Finally, it’s time to get down to some real football. Time to get out to your favorite place to pile in a plate of buffalo wings while enjoying a beer and the Panthers playing on the big screen. Emotions are running high as Carolina prepares for it’s regular season debut against Arizona. Although many believe this game will be a victory for Arizona, there are other factors that give hope that the Panthers will keep it close and possibly pull out a win.
Even in comparing last year’s stats, it is possible to see some things that will favor Carolina in tomorrow’s game. The first is the running game. Last year the Cards ranked last averaging only 86.8 yards per game, while the Panthers averaged 115.4 yards per game with two injured running backs (Williams, Stewart) and Mike Goodson. Who is Arizona’s starting back? Beanie Wells who ran for 397 yards and 2 TD’s last season. With virtually no run game, offensive game plan #1 for Cardinals will be moving the ball effectively through the air.
Defense looks to be one of the Panthers’ biggest concerns this year. However, if they can get some of what they did last year combined with our returning players, they could be a feared ball club this year. Last year the Panthers were decent as they were ranked 18th in defense with an average of 335 yards allowed per game compared to Arizona’s 373 yards allowed per game. Slight edge for the Panthers, but this year Thomas Davis, Jon Beason (when he gets healthy), and James Anderson will be causing a ruckus on offenses once they get into shape. The secondary may be the weakest link and that is where the Cards are going to target. WR Larry Fitzgerald is the biggest threat to Chris Gamble and the secondary and must be shut down if the Panthers want a win tomorrow.
Arizona put up only 204 yards per game receiving, which still trumps the Panthers’s stats at only 164 per game. These numbers will change for both teams this year with Arizona’s addition of Kevin Kolb and Carolina’s #1 draft pick Cam Newton at QB. Kolb’s stats over 5 years in the league have come to 2,082 yards with 11 TD’s and 14 INT’s. While Cam has yet to put up significant numbers in the NFL, through the preseason he has 300 yards, 2 TD’s (1 passing TD) and 0 INT’s. Arizona definitely has the edge at QB, but unless Carolina makes Kolb look like Tom Brady, I don’t see him throwing for more than 2 TD’s.
Of course, the big key to success in tomorrow’s game will be defense. Jon Beason is still listed as questionable for tomorrow along with RT Jeff Otah. I have a feeling Otah will play, but I think Beason needs to sit for one more week. The Panthers shouldn’t risk losing their defensive leader for the season over a week one start. Larry Fitzgerald and Kevin Kolb will be the most threatening combo to the Panther D. If they can stop Fitz, the Panthers have a good shot at winning. Gamble is going to have his work cut out for him.
Hopefully, we will see some spectacular playing by the offense tomorrow. The run tandem of a healthy DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart could have a big day against the Cardinals defensive line. Along with Mike Goodson, their ability to make 20 yard runs will open opportunities for Cam to fake-pass-run and throw off defenders or hit a receiver downfield. Cam will have a lot of help by TE’s Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey to move the ball on third downs. The key will be if Cam can hit Smith downfield and showcase some of the other WRs. This will determine if the Panthers win tomorrow. I say Panthers take it tomorrow 24-17.