This Sunday, the Carolina Panthers travel north to face off against the Buffalo Bills. Both teams lost their season openers – Carolina fell to Seattle 12-7 while Buffalo lost to the suddenly mortal New England Patriots, 23-21.
Going into this match up, the Carolina Panthers look to have a distinct advantage when their defense faces the Buffalo offense. The Panthers held a rather balanced and potent Seattle team to only 12 points while the Buffalo Bills are starting rookie E.J. Manuel.
Rookie quarterbacks have been quite successful in the early going – at least last season, they did a lot more than was expected heading in – but few faced a front seven of the quality that the Panthers defense brings to bear in this game. Manuel will have to deal with the fierce pass rush of Monsterz, Inc.
Meanwhile, the Panthers offense attempts to gain some traction after a pitiful home-opening seven points in the loss to the Seattle Seahawks. While the Bills defense doesn’t appear imposing, it already has key injuries to safety Jarius Byrd and 2012 first-round pick Stephon Gilmore at corner.
On the ground, RB C.J. Spiller barely topped fifty yards rushing against the Patriots and the Panthers have the better front seven between those two. While I can’t say the defense will hold Spiller to similar numbers, they’ll have done the job if they can prevent him from cracking something open.
Something tells me that’s unlikely with Kuechly on the field.
The Panthers should have a bit better time running the ball with veterans DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert. Word has it that the coaches want to get Tolbert more involved in the offense and he has always had great hands. He can do it all, and then there’s always Cam Newton himself. All he did was lead the team in rushing last season, something offensive coordinator Mike Shula doesn’t want a repeat of.
When all is said and done, Carolina can probably afford to cheat a safety up in the box, forcing the rookie Manuel to make consistent plays to move the chains through the air. Spiller’s a game-breaker, not a power guy, and now the teams have a week of film of each other to watch.
E.J. Manuel isn’t someone to “win now” with but could grow into the offense as the season wears on. It’s a good thing the Panthers are catching them early – both for experience and weather reasons. Carolina rookie Star Lotulelei looks like a very nice piece to plug the middle vs. the run and can collapse the pocket up the middle.
Due to pressure, the field will be effectively cut in half with the strong side being the target zone and the Panthers should get a few takeaways. Cam didn’t throw any picks against Seattle’s Legion of Doom defense and I think he will take care of the ball against an injury-depleted Bills secondary.