On offense it will be all about making the new franchise quarterback, Cam Newton comfortable. Newton will be making the start, as expected, and the game will also mark his NFL regular season debut. A lot of the Panther’s success in 2011 will be on shoulders of the rookie signal caller.
I would expect a heavy dose of running from Carolina’s talented backfield which includes DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, and Mike Goodson. A realiable running game is the best way the Panthers can ease the nerves and pressure that Cam Newton will be facing.
The Panthers will surely take some looks down the field targeting their talented veteran receiver, Steve Smith. However, I would expect tight-ends Jeremy Shockey and Greg Olsen to multiple catches apiece. The tight-end can be the quarterbacks best friend and Newton target his two talented tight-ends heavily in the preseason.
With running the football being a major part of the team’s offensive game-plan, the offensive line will need to play near-perfect football. Newton has the ability to escape blitzes and make plays with his legs, but the Panthers would rather not have to rely on that aspect of Newton’s game for their success. The offensive line will need to block well to give Newton time to go through his progressions, open holes for the running backs, and will need to limit false starts and holding penalties. The offensive line will be the key to a possible Panther victory tomorrow.
On defense, I would expect the secondary to be targeted early and often. It is no secret that the Panthers are thin and inexperienced at cornerback. The Cardinals will let new quarterback, Kevin Kolb loose and I would expect him to have at least 35 attempts in the game. It is critical for the Panthers to not allow all-world receiver, Larry Fitzgerald to be the one that defeats them. I would expect them to double cover Fitzgerald for most of the game. Because of likely double coverage on Fitzgerald, the Cardinals will have to rely on their other receivers to make plays. The game could actually come down to who has a better game in the passing department: the Cardinals passing offense or the Panthers’ passing defense.
The Cardinals are not very scary in the running game, especially following the loss of rookie back Ryan Williams who will miss the entire 2011 season after he suffered an Achilles injury. I would expect the Panthers to play a lot of coverage in order to help contain the passing game and also come with numerous blitz packages in order to hurry Kolb through his progressions.
If the Panthers can keep Kolb from throwing more than two touchdowns, they will be able to stay competitive. However, the defense the Panthers showcased in the preseason has a lot of Panther fans worried about the 2011 season. Though I expect the Panthers to lose the game, I also expect to see better play by the team on both sides of the ball.