I know we are all excited to see the Panthers get back to it this week. Some are curious to see what they look like without linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis. Others are anticipating another big game by not-so-rookie QB Cam Newton. I’m especially excited to see some of the new pieces that have been put in place to fill the gaps in the lines. Whatever your reasons, the Panthers vs. the Jaguars promises to be a classic rivalry game between the two mid-90′s franchises.
When it comes down to it, the best defense will prevail at the end of the day as I don’t see either defense completely shutting down the offensive strengths of each team. The Panthers are 2nd in passing yards and the Jaguars are in 6th for rushing yards. There will be two different defensive strategies at work so it will be interesting to see how offenses react.
The Jaguars’ rushing attack has stacked up 185 yards in two games. Or should I say, Maurice Jones-Drew has stacked up 185 yards in two games. Without a doubt, he will be the man to beat on Sunday. The Panthers will more than likely start Sione Fua and Terrell McClain at tackle and with Charles Godfrey out, Jordan Pugh will step in at nickel. Of course, the devastating losses of leaders Beason and Davis will call on Dan Conner and Jason Williams to fill the void behind the D-line. They will have their work cut out for them against a team set on moving the ball on the ground. Consider it a defensive victory if MJD gets held to less than 70 yards Sunday.
Blaine Gabbert is replacing Luke McCown as starting QB in a passing offense that has yet to really establish itself. I expect that with the Panthers protecting against breakout running plays, Gabbert will have his opportunity to shine on a few plays down field. Although, Sean McDermott’s strategy this year is to put a lot more pressure on the passer. The Panthers’ DE’s Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy will certainly attract enough attention to open up a few opportunities for the linebackers to get in the backfield. Unless Gabbert is a prodigy against the blitz, we can expect to see some big plays on defense. This hardly makes it a definite win, but compared to the Jags’ 240 passing yards on the season it looks like the Panthers will have the edge on passing offense.
Darius Butler is a recent pick up for the Panthers that should get a little playing time due to a questionable ankle injury for Chris Gamble. Gamble is still set to start, but if things are going well on the offensive end of the ball, I would expect that Gamble gets some rest on Sunday. He has a long, tough schedule ahead of him and the Panthers can’t afford key losses in the secondary. Other potential defensive rotations could see Omar Gaither getting some key snaps along with rookies Josh Thomas at CB and Kealoha Pilares at WR.
Obviously the Panthers will be playing every game like they are playing the champs as they fight to regain some stride in the NFC South. However, I do see this as a very winnable game for the Panthers and possibly an opportunity for the new guys to make some noise at home. Since the Jags are a respectable defense against the run, Double Trouble may have to wait another week before they are called on to make some plays. Even if Cam doesn’t break another record in passing, those TD’s that everyone has been asking for will hopefully be on the scoreboard in the win column for the Panthers this Sunday.