Panthers vs. Rams Preview

 

 

Going into this season, I looked at our schedule and saw that we play the Rams on Halloween. I marked it down as a game that the Panthers “should” win. Now that we are 7 weeks into the season, things have changed quite a bit. The Panthers sit at 1-5 while the Rams are 3-4 and are playing a lot better than most expected them to be. Regardless, I’m going to mark this as a game that Carolina can win but it wont be an easy one. It will be even more difficult with DeAngelo Williams listed as doubtful with a foot injury. There will be a lot of pressure on Jonathan Stewart to carry the running game like he did at the end of last season. More on that later.  Last week’s win over the 49ers did give me a lot more confidence int he team, though so I am hoping Matt Moore can build off his strong performance and lead us to a win.

Know Your Enemy

As I said earlier, the Rams have been a bit of a surprise this year at 3-4 since a lot of people saw them winning only 3 games this whole season. All three wins have come at home and against pretty tough opponents in Washington, San Diego and Seattle. While three of their four losses are on the road against teams like Oakland and Detroit. I have to think they have the advantage in this game  since they obviously play better inside the Edward Jones Dome than they do on the road.

The Rams have a fairly balanced offense where they tend to pass more (it’s been about a 55/45 ratio this season) but they have a very strong running game led by  Steven Jackson. He has been a top 5 running back for the past few years and he’s gone over a 100 yards in three games this season. The Rams tend to give him more than 20 touches a game, too. Another key piece to their offense is the No. 1 overall pick, Sam Bradford. His rookie season has been pretty good so far as he’s thrown for 1483 yards and 9 TD’s in  7 games despite having a depleted/young receiving corps. However, he hasn’t had the best protection; Bradford’s been sacked 15 times and thrown 8 INTs this season.

The Rams defense is in the middle of the road in terms of stopping the run and pass. They have allowed only one 100 yard game from a single back this season (Darren McFadden) but they have been giving up about 108 yards per game on the ground. Their passing D is ranked 18th and while they have done well against other teams #1 receivers but have had trouble covering #2 targets and tight ends. The key player here is LB James Laurinitus, who led NFL rookies in tackles last season.

Now that we’ve gotten to know some of the Rams, let’s see how they matchup with the Panthers and vice versa.

Panthers passing game vs. Rams secondary

Matt Moore finally looked like his 2009 form in last week’s game throwing for 308 yards and 2 TD’s. Can he continue to put up these kinds of results is the question. The Rams have been good at limiting success to team’s number one receivers so Steve Smith could have another tough game. However, this situation isn’t as bad as it was earlier in the year since we know that Brandon LaFell and David Gettis are capable of exploiting single coverage and Moore’s been good enough to get the ball to them. Corner Ryan Bartell will be covering Smith and he’s been good, but shaky at time so Smith will definitely have his chances. The slot receivers are the ones that are going to get the most targets, though since the Rams are dead last in coverage to #2 and 3 receivers. This is partially due to having injuries to Bartell, teams using 3-4 WR sets making them use nickel and dime packages with younger corners and a lack of outside linebackers that can play pass coverage. Hey that sounds familiar! Let’s hope our tight ends can take advantage of this matchup. Just hope that Moore doesn’t overthrow any passes because free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe is capable of picking those off. Of course, there’s always the question of whether Moore’s performance was just a one-week thing. Hopefully it wasn’t.

Panthers run game vs. Rams run defense

Jonathan Stewart is going to be starting at running back and this is a good chance for him to break out of this slump he’s in. The Rams defensive line seems to play better against the pass than the run but there’s a good chance they will be stacking the box with 6-7 guys and all will have their eyes on Stewart before he can get anywhere. Stewart is a back that’s better at going in between the tackles so I’m expecting him to be used in short yardage situations and in the red zone. However, him breaking out for a few big runs to the outside isn’t out of the question. The Rams stacking the box is a concern but their linebacking corps is weak outside of Laurinaitus. Laurinaitus is a linebacker similar to Patrick Willis of the 49ers with his combination of speed and size along with his ability to chase down running backs. Larry Grant and Na’il Diggs do not concern me at all so runs to the outside are going to be Carolina’s best friend in Sunday’s game.

Panthers offensive line vs. Rams defensive line

This could be what prevents us from passing the ball. The Rams defense has 20 sacks on the year with 16 of them coming from the defensive line. Garry Williams had a solid game in his debut at right tackle last week but that was against a 3-4 with a lot of pass rush coming from linebackers. How will he fare against James Hall? Hall has 6.5 sacks on the year and I’m expecting him to be double teamed by Williams and Schwartz while Kalil takes care of defensive tackle Gary Gibson. Hall’s success has a lot to do with the presence of Chris Long on the left end, who has drawn a lot of attention from other team’s offensive lines. The Panthers offensive line will need to buckle down like they did last week if we want to have any success in the passing game. It will be tough since the Rams generate a lot of pressure from the front four and screen passes to Stewart and Mike Goodson could be essential to having early success for the offense. If they do leave the backs open on flat and screen routes, it’s up to Moore to see that and take advantage of it.

