On Sunday afternoon at 1PM, The Panthers face off against the Eagles at home in Bank of America Stadium to start the season. No more preseason, this is the real deal now. The depth charts have been set, the fields painted, and on Sunday the start of the 2009 Carolina Panthers season will finally begin.
However, the Panthers have many questions going into Week 1. How effective will our new 3rd receiver Kenny Moore be? Whom will be the punt and kick returners for the Panthers now that Steve Smith and Chris Gamble's names have been thrown into the competition? How will the Panthers recover after a 0-4 start during the preseason? All of these questions will finally be resolved.
There is a cause for hope. There is a cause for faith in our team. I believe the Panthers starters held back during the preseason. I believe the coaching staff called very conservative plays with loose coverage in order to keep the defense healthy. I believe that the players were instructed not to go all-out against their previous opponents, hence all the missed tackles. That is what we have to hope after a 0-4 start during the preseason. In addition, Linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis among our other starters were lining the bench to keep them from being injured during the cursed offseason. They will be back. Safeties Chris Harris and Sherrod Martin were nursing injuries right up into this very week before being declared good to go for Week 1. Besides our players on IR, the Panthers are healthy going up against the Eagles this Sunday.
Expect for the full fury of our defense to be released on game day. Like I said, you cannot judge the Panthers for their preseason. They calling a conservative game in order to minimize contact and prevent injuries to our players. The Panthers will change that on Sunday. Expect Panthers to blitz like crazy and carry a 4 man D-Line rotation in order to account for the losses of Corvey Irvin and Maake Kemoeatu to IR. The Panthers may have a huge weakness at DT, but our linebacker core are one of the strongest in the league. They will not, and cannot let us down.
And let's not forget the injuries of the Eagles as well. They lost their starting MLB early this year to IR. They throw Omar Gaither in there and he's a capable fill-in. But his backup, Joe Mays, is done for the game due to shoulder injury. The LB core of the Eagles are one injury away from a major disaster. That's bad news for an Eagles defense trying to discover how to stop a star running back like DeAngelo Williams and to prepare for a playoff run.
In addition, the Eagles lost two key cogs in their O-Line with their starting LG and RT out. That's going to hurt their offensive line and help nullify a weakness the Panthers have at our DT Position. On top of that, Westbrook is coming off an offseason ankle surgery, has hit the magical age of 30, and didn't practice the entire preseason. We all know that when RB's hit the downturn of their career, they hit it hard. Will he still have the game changing speed that he has had in the past? Is it time for him to hang up his cleats and retire? These are all questions that will be answered on Sunday.
Now let's move on and see how our offense matches up against the Philadelphia defense.
The Eagles have fielded one of the most dominant defenses in the league the last couple of years. However, a big cause of that success was the brilliance in their former defensive coordinator Jim Johnson, whom has sadly passed away to cancer. This year the Eagles struggled defensively during the preseason, giving up 30+ points in their last couple of preseason games to the Jags and the Jets. Don't be surprised if you see an entirely new defense under Jim's successor Sean McDermott.
With the final game in 2008 in mind, the Eagles are going to blitz until Jake Delhomme proves himself in the passing game. They are going to stack 7 and 8 players in the box until he can start feeding the ball to Smith, Moose, and Moore. If they start pulling that stuff on the opening drive, I wouldn't be surprised if they gave Jake Delhomme the ball to prove himself the first drive after a horrible game against the Cardinals in the postseason. Then they can go on to call a balanced offensive game, have a good day, and the Panther fans can return to their homes victorious and looking forward for the rest of the season.
Jake just needs to keep from turning the ball over.
Jeff Otah vs Victor Abiamira
For the past three years, Juqua Thomas has been a good starter at right defensive end. He's gone for 5 and 6 sacks a season, and the Eagles find that they depend on him down the stretch. Yet during the offseason, the Eagles have decided to go with the 2 year veteran in Victor Abiamira, a 2nd round pick from the university of Notre Dame from the 07 draft. He's never played extensively in a game before, so it'll be up to Jeff Otah to be able to give him a very rude welcome into the league. Victor Abiamira should be able to be a good player in the league, but Jeff Otah should be able to delay his success for at least another game.
Jordan Gross vs Trent Cole
The star on the Eagles D-Line is unquestionably LDE Trent Cole. Two years ago in 2007 he made it to the Pro-Bowl for the first time in his career. He had 12.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 49 tackles, and was consistently a threat for the QB to keep an eye on at all times. However, he will be going up against another star in Jordan Gross, whom made it to the Pro-Bowl for the first time in his career just last year. Needless to say, it will be an interesting battle going on along both sides of the D-Line today.
Jake Delhomme vs Eagles D-backs
Jake will need to come out and prove himself once more after his horrendous play during the Cardinals game last year. This match-up could very well be renamed Jake Delhomme vs himself simply because the fans need to learn to believe in him again. At the same time, the coaching staff needs to not overly depend on Jake Delhomme like they did during that game. Call a balanced game with a mix of run and pass, and acknowledge that Jake Delhomme is not Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, even though he's being paid like it.
Jake also needs to be more effective on 3rd down, which has traditionally been a struggle for the Panthers with him under center. He has some help with year with Moore providing a better 3rd WR than Hackett or Jarrett last year. If Jake spreads the ball around, our offense should have a good day.
Brad Hoover vs Eagles LB's
DeAngelo needs to pick up where he left off last season and start breaking off those huge runs we all know and love him for. He is the star on our offense, and if he and Stewart suddenly fled to Canada our offense would not be effective at all.
So Brad Hoover needs to get out there and have a good game in the second level, blocking and fighting to give our backs room to run. He's coming off a year where he blew a few key assignments last year on special teams that led to a couple of blocked punts. A good performance by Hoover in taking away that extra LB up the middle would do wonders for springing DeAngelo into the backfield.
We have a special running game in Carolina. Williams is always a threat to break free at any time. Stewart makes for a good power back to keep him fresh, and Mike Goodson could be a brilliant, speedy change of pace back if he can cut down on the fumbles and the Panthers choose to utilize him. They are the reason I'm pumped for the start of the regular season. The Panthers running game is close to unstoppable.
And behind the scenes, the Hoov will do all the dirty work in helping them be that great.
I look into the future, and I see a high scoring game by both teams. The defenses stand strong during the 1st and part of the 2nd quarter, but they completely collapse during the stretch. It will come down to the Panthers running game against the Eagles passing game, and DeAngelo Williams will not disappoint. The Panthers win 38-28.