Hello all! I'm very excited for tonight's preseason game. Two organizations who have been on similar paths over the past decade will collide for a prelude to a year where both have the potential to be a playoff contender, while also having the potential to sink and not make the playoffs.
As it stands, the Panthers have their work cut out for them with reigning division champion New Orleans Saints and Wildcard qualifying Atlanta Falcons are the favorites for the top two spots, along with the hot Tampa Bay Buccaneers trying to return to relevance.
The same can be said about the Dolphins, who share their division with Super Bowl making Patriots of 2011-12, along with the Buffalo Bills who appear to have found their mojo with a few new faces and some young talent. And, of course, the walking Soap Opera that is the New York Jets, who are always unpredictable because they have the talent to win games but need to be united in the locker room in order to do so.
Both teams can gain a lot from tonight's game. Both have position battles that are far from over, and both have young quarterbacks who always benefit from play time.
Follow me after the jump for this week's key match-ups.
My pick for key matchup of the week is Jake Long vs. Charles Johnson. Good ole' Big Money has a heck of a challenge ahead with Pro Bowl Left Tackle Jake Long protecting the young Ryan Tannehill, who is making his first start of the preseason. Tannehill will have enough to worry about going against the number ones of the Carolina defense, so the pass pressure can make or break this offense. Charles Johnson and the other pass rushers are probably chomping at the bit to get after this rookie quarterback, and it'll be fun to watch over two quarters of football.
Charles Johnson vs. Jake Long
CJ is going to get his first extended look since 2011. In last weeks game, the starters were not in very long. Games 2 and 3 are always the best place to get a look at the starting talent. As we all know, CJ saw a dip in production, dropping from 11.5 sacks to 9 sacks. Now, this may not look like much of a dip, however 7 of those sacks were racked up prior to the bye week (Week 9). Johnson was averaging just under a sack a game, and was on pace to break his career high from 2010. However, Johnson would be plagued by injuries, suffering a back injury that would lead him to be less effective. In addition, the fact that Greg Hardy also dipped in production would point to a dip for Johnson as well. Hardy was on the field more than any other defensive player for the Panthers in 2011, and he showed the usual wear and tear that comes from that.
As for tonights game, Johnson is going to return fresh, and will be seeing the likes of Antwan Applewhite (and maybe even Thomas Keiser and Frank Alexander) shuffling in to give the two book ends a break. Johnson vs Jake Long will be an awesome matchup, as Ryan Tannehill will depend on his pass protection in order to succeed. This is one of the better offensive lines in football, and we will get a good gauge as to where the defensive line is at after the game!
Greg Olsen is in the perfect position to succeed in 2012. If there's two things we know about Cam Newton, its that he loves Steve Smith, and that he loves his tight ends. Olsen had a solid year in 2011 while splitting time with Jeremy Shockey, but we often saw him dropping crucial passes or getting called on penalties in the red zone. For 2012, Olsen is the clear cut starter above Gary Barnidge and Ben Hartsock (though some of his targets might get tossed to Mike Tolbert, who will be a utility back along with a full-back and goal-line back). Olsen will have to start making more plays when we need him to. Tonight's game is going to be a good competition between he and always solid linebacker Karlos Dansby. Dansby is a veteran of this league, famous for the "walk off" interception against the Packers during the Arizona Cardinals' magical Super Bowl run. He will be matched up against one of the league's most dynamic tight ends, and we will see how far Olsen has come since having a full offseason to work with Cam Newton and the offense.
Panthers corners vs. Dolphins receivers
Again, this week the Panthers defensive backs will have a lot to prove against the Dolphins. Legedu Naanee will be matched up against Chris Gamble, who will (as James Dator put it so well) undoubtedly steal Naanee's innocence and make him take the walk of shame afterwards. Other than this matchup, we will see a slew of different receivers matched up against the Panthers mediocre defensive backs. Davone Bess, Marlon Moore, Roberto Wallace, and Brian Hartline will all see time against the Panthers corners. Munnerlyn will probably make the start opposite Chris Gamble, but we will also see Josh Norman take the field for the first time, who will be interesting to watch after his impressive camp. In addition, Josh Thomas, RJ Stanford, and Darius Butler will all have something to prove. If the pass rush can keep up, we will probably see some plays from our secondary.
Its poetic really. Matt Moore, once deemed the future of the Panthers, will face off against his former team, and former competitor Jimmy Clausen. They had a heck of a battle in 2010 for the starting quarterback job in Carolina. Both could only manage one win apiece, as both were hit by injuries over the course of that dreadful year. But their efforts were not in vain! After enduring that year, the Panthers organization decided to take Cam Newton, who was a bargain with the new rookie wage scale at the time. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Now we look into the present. Matt Moore just can't catch a break. Moore has a very good winning percentage for a backup quarterback. He has a respectable 13-12 record as a starter, which isn't too bad when you consider Jimmy's record. We all remember Moore's magical wins from 2007-2009, where he would come fill in and find a way to win. Now, he is with a team who unfortunately did the same thing the Panthers did, which was look to the draft for an answer rather than letting Moore play. Now, Moore will play the Derek Anderson role and fill in when injury hits. Tonight's game will be fun to watch the ghosts of Backup's past, present, and future duking it out on the field. And I'm sure the Clausen vs. Moore debates will find a way back!
Well, there you have it folks. I'm just as excited as you are for the game. I'll be at work, but I'll be following along tirelessly with ScoreCenter on my phone. I'm really looking forward to writing more for everyone as the season progresses!