Rams passing offense vs. Panthers passing defense

Sam Bradford’s had a solid rookie season thus far and one of the most impressive things is how he’s made use of a depleted receiving corps. The Rams have seen season-ending injuries to Donnie Avery and Mark Clayton, who were projected to be their top 2 receivers. Their go-to guy now seems to be Danny Amendola, who usually lines up in the slot so he could see a big day against Carolina. Who will get the other targets is a good question. It looked like Danario Alexander would be the #1 receiver after a strong game against San Diego but he is injured and rookie Mardy Gilyard took his place. Brandon Gibson is another possible target and there’s always the threat of Steven Jackson on screens. So, the question here is who are the Panthers corners going to cover? We usually shift Richard Marshall over to the nickel position if the slot guy causes a lot of trouble, leaving Captain Munnerlyn on the #2 receiver. It’s kind of a scary matchup but the Rams passing game’s been a tad inconsistent all year and the Panthers have played well against the pass lately so I think it could be a good game for them.

As I said earlier, Bradford’s been making targets out of a lot of “unknown” guys so there’s always a chance someone else can step up. There isn’t a real “big play” threat with Mark Clayton out for the season so covering Amendola will be key. Safeties Sherrod Martin and Charles Godfrey will need to keep their eyes out for overthrown/bad passes Bradford will likely throw and pick them off.

Rams running game vs. Panthers run defense

Carolina’s given up two 100 yard rushing games in a row and it could be three with how good Steven Jackson is. The Rams are a team that loves to run the middle most of the time, so it’s up to Derek Landri, Ed Johnson and Dan Connor to stop him in his tracks. I would also keep an eye on James Anderson since he has shown the ability to sniff out ball-carriers this season. It’s also up to SS Charles Godfrey to be in the right place keep Jackson from getting any big runs. With how the last few weeks have gone, the Rams have a better chance at beating us through the air than on the ground and we have to limit Jackson’s big plays as much as possible. It’s especially important with the TOP game as well.

Rams offensive line vs. Panthers defensive line

The defensive line’s looked steadily better with each game and the Rams have allowed 15 sacks this year (probably due to a lot of passing attempts). Key matchup here is DE Charles Johnson vs. RT Jason Smith. Johnson’s been the team’s best pass rusher so he’s got the best chance of making Bradford uncomfortable and forcing errant throws. Stopping Jackson will also be up to the defensive line since the weakest link of the Rams o-line is RG Adam Goldberg, a poor run blocker. DT Ed Johnson will have the best chance at getting in the backfield than anyone else. I would like to see some blitzes from Jon Beason and James Anderson, as well. Regardless, the Panthers will have their chance to get to Bradford, but whether or not the front 4 can do it alone is still a mystery.

Things I Want To See From This Game

– A win. (duh)

– No interceptions from Moore. I’m willing to let the one last week slide as awful as it was. Point is, we need to stop turning the damn ball over if we want to win more games.

– Gettis and LaFell to have another big game. Either or the other. I’m not asking for another 100+ receiving performance but I think 5-7 catches and a TD for one of them isn’t terribly out of the question.

– The offensive line to stay stable. They played well last week but the Rams are going to be a tougher challenge than the Niners were.

– Jonathan Stewart to shut up fantasy owners. Seriously, I’m so tired of people asking me “WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO JONATHAN STEWART? HE’S KILLIN’ MY FANTASY TEAM MAN!” Yeah, he hasn’t been good but I hardly give a damn about your fantasy team so maybe him having one big game will get people to stop crying.

– Another 20+ point performance. Yeah, I’m raising my expectations a little, haha.

– Better time and clock management.

– Get to Bradford, make him uncomfortable and throw bad passes and turn them into turnovers.

– Moore not to get killed back there. The Rams defensive line kind of scares me with how much Moore’s been getting beat up this year. Hopefully we can limit how many times he gets sacked and pressured this week.

Prediction

With my confidence about this team up right now, I’m going to be a little more cocky with my pick this week. This is assuming everything I typed above goes as planned (which it rarely does). I’m predicting another ugly win like the one against the Niners this week but I don’t think ti will come down to a game winning field goal this time. Hopefully not.

