Yesterday I previewed the Carolina Panthers offensive chances, and today I'm looking at their defensive ones. Under Ken Wisenhunt the Cardinals have had one of the most potent offenses in the NFL, but that was derailed last year due to a problem we're all too familiar with, QB issues. Rather than taking the slower approach of drafting and developing a QB the Cards decided in the offseason to fast-track their success by trading for Philadelphia Eagles' backup Kevin Kolb. While the price was high, Kolb has immediately begun to show dividends this pre-season where he finished the four games passing for 356 yards and 1 TD while posting a QB rating of 93.3. If Kolb is able to keep up those numbers the Cardinals got themselves a steal, despite the price tag.
X-Factor: Charles Johnson
Don't mistake a lack of stats this preseason for a lack of performance. Over the course of the three pre-season games he played him CJ was literally getting doubled, and sometimes even triple teamed every single down. This was primarily due to a lack of defensive creativity, coupled with a lack of pressure from the other DE spot. With Ron Rivera and Co. loosening the reigns a little, and blitzing with the linebackers and DBs far more often, the Cardinals can't afford to commit 2-3 people to Johnson on every down. While the DTs wont scare anyone, #95 will, and if the plan is to block him with one man I'll put my money on Johnson every time.
So, why is he an 'X-factor'? It's simply really... getting to Kevin Kolb. If there's one thing Kolb does poorly it's hold onto the football. Last year alone he fumbled 6 times in only 5 starts, and over his career he averages right around a fumble per game. If the Panthers can up the pressure and start hitting Kolb with regularity the chances are at some point and time he'll cough up the rock. In order for the Panthers to secure a win they'll need to be opportunistic on defense, and with Johnson off the edge they have a chance of being just that.
More after the jump
Panthers run defense vs. Cardinals run offense
In short: If Beanie Wells in on your fantasy team I'd start him this weekend.
Over three of the four preseason games the Carolina Panthers have been completely unable to stop power runners or finesse runners... shoot, any kind of runner! Cedric Benson made a mockery of the the defensive line in week three, Reggie Bush carved up the defense in week two and Johnathan Dwyer looked like a seasoned veteran in the final pre-season game. Sure, we can be dismissive of these three games and say that week one vs. New York was the 'real' indication of the Panthers' defense, but as it stands the evidence supports the fact that if you run up the gut against the Panthers you'll find success.
Wells did just that this pre-season when the North-South runner finished with 140 yards rushing on 4.8 YPC, primarily up the gut. While the Cardinals' focus will clearly be the passing game, Wells will still get 15-20 touches on the game which could be a scary amount for a team that allowed on average 147.5 yards on the ground per game this pre-season.
Panthers pass defense vs. Cardinals pass offense
Larry Fitzgerald will get his, that's a given, so immediately score one for the Cards. It's a much overused cliche, but Chris Gamble can't stop Fitzgerald, but he can hope to contain him. The crux to derailing Arizona's pass offense will be to take away the big play ability of Fitzgerald as much as possible and play a 'bend don't break' defense when it comes to #11. Sherrod Martin should help a lot from the FS spot as he will be relied on to help double Fitzgerald while Captain Munnerlyn will be left on an island against Andre Roberts. Thankfully, Captain only gives up two inches in height to Roberts, so the match-up wont be too lop-sided from a size perspective.
What this will come down to is our X-factor, Charles Johnson, along with the rest of the Carolina Panthers pass rush. They have to be able to get to Kevin Kolb early and often to keep him out of a rhythm. Should the Panthers allow Kolb to get his time and routes to develop it will be a long, and likely lost game for the Panthers. Even though I gave the edge to Johnson in our x-factor match-up, I just think overall the Cardinals' passing game has more talent than our pass defense has.
If you're keeping score at home this is how the whole game shakes out from my perspective:
- Panthers' offensive X-factor, Cam Newton: Edge Cardinals
- Panthers' run offense vs. Cardinals' run defense: Edge Panthers
- Panthers' pass offense vs. Cardinals pass defense: Push
- Panthers' defensive X-factor, Charles Johnson: Edge Panthers
- Cardinals' run offense vs. Panthers' run defense: Edge Cardinals
- Cardinals' pass offense vs. Panthers' pass defense: Edge Cardinals
Final matchup score: Arizona 3.5 - Carolina 2.5