris Scott should be filling in as a starter. This is an important one to watch as Scott will likely be one of two primary guard backups. The other one, Garry Williams, will likely fill in for injured RT Nate Chandler.
Devin McCourty vs. Greg Olsen/Panthers TE's
It's no secret that this offseason the Panthers have pushed to try and work in more two tight end sets for their offensive personnel. With a tight end like Greg Olsen, the Panthers have the luxury of using a "move" tight end along with a traditional tight end who lines up in a three point stance at the LOS. Cam Newton's passing statistics were highly inflated in 2011 when he had both Olsen and Jeremy Shockey to throw to, and now he has a bevy of options at the tight end position. The Panthers signed former Raven Ed Dickson this offseason and Brandon Williams has really started to come into his own.
The Panthers will face some good safeties in the NFC South this season. Players like Mark Barron and Kenny Vaccaro will be used to try and nullify the tight end passing game, so matching up against McCourty will be a good test for the Panthers tight end group. Since the wide receiver position is more up in the air, I fully expect Greg Olsen and other TE's to get their fair share of targets during the season. This should be a good measuring stick, as McCourty will be backed up by a very underrated group of linebackers in New Englad. Jamie Collins, Jerod Mayo, and Dont'a Hightower will all be factors in this matchup as well.
Cam Newton vs. Mechanics and Timing
It took Cam Newton a few series to get going last week, and that's been the story for some games in his career. Cam sometimes has needed to get to throwing the ball early to establish a rhythm for the rest of the game. This game might be his last chance to work on his mechanics in a game situation before the regular season. The story all offseason has been "How will Cam do with a brand new receiving core?". And while I reserve skepticism that Cam will have problems with timing as much as experts are saying, there is some merit to the question after last week's game. Cam missed a few passes whether it was poor mechanics or off timing, and he needs to work on these things. This may be the last game Cam gets a chance to work on these things without consequence. Cam put up a stellar stat line against the Pats last year, this is his chance to get things rolling again.
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