Panthers 24 Rams 19

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49ers-Panthers preview

Know Your Enemy

This has the potential to be a very ugly game since it’s between two teams that have one win combined between them. Sitting at 1-5, the 49ers are one of the league’s bigger disappointments since a lot of people saw them taking the NFC West this year. They can still win that division with the shape it’s in but it’s going to be tough. San Francisco has a few things in common with Carolina, most notably their offensive struggles. Alex Smith has shown flashes of good play in this offense but he’s been having a down year for the most part and many fans are finally ready to pull the plug on him as the QB. There’s also some that question whether Mike Singletary is cut out to coach this team or not. Oh, and they recently fired their offensive coordinator. Yikes. Sounds pretty damn similar to Carolina’s situation only their owner didn’t put them in that spot. San Francisco got their first win last week against the Raiders in a low scoring, penalty filled affair. It wasn’t pretty but a win’s a win for them. Regardless, this looks like another game that the Panthers can win but the 49ers see this as a winnable game, too so there’s no doubt that Carolina’s going to struggle in this. Time to go in depth. It’s gonna be ugly.
Panthers pass offense vs. San Francisco’s pass defense

The big news out of Carolina this week was that Matt Moore would be the starting QB for the Panthers in Sunday’s game. These next couple of weeks are likely his last shot to show that he can quarterback his team before he’s benched again. SF’ defense is a good test since they are ranked 11th in passing defense in terms of yards per game (around 200) but no Carolina QB has even gotten to that mark this season. In Moore’s two starts for Carolina this year, he’s showcased poor decision making, terrible awareness and a knack for going for the big play. He’s also been sacked 9 times already.  I don’t think things will be any easier for him this week unless the line improves (i’ll get to that later) but the news of Steve Smith possibly being ready to play this game has to give him some comfort.

No one in the Panthers receiving corps has stepped up yet and the passing game was simply pathetic in the Bears game where Smith was hurt. You can expect either Shawntae Spencer or Nate Clements to be all over him in this game. Both have a pair of INTs this year and have only allowed one receiver to go over 100 yards (Roddy White a few weeks ago). SF’s pass D is very stable and this is an easy task for them to shut down. If we want to succeed in the passing game then we need to target Steve Smith a lot and make sure he can make the big plays when he needs to. I don’t want to say that this “needs” to be a breakout game for him but it could be the only way we can win this game. Of course there’s a chance that Brandon LaFell or David Gettis can breakout but I’m not counting on it. Another thing that might be smart is to use DeAngelo Williams on screen passes since that’s what the Eagles did with LeSean McCoy to pound away at this Niners defense.

Panthers running game vs. 49ers run defense

San Francisco has yet to allow a 100 yard rusher so far this season. The closest they came was against Kansas City where Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones gained 90+ yards on them a piece. This is what I want to see DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart do. Our running game still hasn’t shown the explosiveness that it had the last couple of seasons and it’s probably going to struggle this game, too. My hope is that OC Jeff “Dumbass” Davidson doesn’t abandon the running game after the first drive. Stewart and Williams need more than 10 touches a piece if we’re going to win this game. Whether or not SF can stop the run depends on if nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin can open up holes for linebackers Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes to run through and get to the ball-carrier. Willis has the speed to chase down running backs after they get across the line of scrimmage but stopping in them in the backfield would be a lot more effective against us. Especially with how quick Davidson is to abandon the run game if it doesn’t work right off the bat.

Panthers offensive line vs. 49ers defensive line

San Francisco plays a 3-4 with a lot of blitzing from the two outside linebackers. Look for Manny Lawson and Parays Haralason to be coming in on a bee-line straight for Moore. Carolina’s offensive line has been very poor so far and Mackenzey Bernedeau has already lost his RT spot to newcomer Garry Williams. Geoff Schwartz will remain at RG for now. The two of them are going to have their hands full dealing with Haralason and RE Justin Smith on blitzes and I’m hoping that Williams fairs slightly better than Bernedeau did against…well everyone. Another key matchup is center Ryan Kalil against the aforementioned NT Aubrayo Franklin. Basically, how effective we run the ball is going to depend on whether or not Kalil, Williams and Wharton block well up the middle. I’m more concerned about the pass protection for now since I’m worried Moore might get killed back there again with how effective this Niners blitz can be against us.

49ers passing game vs. Panthers pass defense

Alex Smith’s numbers sort of tell the tale of the Niners passing game this season. Already over 1000 yards, 8 TD’s, averaging around 230 yards a game but he’s turned the ball over 10 times (9 INTs, 1 fumble). Smith has shown that he can be impressive when he’s called upon but he’s still making too many mistakes for SF to win right now. The Panthers secondary has to like what it sees here since they have intercepted 9 passes this year and are going against a turnover-prone QB. Strong safety Charles Godfrey has been great this year at picking off badly thrown passes and hopefully he will see a lot of those on Sunday. Free safety Sherrod Martin will be seeing a lot of those come his way, too.

The matchup here that doesn’t work in the Panthers favor is that Alex Smith’s favorite target is TE Vernon Davis and Carolina’s been terrible at stopping tight ends all season. The only thing that might work in their favor is that Davis is used on a lot of deep routes, which the Panthers D plays specifically to prevent. Needless to say, Jon Beason and James Anderson could have their hands full. I’m not terribly worried about Michael Crabtree or Josh Morgan burning us since like I said, we haven’t given up a lot of big passing plays the last few weeks. Whether or not we can prevent the Niners from stretching out drives like the Saints did is what I’m sort of concerned about.

