Starting this week and continuing throughout the rest of the season I plan to post a weekly column on Friday morning called "The Friday Five", where I will take a closer look at five things to watch for in the Panthers upcoming game. My goal for this series is to facilitate discussions amongst the community as we turn our focus from the previous week's game to the upcoming opponent on the schedule. There won't be a lot of statistical analysis in this series, but it could creep up on you from time to time.
I hope this series of articles will help you find something to look for beyond the box score on Sundays and give you something extra to discuss during post-game discussions and analysis. If I can do that, then I will consider this project a moderate success.
This week the Panthers open the season in Arizona where they will take on the Cardinals, who seem to be on the schedule on an annual basis (at least it feels that way in recent years). The Cardinals will showcase their new quarterback Kevin Kolb, but they still have their elite WR in Larry Fitzgerald, who could be a huge threat to the Panthers in the play-action game if they can't curtail the rushing attack that is led by Ohio State standout Beanie Wells.
While there are a lot of things to watch for in this game, let's narrow this down to The Friday Five, after the jump...
1. Cam Newton
Come on, this is the obvious choice, so we might as well get it out of the way early. Every eye will be on Cam Newton in his first regular season start, whether it be the excited fan who can't wait to see Cam succeed, or the skeptical critic who can't wait to see Cam fail; everyone will be looking to see what Cam brings to the table for the Panthers this Sunday in Arizona.
What to expect: Simply put -- a rookie QB in his first career start. There will be growing pains, and this week will be no exception. Cam's going to struggle with consistency, as every rookie QB does. I don't think he will be as horrendous as the QB play we saw in 2010, but I'm also not getting my hopes up that he's going to be Aaron Rodgers out there.
2. Defensive Line
Well, mostly the defensive tackle position. We're only carrying three of them into this game, and none of them exactly strike fear in the opposing offense. The thing to watch for is how these three guys adjust to the Cardinals' rushing attack and whether or not they can hold their own throughout the course of the game.
What to expect: With two rookies (McClain and Fua) and one 2nd year player (Neblett) as the only options available, I expect this group to be abused all afternoon, especially if the Cardinals can get Beanie Wells involved in their offense early.
3. Jon Beason
Is Jon Beason 100% healthy? Probably not, but apparently he's good enough to play on Sunday. And honestly, did we ever really doubt him? He hasn't missed a start in his career, and I don't believe a minor heel injury is going to stop that streak.
What to expect: A true leader on defense who will be a major help in the rush defense by being on the field and making tackles. I expect Beason to force at least one turnover on Sunday that leads to a Panthers score.
4. The Search for a #2 WR
Will someone please stand up and take the #2 WR spot? We've had several guys fighting for this position throughout the pre-season, but apparently no one wants the responsibility to be Cam's 2nd option (not counting the tight ends). Someone, anyone, must step up and take over the #2 role soon, because we have other issues that need to be addressed and don't really have the time to fool around with finding a 2nd receiver.
What to expect: Honestly, I don't expect any of the receivers not named Steve Smith to make much of an impact. I think the two TE's (Shockey and Olsen) will make more of an impact in the receiving game than any of the receivers will on Sunday. It's going to take some time before one of them takes the title of #2 receiver, and I think Armanti Edwards will eventually be the one to come out on top.
5. Ron Rivera
Rivera is coaching the first regular season game of his career, and it will be intriguing to see how he handles the pressure of leading a young team on the field in his first real game as a head coach. We've already seen his coaching style in action during the pre-season, but the regular season is a completely different animal. Hopefully Rivera is able to maintain a solid game plan throughout the game, and make adjustments when necessary.
What to expect: A hungry coach trying to make a statement in his first game. We might also see the mythical "halftime adjustment" that we've only heard about from fans of other teams in seasons past.
Well, there you have it Panthers fans -- five things to look for this Sunday when the Panthers take on the Cardinals. We'll see a rookie head coach and a rookie QB trying to make statements to the rest of the league while a patchwork defensive line tries to prevent Beanie Wells from having a field day for Arizona.
Hopefully Jon Beason can come in and be 100% healthy because the defense is going to need his leadership and ability on the field thanks to the lack of depth at the DT position. I know that the coaching staff is leaning towards signing a veteran after this week so they don't have to guarantee a salary, but that doesn't alleviate my concern for this Sunday, and I believe that the run defense is going to suffer immensely and Panthers fans will be in for a long afternoon.
My official prediction for Sunday's game: Arizona 31, Carolina 24.
What do you think Panthers fans? What are you watching for this Sunday?
Author's note: Please bear with me as I work out the kinks in this new series. With that being said, I welcome any honest, constructive criticism that anyone has to offer. When I say constructive criticism, I mean exactly that. Suggestions like "don't write this stupid crap" will not be up for consideration, but if you have any suggestions of things you'd like to see in this column, please feel free to let me know via comment. Thanks, BW.