Sunday night's the night. The night Tim Tebow and Cam Newton finally take the same NFL field. Both crossed paths at Florida with the Gators, and both took different paths to the NFL, yet had a similar trip. Both won Heisman Trophies, both won National Championships, and both were taken in the first round of the NFL draft by a team who needed a spark. That is where the similarities end, however. Cam Newton will go in to Sunday the "franchise quarterback" for the Carolina Panthers, where his ceiling is boundless. Tim Tebow will walk in the backup to Mark Sanchez, and will take the field on special teams. It seems the Jets want Tebow on the field as much as possible, just not as THE quarterback.
I have endured many, many conversations (or arguments, rather) where people called Tim Tebow the "better quarterback", often quoting Skip Bayless in saying "all he does is win". My counter always being the many accolades Cam has already gathered in his first year as an NFL starter (even with a lockout). However, there will always be Tebowmaniacs, and always naysayers for Cam Newton. And I will be eager to see who does better over the course of the game.
The Panthers will go into this game without Steve Smith, and that's fresh off of Brandon LaFell's declaration that "no secondary can stop the Panthers". I for one love the confidence, though I'm sure the Jets' impressive group of cornerbacks will look to prove "Sticks" otherwise. And that is my number one key matchup: Brandon LaFell vs. Darrelle Revis. For more, read on!
Brandon LaFell vs. Darrelle Revis
This game will give the Panthers a good look at how their offense would do without Steve Smith (god forbid). None of us want to think of Steve Smith getting hurt, but in reality, he isn't getting any younger. He's still one of the best in the NFL, and he still scares NFL teams enough to throw double and triple teams his way. However, if he were to get hurt, the Panthers would need to find someone who would step up and be the number one receiver. The last time we saw a situation like this was 2010, where David Gettis stepped up and played well in an offense that wasn't very fun to watch. LaFell also started to play well towards the end of the season, and now we have a similar situation on our hands.
Any other week, this probably wouldn't be a key matchup. But after reading the article on NFL.com last night, its time to see if LaFell's confidence is well placed. Steve Smith will not be playing after suffering an infection on his foot. This will give the Panthers the ability to work out more young receivers against a formidable secondary with Revis, Antonio Cromartie, and Kyle Wilson being the top 3 corners, and all are talented. We will see LaFell, Louis Murphy, and probably others like Pilares and Ajirotutu match up against these guys (and I've heard whispers of Gettis as well). Cam will need someone to step up in the passing game, as the always stout Jets rush defense may give the Panthers problems. If LaFell plays well, or even solid, we should be excited about what's to come from our number two receiver.
I went onto YouTube and watched some of the preseason highlights from the Jet/Giants game, and one thing is certain: Coples moves around. ALOT. I saw him line up over pretty much every offensive lineman. However, he primarily stayed on the left side of the offensive line, and would rush either the Tackle or the Guard. Now, we all know Gross can handle himself, however Silatolu is still a developing player. He has been a beast when it comes to the run, but has been mediocre on passing downs. The Panthers will need all the time they can get with their star receiver out of the game for the number ones. It will be an interesting battle to watch rookie vs. rookie when Coples comes in, and Silatolu will have his hands full against the Jets veteran interior line. The run game will be difficult against the Jets rush defense, and it remains to be seen whether the Panthers offensive line can get the better part of the Jets hybrid defensive scheme.
Let me start by admitting I was wrong last week about Charles Johnson. Big Money has been lining up over the Right Tackle over the start of the preseason, which is probably due to the fact that he is one of our better run stoppers and that most teams are right handed when it comes to running the ball. We saw some big plays from CJ against rookie Jonathan Martin last week, and there really isn't any reason why he shouldn't play well against newly named starter Austin Howard. The same cannot be said for Hardy this preseason, however. He has been nearly invisible the first two games. In fact, all 4 of his other defensive end counterparts have recorded sacks this preseason (CJ, Alexander, and Applewhite with 1, Keiser with 2). However, Hardy has also been tasked with lining up against the left tackle with the number one defense, which is typically an NFL team's best pass blocker. However, with newly drafted Frank Alexander and workhorse guys like Keiser breathing down his neck for playing time, Hardy is going to need to step up soon. We have all raved about his potential, but we all know Rivera doesn't wait for potential.
Ron Edwards vs. Brandon Moore
Last week Edwards did an absolutely fine job at the point of attack. He did exactly what the coaching staff wanted, which is to take up space and BE FAT. He was able to occupy double teams, and largely attributed to the Panthers success against the Miami run game. However, he will be matching up against one of the better run blocking guards in the league, and the Panthers staff will be able to see how successful he will be against better guards in this league. Each team in our division has a fairly successful running game to say the least, and the Panthers will need all the help they can get stopping the run and getting after the passer.
Well Panthers fans! There you have it! I am truly excited to see the Panthers match up against this smash mouth, in your face team. Lets hope we see some of that reciprocated and get a victory for my birthday! (Yes, my birthday is that day, presents are welcomed and expected).