49ers run offense vs. Panthers run defense

Despite the Niners struggles, Frank Gore’s had a great season. He’s been called upon in every running situation for SF and has done a solid job at it minus a couple fumbles. I wasn’t terrible worried about our run defense until Matt Forte torched them a couple weeks ago. Gore is capable of doing that as well so we will need to stop him in his tracks at the line. I’m hoping we see the Derek Landri from the Saints game show up since he was great at stopping the run in that game. Nick Hayden had a solid game against Chicago so I hope he picks up where left off there. This is probably what scares me most about the Niners offense because not stopping the run is what essentially lost the Bears game for us.

Niners offensive line vs. Panthers defensive line

The rookies on SF’s o-line have been solid from what I’ve seen. RG Mike Iupati’s been proving his first round status and so has Anthony Davis. How does the Panthers pass rush match up against them? Well, SF’s only given up 12 sacks all season and Carolina only has 9 sacks this year. Pressuring Alex Smith is going to be key considering the defense we play and in order to do that I think we should start Greg Hardy at LDE instead of Everette Brown or Travelle Wharton. Hardy’s been great whenever he’s started this year and I see no reason to give him a shot. Charles Johnson has been the best pass rusher so far and I hope he can get better. I’ve been asking this out of them every week but if we want Smith to throw a lot of bad passes, the line has to get in his face a lot. I would expect Dan Connor to be sent in on a blitz every now and then too.

Things I Want To See From This Game

– 10 touches a piece from Williams and Stewart. Like I said, do what the Chiefs did.

– A big game from Steve Smith if he’s playing. Not a 100+ yd game but something where he makes some kind of impact.

– More than 14 points to be scored. Ugh.

– Alex Smith to not look comfortable all game. In other words, I want to see him sacked, throw bad passes and miss his targets completely. Just like they did to Todd Collins.

– Matt Moore not to turn the ball over. Might be asking for too much but we really need to protect the ball.

– Win the TOP battle. Again, ugh.

Prediction

I’m thinking this is going to be very similar to the Bears game but I’m hoping for some different results this time going in our favor. For those of you wondering why I pick the Panthers every week it’s because I’m giving the scenario saying “If the Panthers win the score would look like…” It’s hard for me to pick against my team even if they’re awful like they are right now. It’s a good chance for them to get that first win this week so I hope they can do it this Sunday

Panthers 20, 49ers 13

Bears-Panthers preview

Despite their 0-4 record, there’s a lot more people picking the Panthers to upset the Bears this week than I originally thought. The injury to QB Jay Cutler probably has something to do with that…okay it has a lot to do with that but the Panthers are pretty banged up, as well. Jeff Otah is still hurt, Steve Smith was ruled out for Sunday’s game earlier in the week and recently added to the injured list was FS Sherrod Martin. All are huge blows to the team but the Bears are in a pretty vulnerable position right now so it’s a good opportunity for the Panthers to finally get a win in 2010. Let’s find out how.

Matchups:

Panthers running game vs. Bears run defense

Our running game had a bit of a spark last week with DeAngelo Williams having a good game but Jonathan Stewart still doesn’t look like himself. The Bears play tough against the run, too so it could be difficult for us to get any momentum going on the ground to start off. Williams is also listed as “probable” with a sore leg so I think we might use Stewart more as a result. We will need to do a lot of work to get through DTs Anthony Adams and Tommy Harris for the running game to be effective. Also, the running plays we’ve been calling have been extremely predictable. 85% of them are between the tackles or up the middle. Defenses know they’re coming now and have led to a bunch of three and outs. Granted, Williams is always great at trying to turn those kinds of runs into bigger gains but still, the playcalling is very stale. How they do once they get to the linebackers and safeties is a mystery to me right now.  Interested to see how they challenge Urlacher and Chris Harris, though.

Panthers offensive line vs. Bears defensive line:

Most anticipated matchup since long-time Panther Julius Peppers will be on the other side of the ball this time. Peppers gets to choose which side he plays on and  I have to think he will elect to pick on Geoff Schwartz instead of long-time practice buddy Jordan Gross. Why? Because Gross is our best lineman and Schwartz is a newcomer. Schwartz did a pretty decent job at blocking Alex Brown last week when Mackenzey Bernadeau was ineffective so maybe he can surprise Peppers..unlikely. The reality is we will probably have to double team him with those two and Jimmy Clausen is going to be doing a lot of scrambling come Sunday. Travelle Wharton and Ryan Kalil are going to need to do a good job at blocking Anthony Adams and Tommie Harris if we want the running game to succeed, too.

