Panthers should be looking downfield regularly vs. Cowboy secondary

CHARLOTTE, NC - OCTOBER 12: Carson Wentz #11 of the Philadelphia Eagles is stopped by the defense of the Carolina Panthers during their game at Bank of America Stadium on October 12, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, NC - OCTOBER 12: Carson Wentz #11 of the Philadelphia Eagles is stopped by the defense of the Carolina Panthers during their game at Bank of America Stadium on October 12, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /

The Carolina Panthers should have a field day against the Dallas Cowboys secondary.

Carolina Panthers v Buffalo Bills
ORCHARD PARK, NY – AUGUST 09: Donte Jackson #26 of the Carolina Panthers tackles Chris Ivory #33 of the Buffalo Bills during the first quarter of a preseason game at New Era Field on August 9, 2018 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images) /

By all means, the Carolina Panthers offensive line and secondary need some time to jell, and first two weeks vs. Cowboys and Atlanta could well be a microcosm of the season. Sports Illustrated predicted an 8-8 finish for the ‘boys, and while the Panthers only rated a 9-7  nod, putting a W next to season openers is always a good thing. ‘

Carson Wentz of Philadelphia won’t start the season for Philly, but he was having an MVP year before his injury last year, and he’ll be ready when Panthers come to town. THAT is when the Panther secondary must be 100% jelled.

The Dallas secondary is not highly regarded (30th in 2017), but Kris Richard has come from Seattle where he crafted the ‘Legion of Boom’ secondary, so expectations are high about improvement. Byron Jones is supposed to be flourishing by moving from safety back to corner, but there’s no solid replacement at safety, so Panthers should be looking downfield regularly. If the opener becomes a 40 pass day for Newton, it will be because things aren’t fixed in Dallas secondary.

Dallas doesn’t blitz all that much, but they stunt regularly, and DeMarcus Lawrence had 14.5 sacks last year. All-Pro LB Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith and Lawrence will need to be taken care of if the Panthers run game is going to work.

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It’s a given that Cam Newton can throw a football as far as necessary, and with several impact receivers added to offense, expect Panthers to put Devin Funchess’ size, Torrey Smith’s speed, and DJ Moore’s 39” vertical to regular use. Norv Turner’s offense was visible during preseason, and spreading the touches around is its hallmark. Both Jarius Wright and Curtis Samuel as slot receivers have elite speed, *EVERYONE* knows CMC is going to have plenty of touches as a pass catcher or on runs, and CJ Anderson can be a ball control back if that’s what’s asked of him.

The Carolina secondary, even with rookies Donte Jackson (DB, LSU) and Rashaad Gaulden (safety/nickel, Tenn.), is a work in progress, and there will be an obvious symbiosis with the rest of defensive coordinator Eric Washington’s crew: Better coverage gives the front seven that extra tick or two for sacks, and conversely, the better line performs, the easier life will be for the secondary. Thankfully there is no Dez Bryant or Jason Witten– now an ESPN commentator- on the Dallas roster to be concerned about this first game, and honestly, the SI assessment of the six-eight receivers they have is that “they would be 3rd or 4th options on most teams.” The only real name threat is stud RB Ezekiel Elliott, and if Shaq Thompson or Kuechly meet him in the hole, that particular problem can be mitigated.

Jackson probably won’t shadow Falcon’s #1 receiver Julio Jones (6’3, 220), but he might have first rounder Calvin Ridley (Alabama)- regarding whom he will tell anyone he’s played against ALL the best of SEC for three years- as his assignment.

Fans might not have the same short memories as defensive backs are supposed to possess after big gainers, and its never an easy job, but there *shouldn’t* be any 500 yard passing days if the defensive line is as stout as they looked in preseason against Brady’s Patriots or the Dolphins. That ATL dropped from 1st to 15th by declining 11.7 ppg in a post-Super Bowl year is a fact Carolina has seen itself, but sympathy for the Birds will be in short supply.

‘Wise old head’ Mike Adams is 37, and if he’d been replaced by Da’Norris Searcy at safety if Searcy hadn’t broken a leg early in training camp is a moot point in Week 1. Colin Jones is the special teams captain (8th year) as a safety, and Carolina Panthers fans will keep their fingers crossed that numerous big plays by Pittsburgh in preseason- albeit vs. substitutes- won’t be a regular occurrence. Jackson might get burned by Dak Prescott on throws while rolling out because he’ll want to come up in run support, and Atlanta’s Matt Ryan will test everyone he plays this year, so how quickly Jackson impresses the NFL with tight coverage and not just fixing mistakes with his speed will be a moment the Panthers hope comes soon.

For all the expectations the Carolina Panthers offense carries this season, their front seven on defense is going to be the ticket to a successful first half of season. Right now the Cowboys vaunted offensive line is in flux, especially Pro Bowl center Travis Frederick, who is sidelined by an auto-immune disease. Washington has preached-demanded pressuring offenses and scoring off turnovers, this seems a legitimate time to pound a QB.

In October Panthers will play three games against NFC East (Giants, Redskins, Eagles) and despite a 3-13 record when all their skill players were injured, Eli Manning can still sling it—he averaged 4,290 and 30 TDs the previous three season- and #1 receiver Odell Beckham is back. Carson Wentz of Philadelphia was having an MVP year before his injury last year, and although he won’t start the season for Philly,he’ll be ready by time Panthers come to town. That is when the Panther secondary must be 100% jelled.

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Bottom line, offense wins games, defense wins championships is the usual credo. If the Panthers can continue their ball control history and recover their own 11 ppg loss over last two years, and defense reduces Prescott and Ryan et al’s time to respond, these two games would be a heckuva start to 2018 for the Carolina Panthers and their fans.