Everyone is excited about the opportunity the young Panthers are going to get against last season’s Super Bowl champs, the Green Bay Packers. This is a match up that overly optimistic fans would hope to see in January, but tomorrow as the second game of the regular season will suffice.
All I’ve heard so far from both NFL analysts and Panther enthusiasts is that there is no way that the Panthers can hope to beat the Packers. Granted, the Panthers will have to play a near flawless game and produce a lot more in areas where they have struggled thus far. “We’ll line up and we’re going to compete as hard as we can, and we should come away with a victory,” says linebacker Thomas Davis. I for one have faith the Panthers can pull this one out and here is how they must do it.
Defense, defense, defense. And did I mention defense. It’s going to start at the line of scrimmage. The Panthers cannot allow Aaron Rodgers to lure defensive linemen into the neutral zone. I believe that is where they are going to test the young line first. If the Packers can pick up a few extra yards from penalties, it will be enough to keep the line focusing on not jumping instead of making the play. The D-line upfront needs to forget about anticipating the snap count. I believe that this won’t be much of an issue because Sean McDermott’s defense should be cutting back on blitzing.
However, I don’t think Carolina will give up entirely on the blitz. Charles Godfrey is a pretty tough tackler at safety. If the Panthers can focus play on the middle of the field, they might be able to send Dan Conner on a blitz and leave that area open for a sneak attack by Godfrey. The rookie Randall Cobb did well against the Saints there and I believe they will send the young guy back there this week. If the Panthers set up the right plays, Godfrey might be able to take advantage of the rookie on a play or two being that Rodgers will undoubtedly look to the nearest open man on a blitz.
The run game is also a must stop. Green Bay had a respectable 103 yards last game and will want to establish a threat there. It can’t happen. The last thing any defense wants is for one of the best passing offenses to throw the ball. That is exactly what the Panthers want this week. Send Chris Gamble on a man coverage against Greg Jennings and hold the rest of the field in zone. A key to success for the CB’s is not allowing the back shoulder pass that Rodgers does with almost perfection. With limited blitzing, the best the Panthers can hope for is that Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy can create enough disturbance in a pass rush to hurry a few throws by Rodgers. I believe they will be strong this week.
After all that, there will still be tough playing on the defensive side as the Packers have an extensive amount of weapons on offense. This is why the Panthers will not allow them to keep the ball. In the game against Arizona, Carolina forced a couple of fumbles and 1 turnover. Not only that, Charles Johnson broke up a few plays when he was placed off of the line playing pass protection. I don’t think they can afford to place Johnson out there tomorrow, but I do think they can force at least 1 turnover in Green Bay territory.
As for the offense, we now know what Cam, Smith, Double Trouble and the TE’s are capable of, but now the rest of the league does too. The big plays. What the Packers will not expect is that the Panthers can manage the clock. Last week Carolina kept possession for over 32 minutes of the game. This week, they need to keep it for at least 40. The best defense will be a solid offense that eats the clock and limits Green Bay’s possession of the ball. With Rodgers running the offense they have the potential to score almost whenever they want. If Carolina can convert 3rd downs and keep the ball, I don’t think the Packers will have enough time to score more than 4 TD’s.
The amount of mental toughness the Panthers need to have tomorrow has to be at least 3 times as much as the Packers. Byron Bell will be starting in place of Jeff Otah who will be out with a concussion. His true test as an NFL player will be against one of the league’s best linebackers in Clay Matthews. The Panthers will have to play the perfect game, but the ability and the potential are there. If the Panthers can hold the Packers to under 30 points, they will have a shot. I don’t see them winning by more than a field goal late in the game and Rivera has to let Olindo Mare take some shots from the 50 yard line if the Panthers want this one. Good luck fellas and get’er done.