Panthers passing game vs. Bears passing defense

This might be a favorable week to not have Smith in the lineup because the Bears secondary hasn’t been great. However, the effectiveness of their secondary relies on their pass rush (much like the Patriots) and they can force a lot of QB’s into bad throws. Peppers is one of the best in the league at rushing the passer and him getting double teamed will open the door for other DE Isreal Idonije who is a capable pass rusher, too. Peppers getting all the attention also leaves opportunities for LB’s Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs to get to the QB untouched.

Clausen has been improving over the weeks and he’s got an even bigger test this Sunday since the receiving corps he has to work with are three rookies and someone just claimed off waivers. This is THE game where Brandon LaFell and David Gettis need to step up. Gettis has been showing a signs of greatness while Lafell has mostly been inconsistent. Armanti Edwards is likely making his first start as the slot receiver too and I am hoping he’s learned something from sitting on the bench for four weeks. I don’t know much about David Clowney other than he’s really fast but never made much of an impact. How do they match up with the Bears secondary, though? As I said earlier, the effectiveness of their secondary depends on if they can get to the QB. Charles Tillman and Zachary Bowman are both decent but can give up big plays.

Panthers defensive line vs. Bears offensive line

I see this as the most important matchup because the Bears offensive line is one of the worst in the league and is the best chance for this awful Panther front four to establish some sort of pass rush. That’s the biggest problem with the Cover 2 defense, it’s not that effective if you can’t get pressure from the front 4. That’s why it worked so well for the Giants last week, they have one of the best d-lines in the league. Charles Johnson has been our best pass rusher so far and he is either going to be matched up with Kevin Schaffer or Frank Omiyale depending on where he lines up. I’m looking forward to that… I also want to see if Everette Brown can look any better against weaker competition. I don’t want to get too excited, though. Like I said, the Giants have one of the best front 4 in the league and half of the 10 sacks they had last week were Cutler’s fault because held onto the ball too long. He was looking for the big play downfield constantly and ended up getting nailed. Collins will be more open to throw the ball away, especially after that Giants game.

Bears passing game vs. Panthers pass defense

I like what our defense has been doing in general the past couple of weeks. They are giving up a lot of yards but they’re keeping the opponents off the board and limiting big plays. I’m not sure what the Bears gameplan is with Todd Collins but I’m guessing it’s the same Mike Martz system only with more short passes. Saints murdered us in the TOP game because of the short first downs last week and the Bears are probably taking note of that.  For us, the biggest receiving threats on the Bears are Johnny Knox and TE Greg Olsen. We have been awful at covering tight ends all year and Olsen is top 10 material so it’s important linebackers James Anderson and Jon Beason get to him quickly. The injury to Sherrod Martin might cause us to give up a couple big plays, too since I don’t have a lot of confidence in Jordan Pugh and Knox has great speed. Richard Marshall better show up to play on Sunday because covering Knox is crucial.The Bears also love to use screen passes to Matt Forte but I’m confident that Beason and Anderson can sniff those out fast before they turn into anything. Whether or not Collins can get the ball to his receivers is up for further discussion. He’s been in the league long enough but he’s perennial backup. Expect lots of checkdowns.

Panthers run defense vs. Bears rushing offense

Forte has become more of a threat on screen passes than in the running game because the Bears don’t run the ball terribly much. However, he’s still very dangerous and defensive tackles Derek Landri and Ed Johnson better be ready. Same goes for our defensive ends because getting Forte in the backfield on those screen passes is very critical. Chester Taylor is also used to spell Forte and he’s always been solid in his role. We tend to give up a few yards on the ground anyway with the system we play in. There’s always a 5-10 yard cushion in the Tampa 2 defense but it’s all good as long as we don’t give up too many big plays. We really need to do better at stopping teams on 3rd down, though. Not allowing Forte and Taylor any breathing room will be important.

What I Want to See In Sunday’s Game

A win. Yeah, I’ll be obvious.

One of our receivers to have a big game... this is their opportunity to step up here. I don’t care who it is.

Have more time of possession than the Bears. That’s what killed us against the Saints.

Better play clock management. It was beyond awful last week. Clausen didn’t look on the same page as the offense for the whole 1st quarter.

More longer drives. I feel like I’m asking too much at this point, haha.

2 or more sacks. Sounds reasonable, right?

I’m going to say that this will be a very low scoring game with a lot of ugly play and a couple turnovers thrown in here and there. Going to be interesting how Peppers will be received by the Carolina crowd (or whoever shows up…..) because I don’t think they’ll be happy after some of the comments he made earlier in the week. It’s a great opportunity for the Panthers to get off the Shnai. I think they can do it.

