As we know, week three in the preseason is the time when the starters see most of the action they’re going to see in the preseason. It’s a dress-rehearsal for the regular season that the coaches and players alike that A) they want to be sharp for and B) they want to come out of the scrimmage injury-free.
There’s a bit of a problem for the Panthers, however.
Last week they faced they faced a team with very similar offensive woes to the New York Jets. Both the Dolphins and Jets have had a very difficult time getting their offenses underway, and the Panthers need to face another foe that has a veteran offensive team.
Both the Dolphins and the Jets have troubles especially on the right side of their offensive lines. The Dolphins drafted who looked to be a promising young rookie, Jonathan Martin of Stanford, to play the right side. He has really struggled trying to acclimate to the speed and strength of NFL defenders.
Jets’ tackle Wayne Hunter, the biggest scapegoat in the NYC media’s eyes, won’t be starting. Their offense hasn’t scored a TD since last year and Austin Howard will be taking his place. Howard was and undrafted free agent for the Eagles in 2010, moved on to the Ravens’ practice squad, and found his way to the Jets late last season.
After signing Hunter to a guaranteed contract for $2.3 million, he has struggled. He’s not going to be cut, but he’s demoted for now as the Jets just look anemic no matter if Sanchez, Tebow, or Namath is back there. They’re unable to run the ball as well, making the Miami Dolphins look average by comparison.
The Panthers’ defense really needs to face a good offensive team, but will have to wait until week four for that and the Pittsburgh Steelers, who start two rookies of their own.
Expect the defense to show up tonight, but again, with all the new faces on the opponents’ offenses the last 3 games of the preseason, it’s going to be very difficult to judge their true progress since last year. I don’t think they’ll be soft up the middle again in 2012 with Jon Beason returning and drafting Luke Kuechly in the top ten.
With the Panther offense struggling against the Texans’ first unit in game one and looking crisp in game two, perhaps the Jets defense and Darrelle Revis can better help gauge how well the offense is playing. When Gang Green’s D gets some confidence, they can be quite dangerous. If the Panthers’ offense does sputter with the first-teamers in there, then it’s officially time to start to worry. If they score a couple of times and punt a few times, well, that’s probably par for the course against a decent defense. It’ll give Rivera & co. more film to go over and two weeks of fine-tuning for their opener against a talented but young Tampa Bay team.
If any starters play in game four – the Steeler game – it probably won’t be for long and we won’t be able to get a good look then, either.
The Carolina Panthers 2012 preseason might help Rivera settle on his 53 guys to take into the fights, but it sure hasn’t helped anyone truly determine whether they’ll be as effective as they were in 2011 or not. By only adding and changing a couple of pieces, you would think they would have to improve as they face a 3rd place finisher’s schedule. That very thing helped the Bengals become a Wild Card team last year.
With a full season and having a full camp under his belt this year, I don’t see how Newton will suffer much of a “sophomore slump.” Last year, they ranked 3rd in rushing, 13th in passing, and with Cam under center they can threaten any place on the field on any down and distance in the vertical passing game and with Williams being a breakaway threat in the running game.
None of that will change in 2012, but the first real test of their offense will come in the week 3 game against the Falcons. The Panthers start the schedule with a game against each of their NFC South divisional foes – Tampa Bay in week one, New Orleans in week two, and then the Falcons. Atlanta has the best defensive team of the three; New Orleans the best offense, and Tampa Bay the most improved on both sides of the ball this year but are young.
Then, we’ll know how close (or how far) the Panthers have climbed up the division ladder. Week 2 will test the defense against the Saints. Week three will test both units. All in all, the Panthers will know how they stack up before the end of the first month of the season.
As for the Jets, they get to face a very talented Philadelphia Eagles‘ team in preseason week four. If their offense doesn’t make huge strides and quickly, they’ll be limping into the season opener against the Buffalo Bills, a team that seems to be in the latter stages of building a very nice defense of their own.
latest news: Panthers WR Steve Smith may sit out the game with a foot infection. He missed the last 2 days of practice and could be held out as a precaution.