Hello Panther Nation! I, like many of you I'm sure, can't freaking wait for Saturday's game. I love the preseason, because it brings in the start of a new year. The sky is the limit in the preseason, every team has an even slate. I love starting fresh and watching all the young talent try and earn a roster spot. This is where the young rookies are going to shine, as well as the guys with their backs against the wall can make an impact and find a way onto the team.
Today I'm going to examine the key matchups, and some of the matchups I would deem "interesting". To start it off, the matchup I am most excited to see is Luke Kuechly versus Owen Daniels. This matchup will pit our new toy at linebacker against a former Pro Bowl talent in Owen Daniels. Seeing as Jon Beason won't be playing, Kuechly will most likely see the field at both the Mike and Will linebacker spots, and will be in coverage at different positions. We have all heard how Kuechly has been a beast in coverage during training camp, this will be his first test on the field.
For more on Kuechly and the Panthers' matchups, read on!
Luke Kuechly vs. Owen Daniels
If Kuechly has shown anything in camp, its that he can play the pass. By my count, there have only been two practices where he hasn't made an interception, and two practices with at least two! He's been an absolute beast, and he has shown the great awareness and speed as advertised prior to the draft. And his coverage skills will certainly shine for a defense that struggled against the Tight End loaded NFC South. The Panthers defense ranked 24th against the pass in the NFL, and according to the Football Outsiders Almanac, they were 32nd against Tight Ends. in the 6 games against our own division, the Panthers allowed 441 yards to Tight Ends (226 of that were to Jimmy Graham). The bottom line is that while our secondary wasn't very good against the pass either, the injuries at linebacker created great problems for the Panthers' defense against tight ends. This season, the Panthers will have returning talents in Jon Beason and Thomas Davis, and the addition of Luke Kuechly should help neutralize the effectiveness of tight ends against the defense. However, this is all in theory, and the first true test for Kuechly is going to be on Saturday.
Many of you have probably heard of Owen Daniels. He has been a solid receiving tight end for the Texans, until recently when he has been hit with a plethora of different injuries. He is a veteran of this league who is the clear cut starter for the Texans in the regular season, as they lack any real threat to take his job with the departure of Joel Dreesen. I have tremendous respect for Daniels, who has helped Matt Schaub out as the go-to guy if Andre Johnson isn't open.
Kuechly has faced the likes of Greg Olsen, Mike Tolbert, Gary Barnidge, and Ben Hartsock (along with others like Nelson Rosario) during training camp, giving him a great many different players to go against. However, he has not yet faced a veteran like Owen Daniels. Greg Olsen is a physically talented receiver with all of the ability to be a Pro Bowler, and very well might do that this season, so he is the best competition Kuechly has faced in training camp. It will certainly be interesting to see which one of them wins in this matchup (though Daniels may not play too much.)
I think that Daniels won't be able to overcome the sideline to sideline speed Kuechly has. He's a very smart player who has an astronomical football IQ. I think we see Kuechly's inaugural interception in the Preseason this Saturday.
Steve Smith vs. Jonathan Joseph
This is a classic matchup of Pro Bowler vs. Pro Bowler. Both these players stepped up their play in 2011. Steve Smith had been coming off one of his worst seasons as a Pro, and Joseph started with a new team in 2011. Both ended up making the Pro Bowl, and they actually tangled during Week 15 of the season. It is pretty safe for me to say Steve Smith won that battle, posting 5 receptions for 82 yards and a touchdown over Joseph to start the game, while Joseph could only make one tackle with zero pass deflections or interceptions. The Panthers would win that game 28-13, beating one of the more respectable defenses in the league at the time.
Now, these two will clash again, though the stakes aren't very high. Neither will really see the field for more than two quarters at the most, and with how valuable Steve Smith is and how many different receivers are fighting for jobs, I doubt Smith will be on the field for any more than the first few series. Still, it is always a fun thing to watch to see Steve Smith match up with the better cornerbacks in the league.
Not Chris Gamble versus Not Andre Johnson
Yes, you did read that right. What I meant was the many different competitors for the number two corner spot versus the many different Texans wide receivers. Kevin Walter is still the Texans' number two receiver, but they also have Bryant Johnson, along with a few rookies such as Devier Posey, Keshawn Martin, and Lestar Jean to throw in as well over the course of the game. We will probably see a lot of the younger guys as Kevin Walter and Bryant Johnson are veterans in this league. The second corner position is going to be an absolute dog fight til the bitter end. Right now, Munnerlyn will play opposite Gamble on Saturday. This could change very, very easily. I am excited to see Norman finally take the field, and see how far along Stanford, Butler, and Josh Thomas are. I'm also excited to see Nate Ness in a game time situation, and see if he is the real deal. They all have a shot at the spot, and the many different matchups that will occur will certainly be pivotal in who gains an upper hand in the race.
Olindo Mare vs. The Field Goal Post
Probably the most frustratingly close kicker battle of all time. I for one really hope that Mare regains his old form and can win the starting spot, rather than lose it to Justin Medlock and have us paying him to not play for us anymore. I have read that cutting Mare isn't entirely out of the question, but it frustrates me personally to see John Kasay's replacement come in and play one season and be done with the team. Still, we will see both of them kicking extensively. It'll be a long and bloody war, may the best man win.
Alright Panthers Nation! I cannot wait til Saturday night to see the young guys come in and tear it up! And be sure to come back and read our detailed analysis here at the CSR!