Prediction: Panthers 17, Bears 9

Panthers-Saints preview

This is usually one of my most anticipated games of the year because the Saints are a team that the Panthers always to manage play well against no matter how their season is going. It’s not looking like that’s going to be the case in their Week 4 matchup since the Panthers are playing some bad football this year and the Saints still look like a good team. Getting a victory here is highly unlikely and most people are already marking us at 0-4 to start the year. While I sort of agree with them, I don’t think the Panthers pulling an upset here is terribly out of the question. We are going to need to see a completely different team than the one that’s showed up for the first three weeks, though.

The Panthers and Saints are almost polar opposites this year. Saints have a very potent offense while Carolina has the 2nd worst in the league. The Panthers offense is built on running the ball while the Saints are primarily a passing offense. The Saints are coming off a Super Bowl season while Carolina is in the middle of a painful rebuilding period. All signs point to a Saints victory but the two teams are usually competitive when they play each other so I’m hoping things don’t turn into a blowout in favor of New Orleans.

Matchups:

Panthers passing game vs. Saints pass defense

Might as well be straighforward, the passing game has looked awful. There were some signs of improvement in the second half of the Bengals game but we are still struggling to turn big plays into points in the passing game. Jimmy Clausen has done a decent job at getting first downs on short passes to guys like David Gettis and Mike Goodson but there haven’t been a lot of big plays. Steve Smith has been vocal in expressing his frustration with the struggles in the passing game. There’s no doubt that Clausen will try to get the ball to him more but defenses are swarming him now and it’s hard to get him the ball when he’s double covered. The Saints will be no different and Smith will likely be covered by Tracy Porter with Malcolm Jenkins assisting him.  That doesn’t bode well for his chances unless he can find new ways to get open like he has before. That said, the Saints passing defense has shown a lot of holes these first three weeks and they’ve been giving up a lot of yards to tight ends in particular.

Outside linebacker Scott Shanele has been getting burned by tight ends all season and was destroyed by Tony Gonzalez last week. That leaves a door open for Dante Rosario to have the breakout game I’ve been hoping to see. The problem is that Rosario isn’t nearly as good as Tony Gonzalez…or Vernon Davis for that matter but the Saints have shown a weakness in their D for covering tight ends. If Clausen can get the ball to him enough, I think we could see a big game from him. That’s a big if, though. Rosario’s been targeted a lot of times int he past and didn’t make the most of his opportunities.

Panthers offensive line vs. Saints defensive line

What’s funny is that I had no worries about this line going into the season and now it’s my biggest concern. I didn’t see Jeff Otah being out for this long or Mackenzie Bernedeau playing this bad in his place. To make matters worse, Travelle Wharton might be out for this game which isn’t good. We did sign Chris Morris this week to help out but he’s only decent at best from what I’ve read. They are going to have their hands full again as they go up against a stout Saints defensive line. Bernedeau might be matched up with Sedrick Ellis, who already has 2 sacks this season so there is going to be a lot of pressure on him. Hopefully Ryan Kalil can help out a bit and double team him if he’s too much of a problem. Other players to watch out for are defensive end Will Smith and tackle Anthony Hargrove who will be tough to deal since they are the Saints best pass rushers. I have a lot of faith in Jordan Gross to hold him off but if Wharton misses this game then there’s going to be a lot of problems.

Panthers running game vs. Saints run defense

So..the Panthers running game hasn’t lived up to the hype this year. I blame the playcalling but I’m accepting the fact that Jonathan Stewart’s injury is still lingering and he’s not at 100%. DeAngelo Williams has still looked great when the ball is given to him and he only had 10 carries last week. Jeff Davidson and John Fox need to mix up the playcalling a little more if we want to have any success with the run game. Constantly running up the middle isn’t going to work against this Saints D. Remi Ayodele’s job is to stop the run and Turner had no luck getting anything going against him last week. Notice that Turners biggest runs came to the outside.

The Saints defense is the third worst in the league in terms of rushing yards per game so it could be a chance for Williams and Stewart to finally break free but that’s what I said in the Bucs game and it didn’t happen.  The offensive line needs to be better, obviously but I think we should try more counter plays and sweeps with Williams. It’s worth a shot. My worry with that is the Saints have a speedy linebacking corps that plays very physical against the run but Michael Turner still got 100+ yards on them. If Double Trouble can do the same then I will be very pleased.

Saints passing offense vs. Panthers pass defense

If the Panthers want to have any shot in this game, they will need to find a way to slow down this Saints passing attack. When I say “slow it down” I mean try to get in Drew Brees’ face or force him to throw a pick or two. That’s easier said than done since he is one of the most accurate QB’s in the league. He’s had a few blunders this season but he is capable of having a 400+ yard game against this Panthers secondary. That huge game Lance Moore had last week could be a fluke but I’ve seen him do that plenty of times in the past so the Panthers need to be weary of him. They are also going to have their hands full with Devery Henderson, Marcus Colston and Robert Meacham. If the coverage is anything like it was against the Giants then we’re in trouble, if it’s like it was against the Bengals then there’s a chance. We will be depending a lot on our linebackers and safeties to help us out in these situations.

