Carolina Panthers vs. Oakland Raiders: Defensive preview

Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE

Two years removed from Darren McFadden's breakout season, the Raiders are still looking for answers.

The ability to move the football, and remain unable to find the end zone is a pain Carolina Panthers fans know all too well. Due to a combination of inexperience and offensive game plan, some teams can only play an 80-yard game where their offense is unable to play in a compact field. This is what has plagued the Oakland Raiders' offense this year, despite having great success throwing the football.

X-Factor: Luke Kuechly

The Raiders have a lot of ways to attack an defense. Multiple receiving weapons, and an emerging one-two punch at running back could keep the Panthers off balance.

One of the reasons the Carolina Panthers had so much success in San Diego last week was the absence of Ryan Mathews. When the running back left the game, the Chargers became a one-dimensional team. This, paired with the score being against them allowed the Panthers to key on the pass, and play with house money.

It's here where Luke Kuechly can prove why he's emerging as one of the NFL's premiere linebackers in his first season. His ability to read and react, coupled with an almost unnatural ability to diagnose a play pre-snap will pay dividends when Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson are rotated on offense.

Oakland's primary receiving threat is tight end Brandon Myers, and it will be Luke's responsibility to keep him in check on Sunday. Another tough match-up, but one he can handle with his athleticism.

Edge: Panthers

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Oakland run offense vs. Carolina run defense

The Raiders' run games finally broke out ast week against the Kansas City Chiefs. Combining for 199 rushing yards, McFadden and Goodson had great success against the Chiefs' 3-4. In Carolina we're well aware of Goodson's strengths -- he's an excellent change-of-pace back, and a player who thrives with the ball in his hands in the open field. However, he still suffers from the same fumble issues he had for the Panthers. While he hasn't put the ball on the ground in the regular season, he fumbled twice in one game during preseason.

Darren McFadden remains a difficult player to figure out. Anointed to be the next great running back out of Arkansas, the two-time Heisman runner up hasn't had an easy path in the NFL. The Raiders' offense moved to a zone blocking scheme, but unlike the success enjoyed by DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, in Oakland it looks like the scheme is holding McFadden back. On pace for just 705 rushing yards this year, despite likely finishing with over 200 carries, it will be another disappointing season for a RB pegged to have multiple thousand-yard seasons in his career.

Carolina's interior offensive line is nothing to write home about, but given the offensive line struggles in Oakland they should manage to get the best of this match-up.

Edge: Panthers

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Oakland pass offense vs. Carolina pass defense

Oakland paid a large price to acquire Carson Palmer from the Cincinnati Bengals, and while his arrival didn't put them over the hump -- he has still been very good for them under the circumstances. Throwing for almost 4,000 yards, and 22 touchdowns, Palmer is the Raiders' offense this season. Completing 61-percent of his passes, and using multiple weapons, Carolina should be wary of the veteran quarterback.

It's his large cadre of receiving options that could cause Carolina headaches. Tight end Brandon Myers has over 700 yards, along with receiver Denarius Moore, who also has over 700 yards -- they form the backbone of the passing attack. This is a deep group though. Darrius Heyward-Bey (562 yards, 4 TD), Rod Streater (491 yards, 3 TD), and Marcel Reece (478 yards) help round out a varied passing attack.

At this point of the season the Carolina Panthers' secondary are flying on a wing and a prayer. Losing multiple players due to injury, they're throwing untested guys into the fire, and for the most part it has worked. This week against the Raiders and their receiving corps they are over-matched, and it's here the Panthers need to be careful not to let the game get away from them.

Edge: Raiders

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Overall Outlook

Eight weeks ago this would be a very different story, but the Oakland Raiders are facing the Panthers at the perfectly wrong time. Yes, Carolina lost to Kansas City -- their most embarrassing loss of the season, but that was the wake up call Ron Rivera's team needed. Winning three of their last four games, this Carolina team are motivated to best their 2011 win total, and Cam Newton has been unstoppable in recent weeks. Since week 11 he has the highest quarterback rating in the NFL, and with the receivers backing him up, and the unlikely defense somehow holding, it's hard to imagine the Raiders can stop a team only now learning how good they can be.

Carolina Panthers 27 - Oakland Raiders 16

Yearly pick record: 9-5

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