Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Predator vs. Prey: Carolina Panthers at Pittsburgh Steelers

Predator vs. Prey is a new weekly column that will feature a preview of the Panthers’ opponent for that given week.  We will breakdown the X’s and O’s, matchups on both sides of the ball, and predict the outcome for the game.  Whether it’s Sunday, Monday or Thursday night, CatCrave.com has you covered for everything you need to know leading up to the big game. 

Predator:  Carolina Panthers
Prey:  Pittsburgh Steelers
Environment: Heinz Field - Pittsburgh, PA
Time of Kill: 7.30pm

Aloha Cat Crave Nation, and welcome to the finale of the preseason for the Carolina Panthers.  Tonight, they travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers at 7:30PM.

Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers’ defense is retooling itself, but looks very formidable.

Jarvis Jones and Ryan Shazier are looking like the Pittsburgh linebackers of old with their style of play.  Shazier is a rookie, but has looked very comfortable thus far.  The Steel Curtain 34 defense also features a familiar face in the secondary, Mike Mitchell.  Mitchell’s play has been up and down thus far with his new team, but we won’t see much of him, as the starters probably won’t play past the first quarter.

Offensively, Ben Roethlisberger will be inactive for Pittsburgh.

Bruce Gradkowski will get the nod under center in the final game against a very opportunistic Panthers’ defense.  Antonio Brown has solidified one receiver spot, but look for the Steelers to showcase Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant.  The Steelers’ backfield is foggy right now with the recent legal infractions that both Le’Veon Bell and LaGarette Blount are experiencing.  As is always the case in game four of the preseason, lots of competition amongst the bench players trying to catch a coaches’ eye.

Predator on Offense:

Derek Anderson will get the start for Carolina.  Look for him to connect with the receivers early and often to get some reps their way.

I see Jerricho Cotchery having a big first quarter and Jason Avant finally getting the ball in his hands.  The starting offense will be limited.  We will see the bubble players getting after it tonight as they want to avoid missing the cut Saturday afternoon.

Brandon Williams and Ed Dickson have a clear path to making an impression as well, since Greg Olsen did not travel due to family obligations.

The rosters have to be trimmed to 53 players by 4PM so look for players like Brenton Bersin, Tavarres King, Philly Brown, Brandon Williams and Fozzy Whitaker to step up tonight.  It is unclear if Darrin Reaves is healthy enough to play yet, but if he is, keep an eye on the two young backs as they are fighting for one spot.

Joe Webb will have a big night tonight as well.  He should see the most playing time out of the quarterbacks and will look to prove that he belongs amongst the final 53 players.

I see the healthy competition at receiver causing the air attack to be the Panthers’ main angle to score tonight.  Webb is a nice backup to have emulate Cam Newton, so I also predict he will have a solid night under center.

Predator on Defense

Charles Johnson and Chase Blackburn will be inactive on the defense, and Greg Hardy is still battling an annoying injury.  The fun time for the predators to attack will be when the second units go in.

Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

Carolina’s defensive depth is pretty nasty.  Players like Wes Horton, Frank Alexander, Josh Norman and Robert Lester are all capable starters.  They will feast on the Steelers back-ups as the game progresses.

The Steelers will try to get a rushing game moving so it can set up Gradkowski’s arm.  The dual-threat of Bell and Blount has potential to grind us down, so look for a lot of rotation throughout the defense.

The Panthers would love to get a good look at Roman Harper and Tre Boston tonight, but it is unclear how much time they will get after spending so much time on the sidelines.  Solidifying the secondary is at the forefront of the coaching staff’s mind on the defensive side of the ball.  Lots of tape will be watched to pair up the top corners and safeties once the season starts.

I predict the Steelers will be able to move the ball, but not the way New England did last week.

Dri Archer could be a wild card to watch for out of the Steelers’ backfield and on special teams.  He is a rookie, but has the moves to hit a home run if given the chance.

Carolina needs to figure out their special teams unit moving forward.  Philly Brown will get a lot of work in the return game, as will Fozzy Whitaker.  Both players have the vision and speed to break away from the pack and will need to show abilities on the Special Teams unit to possibly make the roster.

FINAL VERDICT :  CAROLINA – 20    PITTSBURGH – 16

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