Safeties Charles Godfrey and Sherrod Martin need to be at their absolute best this week. Godfrey played very well last week so if he can take advantage of any mistake he sees Brees make, then things might go in our favor. Martin has shown good speed and power so I think he might be able to at least keep the receivers in check. How our corners will play worries me. I trust Chris Gamble to at least make it difficult for Colston to get any room but Richard Marshall and Captain Munnerlyn both have struggled so far and Brees can eat them alive with the weapons he has. That’s where the safeties and linebackers need to come in. If the two of them keep struggling then we could see Jon Beason and James Anderson drop into coverage to help a bit. I’m not sure how many corners we’ll have active or what kind of coverage we’ll have (I think we’ll stick with the cover 2 but it could change) but I just hope it works. The defense has kept us in all three games this year and needs to continue to do so.

Saints offensive line vs. Panthers defensive line

I always felt the Saints have a fairly underrated offensive line and it’s played pretty decent so far. The Panthers front four still hasn’t been able to establish a decent pass rush so it might be a fairly easy game for them. The one weak link I see in New Orelans’ line is the left side. Jermon Bushrod and Carl Hicks have both struggled this season. It’s what the Falcons did and they got to Brees a couple of times. We need to do the same thing but I think Bushrod might have an easier time with Everette Brown than John Abraham. I’ve seen a few good things from Brown this year but I want to see him get in the backfield more, a sack or two would be nice as well. Brees is playing on a bad knee so the Panthers will definitely target that but I have to think the Saints O-line are going to be at their best to protect Brees at any cost.

Saints rushing game vs. Panthers run defense

I don’t know how much of a factor this will play because the Saints don’t run the ball a lot. They’re going to run even less with Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush hurt, that and Chris Ivory’s debut wasn’t a good one. I think the Panthers have done a good job at stopping the run for the most part. Beason and Dan Connor always do a good job at sniffing out running backs before they can get any momentum. I think the Saints might got to Ladell Betts a little more this time if Thomas doesn’t play. Regardless, the Saints running backs have done their damage in the passing game through screen passes, so our linebackers will need to detect those quickly and bring them down before they can get any ground.

What I Want To See:

– More big plays from Brandon LaFell. He’s had a couple of these this season but if we can get him to be more consistent then that would be amazing. He’s got the talent to be a #2 receiver but he’s still only a rookie.

– No turnovers. We already have 12 this year, that leads the league by a ridiculous margin. I especially want to get rid of the fumbling.

– A TD pass from Jimmy Clausen. He’s long overdue.

– Use the running game to eat up the clock. That’s one reason why the Bengals beat us, they ate up the clock with Cedric Benson and kept drives going with short 3rd down conversions. The running game obviously needs to get going for this to happen but you have to control the TOP game if you want to beat the Saints. Keep the ball out of Brees’ hands.

I’m going to be honest/unprofessional for a second, I hate the Saints. A lot. Just seeing the words “Who Dat” make me cringe. Getting a win against them in New Orleans would make me a very happy man on Sunday but I would also be very please if I see a better effort from this Panthers team, as well. Truth be told, if we score more than 21 points, then I’m going to consider it a victory and be happy even if we win or lose.

Prediction: Panthers 21 Saints 17..In my dreams

Saints 31, Panthers 24

Panthers-Bengals preview

The Panthers now sit at 0-2 going into Week 3 as they prepare to take on the Cincinnati Bengals. These teams actually have a lot in common when you think about it, especially their defenses. When I look at both teams defenses, I see a lot of solid, effective players but not one stand out. They all work well as a single unit. The difference is that the Bengals defense has played a lot better than the Panthers. Another thing they have in common is that both have a lot of weapons on offense and neither have delivered. The difference you ask? Carolina is starting a rookie QB with a shaky o-line and questionable receivers while the Bengals have more proven targets. Still, both offenses haven’t been unleashed yet this could determine if this game will be a blowout or not.

Matchups:

Jimmy Clausen vs. Bengals defense

The Bengals defense dominated Joe Flacco last week. They were in his face the whole time and forced him to throw 4 awful interceptions. The front four did their jobs. They got into the backfield, made Flacco panic and he made terrible throws as a result. I saw a lot of blitzes, too. DE Michael Johnson was in Flacco’s grill multiple times last week. Defensive Coordinator Mike Zimmer is going to go with the same strategy against Clausen and have the Bengals defense get into his head like they did to Flacco last week. Clausen gets rid of the ball quicker than Flacco, though. He’s good at delivering quick, accurate passes which will work in his benefit. Going up against the Bengals should be a good test to see how much “poise” and confidence he has.

