It’s the first game of the season and when you look around for game previews you see a focus on last season stats. Maybe that means something for a Chargers team that tweaked its roster in the offseason but it means nothing for this Panthers team. We just want to forget last season completely and I doubt you will learn much game planning based on the Panthers 2007 season.
With that said every game always hinges on execution and a few key match-ups. As I’ve said before the difference between a winning team and a losing one is only a few degrees of separation, a break down here, an exception individual play there. In the Panthers opener against the Chargers the key match-ups are pretty obvious.
When the Panthers are on Offense:
Panthers WR’s Musin Muhammad & DJ Hackett vs. Chargers CB’s Quentin Jammer & Antonio Cromartie
It’s no secret the Panthers will want to run the ball but the Panther passing attack must show enough teeth to keep the Charger safeties out of the box. Cromartie led the NFL in INT’s last season so Jake must be careful not to throw some of the risky passes he is prone to throwing. He must look off the safeties at every opportunity and the Panther receivers cannot afford any drops or bad routes. With Hackett nursing an injury since early August he may be largely ineffective. Look for Moose and hopefully Dwayne Jarrett to provide the key 3rd down catches. The Panthers will also need to take a shot downfield early to keep the Charger secondary honest, even if it’s a pass out of bounds.
Panthers RT Jeff Otah vs. Chargers LB Phillips and DE Olshansky
The rookie will get his baptism by fire in week one as he faces a salty Chargers defense designed to confuse. Otah must minimize his mistakes and play with power and aggression. It’s time to see that ‘nasty’ side he heard so much about leading up to the draft and during TC.
Panthers C Ryan Kalil vs. Chargers NG Jamal Williams
The offensive line as a whole must play together against the Chargers potent 3-4 defense and it all starts up front with neutralizing the mammoth nose guard Williams. He’s a wily veteran of 11 seasons who will try to knock Kalil on his ass at every opportunity. Certainly Kalil will get help from the Panther guards on probably every play but Kalil must be able to hold his ground. Theoretically the Panthers should be able to run against a 3-4 with their 5 big bodies versus 3 but the key his executing their assignments. FB Brad
When the Panthers are on Defense:
Panthers DE Julius Peppers vs. Chargers LT LJ Shelton
Panthers LB Jon Beason vs. Chargers RB LaDanian Tomlinson
All of the Panthers LB’s will have the responsibility to keep Tomlinson from turning the corner but it starts with Beason shooting the gaps. Tomlinson will get his yards but the Panthers must prevent the big plays from the most dangerous RB in the league. The Chargers will test the Panthers run defense from the start and if the Panther LB’s can’t make plays early it could be along day for the defense.
Panthers S’s Chris Harris and Charles Godfrey vs. Chargers TE Antonio Gates
The Chargers scouting report on the Panthers will show the Panthers have had a hard time covering TE’s in the middle of the field. Expect Chargers QB Rivers to target Gates on critical 3rd downs and plays designed to match him up with supposedly slower LB’s. The Panthers should counter with SS Chris Harris keeping a close eye on Gates on obvious passing downs.
I think the Panthers are going to reap big rewards from an improved kick-off coverage game that starts the booming kicks of specialist Rhys Lloyd. The weather in
The kick return game is a complete unknown given return man Mark Royal just joined the team. I don’t expect the fact that Royal spent TC with the Chargers to help much. We can only help he doesn’t make any mistakes that cost the Panthers on the scoreboard.