The Carolina Panthers are coming off their bye week, looking to the Titans game as a chance to respond to their latest close loss in a 2-6 season. Two weeks ago, the Panthers lost at home to the Minnesota Vikings, 24-21. The Vikings kicked the eventual game-winning field goal with 2:47 to play, and Olindo Mare missed a chance to send the game to overtime from 31 yards out with :29 left in the game.
What I saw from the Panthers in that game, and the others of theirs I’ve watched, after the jump:
- They gave out a lot of money in the offseason, and one of the guys that got paid was DE Charles Johnson, who’s a legitimate pass rush threat and a pretty decent run defender.
- Two linebackers, Thomas Davis and Jon Beason, are out for the year. SLB James Anderson’s the only remaining starter, but he’s not bad. Omar Gaither is playing WLB, and you can have success running at him.
- Offensively, the big story of course is Cam Newton, who’s been exceeding all but the most diehard Auburn homer’s expectations. He does a good job of staying in the pocket, reading the defense, and throwing to an open receiver. He’s also a better passer than I thought he was at Auburn. Great arm strength, and no problem hitting the deep passes-one thing the Titans did a pretty good job of taking away from the Bengals last week was the inside throw, and forcing Dalton to hit the deep outside passes he’s not nearly as good at. The gameplan shouldn’t be the same this week, because that’s something Newton’s pretty good at. As good as he is, Newton is prone to occasional bouts of inaccuracy. The Titans will likely have chances to come away with at least one and possibly several interceptions, and probably will need those turnovers to win.
- They use both backs, but Jonathan Stewart got the majority of both the carries and the work. He’s a good inside runner, while DeAngelo Williams seems to be used to attack the perimeter. With Stewart in the game, they’ll show a decent amount of zone read looks.
- Steve Smith is the primary receiving threat, and they’ll get him the ball in a variety of ways, including WR screen, intermediate stuff, and vertical routes. None of the other receivers is particularly dangerous, and in fact the guys who get thrown the ball the most are the two tight ends, Jeremy Shockey and Greg Olsen. They’re both more on the side of move guys, but are competent enough blockers.
- Defensively, the Panthers are doing a decent job of wideouts, which matches what I’ve seen with their secondary, but have really struggled with running backs and tight ends. Peterson had 5 catches for 76 yards, and both Shiancoe and Rudolph were active for the Vikings.
- The Panthers interestingly went very heavy in the center of the defensive line on draft day, and are now playing two rookies who were looked at like 3-4 nose tackles. Unfortunately for them, the results have been like the Titans’ remade defensive line: they’re not getting penetration, not rushing the passer, and aren’t actually being very good at holding the line either.
- The Panthers struggled to move the ball some in the second half, going three-and-out three times in a row between their score on the first possession and the final possession that ended in the Mare miss. This was more a case of not converting makeable third downs rather than some general offensive ineptitude that put them in bad situations, including off a couple Cam runs.
- Watching them, the Panthers look like a passing team with an average offensive line, and if Cam Newton develops on his current trajectory for two years, they’ll look like the Texans at their best before this year: a dynamic offense with a mediocre defense. If the defense gets healthier and a little better in the secondary and deeper, they could be a really good team. I’m glad the Titans are playing them now and not again for four years (likely).
Overall, I’d say the Panthers are a dangerous team that pose a matchup problem for the Titans because of their offensive versatility and ability to attack the defense vertically. A decent NFL offense can move the ball successfully against the Panthers, but I’m not sure beyond Matt Hasselbeck and the offensive tackles what parts of the Titans, if any, constitute a decent NFL offense. I think the Titans need to take advantage of any turnover opportunities they get while not turning the ball over themselves to win this game. If that doesn’t happen, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Panthers win the game by double-digits.