Hello folks! The matchup this week is one in which the Panthers have their work cut out for them. The Panthers will take on the reigning NFC South Division champions and often-playoff bound New Orleans Saints. The Panthers had a miserable outing last week against a revamped Buccaneers team, and look to avoid starting the season 0-2 in divisional play. Winning this game would be huge in order to try and stay competitive in one of the better divisions in football. However, the high powered offense of the Saints and their deceptively strong defense. However, the Panthers also sport a high powered offense, and this game appears to be going to a shoot out.
For many on the Panthers roster (including Rivera himself), this game is personal, after the Panthers closed the 2011 season against the Saints and were on the losing end of a blow out. Many players on the roster want to get out there and get after the Saints, and hopefully the added motivation doesn't psych them out.
For the key matchups of the game, read on!
(editorial note: Change made because of news that Henderson will not be active for the Saints)
Marques Colston has gotten the better of Chris Gamble recently, however I think the more key matchup here is going to be the Saints other wideouts against the Panthers other corners. While the Saints don't sport other Pro Bowl talent on their team, players like Lance Moore are long time veterans with the Saints, and can still make catches and get open for Brees. Josh Norman made the start last week, covering Mike Williams and Vincent Jackson. We never really saw Norman get burned at all, he never really seemed out of position. However, this week he will probably face a different beast in Lance Moore. Moore is a savvy, shifty slot receiver that just has a knack for getting open and catching both Brees' eye and the ball. The Saints will most likely try to take advantage of the young defensive back. He will need to stay focused and not get too aggressive, because Drew Brees can and will sniff out any weakness he sees in the secondary.
For any Panthers fan, it is almost not descriptive enough to say watching Jimmy Graham play us is frustrating. He is a tremendous talent at the tight end position, and does a great job of giving defensive coordinators fits when trying to contain him. We saw the likes of James Anderson, Charles Godfrey, and others try to cover him, and saw very limited success at best against him. This season, the Panthers will have returning Jon Beason and Thomas Davis, along with newly drafted Luke Kuechly. Beason and Kuechly are both very good coverage linebackers, and will need to try and keep Graham contained for as long as possible. Hopefully the pass rush will help a little bit, as the Panthers really struggled to get after Brees last season. But containing Graham will be key in determining whether this is a close game or a blowout, for both sides. And the same goes for Darren Sproles, who will also create problems if he's not contained.
Last week, Cam Newton was under pressure way too much, plain and simple. The run game was near impossible with players constantly in the backfield, and normally great players such as Gross and Ryan Kalil played horribly. This week, the offensive line will have to do better, because the Saints will most likely try to exploit the mistakes the Panthers were making last week. Will Smith and Cameron Jordan will try to get after Cam and blow up the exterior runs. Gross and Byron Bell will need to handle this for any sort of offensive gameplan to work. Now, hopefully the Panthers will also try to get the interior run going, and get Williams and Tolbert (and possibly Stewart) into the mix early for some running success. If we see a repeat of last week's O-line play, don't expect a victory here.
Lofton is no Jonathan Vilma, but he is a solid linebacker who has some experience in this league. We saw him play many seasons with the Falcons before going to the Saints, and we will likely see more of the same out of him. Greg Olsen got involved early last week, and will look to do this again against a solid linebacking core. Scott Shanle and David Hawthorne will also be in the mix, but the Panthers will try to get a Jimmy Graham of their own involved, as the Saints will also need to worry about Steve Smith, who will create some mismatches.
This game is very, very important for the Panthers. The Panthers will look to avoid 0-2 for this first time since the 2007-08 season. It'll be a fun one to watch, and the Panthers hope to pick up some momentum heading into Thursday Night Football against the Super Bowl Champions.