DeAngelo Williams/Jonathan Stewart vs. Keith Rivers/Ray Maualuga

It’s obvious that the Panthers are going to try to establish the run first since they have the backs to do it. The problem is that neither have gotten the wheels clicking. The O-line is partially to blame for this but they are going to have a breakout game sooner or later. They’ll have another tough test against a solid Bengals LB corps. Maualuga is their “Jon Beason” in a way. He never gives up on a play and is usually good at sniffing out running backs. Rivers is a good run stuffer as well and he is expected to return after missing last week. One other guy Double Trouble should look out for is DE Robert Geathers who did a pretty good job at stopping Ray Rice last week. That brings us to the next matchup

Geoff Schwartz and Mackenzy Bernadeau vs. Robert Geathers and Tank Johnson

This is where we really wish we had Jeff Otah… Neither Schwartz nor Bernadeau have been good in his place and our running game has definitely suffered because of it. I maintain confidence in Ryan Kalil and Jordan Gross in stopping Antwan Odom but these two really need to pick it up. Odom is going to be double covered by Gross and Wharton which opens the door for Tank and Geathers to reak havok.

Panthers tight ends vs. Bengals secondary

Look,  everyone knows that Steve Smith is our best WR and he is likely going to be double covered by the Bengals. The Bengals also have one of the best corner tandems in the league, which is going to make things even harder for us. They blanketed almost every receiver Flacco tried to throw to last week and look to do the same to our receivers. This is where I want to see Dante Rosario, Jeff King and Gary Barnidge get involved with the passing game. Rosario is capable of making plays on both long and short routes and he has a chance to get open if he gets a good matchup against this defense.
Carson Palmer vs. Panthers pass rush

Carson Palmer hasn’t been great this season and he had a very mediocre outing against the Ravens last week. Many are saying that this is the year that Palmer “needs” to prove that he’s still a good QB given the weapons around him. I give him the benefit of the doubt for the first two weeks since he was up against two of the best front 7’s in the league. He’s got an easier task on his hand against the Carolina Panthers front 4, which hasn’t done much so far. Charles Johnson and Everette Brown need to find their pre-season form if they want to stop Palmer at all. Now, they did get into the backfield against the Bucs yesterday but they couldn’t finish their tackles and Freeman was able to avoid the pressure. Palmer won’t be able to do that as well so hopefully the Panthers pass rush can get to him. I’m expecting us to dial up a few blitzes from the linebackers and safeties as well. The pass rush needs all the help they can get.

Terrell Owens/Chad Ochocinco vs. Richard Marshall/Chris Gamble

In all fairness, the Panthers pass coverage wasn’t that bad. Tackling, QB containment were another story. The new dynamic duo in Cinci have been decent so far but fans have been expecting more and this could be their chance to have a huge game. Panthers have had a vulnerable pass defense this season and it needs to get better. Giving up big plays kind of comes with the territory of playing in a Tampa 2 defense but I would like to see the pass defense improve. A lot.

Jermaine Gresham/Jordan Shipley vs. Captain Munnerlyn

This is a very favorable matchup for the Bengals. Munnerlyn has been absolutely terrible at the nickelback position and this creates a big chance for both Shipley and Gresham to have a breakout game. I would not be surprised to see us put Beason or Anderson in coverage against Gresham, though. That seems like the best thing to do here. That or rely on Sherrod Martin and Charles Godfrey to disrupt the passing game as much as possible.

Cedric Benson vs. Panthers rush defense

The rush defense has been one positive thing for this defense. While it hasn’t been great, it’s been solid. Benson is apparently “frustrated” with the Bengals offense thus far and rightfully so. He did get his fair share of carries against the Ravens last week though and was shut down for the most part. I’m not sure he will have that much success against our linebackers but we shall see.

What I Want From This Game:

Jonathan Stewart to get more involved

He needs to be getting more than 5-8 touches a game. He getting more explosive with each year and it seems dumb to let him sit on the bench. The only explanation I can think of is if he still has that lingering pre-season injury. Then by all means let him rest.

Defense to get more than one sack

Preferably from the defensive line. That doesn’t seem like too much to ask for but after watching the footage of Freeman running away from all of our linemen it might be…

Jimmy Clausen not to turn the ball over

Well…I don’t want him to throw an INT that’s his fault if you know what I mean. No passes into double coverage or trying to force passes. That sounds fine. There’s always a chance that the ball will go off one of our receivers hands and into the hands of Jonathan Joseph.

Armanti Edwards to play

It’s time to see what he can do. We might as well suit him up for this game and get him involved in a few plays.

Greg Hardy to get more snaps and be involved with blitz packages.

Every time I see him he’s always making some kind of play. Let’s use him more.

No more weak-ass arm tackles from the secondary

Seriously.  See Tampa’s second TD to see what I mean.

The offensive line to have some unity.

I have a feeling that I’ll be asking this question until Otah gets back.

Prediction:

I really hate to pick against my own team but I don’t see us winning unless the Bengals defense has a performance like they did against the Patriots.

Bengals 19, Panthers 14