In my fan poll earlier this week, the fans voted that the Panthers Offensive line versus the Bills front seven as the biggest personnel battle of the upcoming game, and I would agree with this. Carolina's trenches held up somewhat well against a battered Seattle front seven, but this week we face a healthy front seven with two impressive defensive tackles holding the middle down. It will be important to try and nullify this, and we will see how the Panthers do this.
Ryan Kalil vs. Kyle Williams/Marcell Dareus
Pro Bowler Ryan Kalil returns this season healthy, and not showing any signs of drop off from his injury that kept him out most of last year. However, he will have a big task ahead taking on these two hog mollies. Williams is a two time Pro Bowler, and Dareus has been a difference maker on this defense since being drafted in 2011, same as Cam Newton.
Per All-22 film, on a typical snap Marcell Dareus will line up in a zero technique, while Kyle Williams is often a three technique on either side. The thing that I noticed here is that Williams is never consistently in one spot. Sometimes he would be in a three tech shade, sometimes he would be in a four/five tech, sometimes 6 or 7 tech, sometimes they would even kick Dareus out to a three tech and put Williams at zero tech. The Bills also would stunt Williams into the center, and hence the Patriots had a lot of trouble running inside and fending off interior pressure in the beginning of the game. The Panthers, with Amini Silatolu at left guard and a combo of Travelle Wharton/Chris Scott at right guard, could have a lot of problems with Williams and Dareus in this way. Kalil is going to need to do a good job fending off the guy who comes at him, while also helping Silatolu and Scott with identifying the other. Fluid defensive fronts like this have given the Panthers problems in the past, and its very difficult to execute the kind of game plan we want when these two tackles are getting through.
Greg Hardy vs. Cordy Glenn
Greg Hardy didn't register any sacks last week against Seattle, but he did manage to get quite a bit of pass rush, and this week looks no different against Cordy Glenn. Glenn is nothing to shake a stick at as far as left tackles go, but he's most likely going to have Hardy one on one all game with Charles Johnson on the opposite side and Star Lotulelei picking up double teams in the middle. This kind of matchup is exactly what the Panthers want.
Hardy managed to be a force in the run game as well as the pass last week. In CP's fantastic analysis of Hardy's interior game, he showed that Hardy can also stunt in to take on the left guard. Hardy could not only rush the passer, but also blow up the rushing attack if Glenn is not up to the task here. Hardy has improved his rush defense immensely since entering the league, and has become a big difference maker on the defense that held Lynch to just 43 yards last week. Hardy will line up at the under tackle five tech as well as his usual 6-7 tech stance, so the Bills will need to shut Hardy down early to keep the Kraken imprisoned.
Brandon LaFell vs. Justin Rogers
Last week, LaFell failed to register a catch, as Ted Ginn was the only wide receiver not names Steve Smith to register a catch (and even then, it was only one catch for ten yards). After further review by the staff here at CSR, we found that this may not have been LaFell's fault as much as Cam Newton's. Its tough to register a catch when Cam isn't even looking your way most of the time. A big weakness of Cam Newton since entering the league has been staring down his intended receiver, or not being decisive. While last week Cam did look decisive at points, he often keyed in on Greg Olsen and Steve Smith. This made pass defense for Seattle much easier than it needed to be. Rule number one of playing defensive back: the QB's eyes tell the whole story.
This week, LaFell has a good matchup against Justin Rogers, who is filling in for injured starter Stephon Gilmore. The Panthers staff should try to take advantage of this matchup, as Steve Smith and Greg Olsen will likely draw double coverage due to being huge focal points in the game plan last week. LaFell was able to get open at times last week, if Cam can manage to get him the ball this should take some of the weight off of Smith's shoulders.
Luke Kuechly vs. CJ Spiller
Last week, CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson together totaled 39 touches of the ball (30 rushes, 9 receptions). CJ Spiller struggled a bit to get anything going while Fred Jackson managed about 100 yards total. Don't let the stat line fool you however, New England was definitely keyed in on CJ Spiller all game. I expect CJ Spiller to be heavily involved on Sunday to help keep the burden off the shoulders of rookie quarterback EJ Manuel, who is making his second NFL start. However, this will be no small task with Luke Kuechly at the helm of the defense.
Last week Kuechly and Co. were able to hold Marshawn Lynch to 43 rushing yards last week, marking the second time the Panthers have held Lynch to under 100 yards in as many games. Seattle is a team that likes to run the ball, A LOT, much like the Buffalo Bills. Spiller is going to be seeing a lot of Luke Kuechly, who is thriving in this much improved front seven. This matchup is the last but certainly not the least, CJ Spiller is a very talented back and how successful he is could very well dictate the pace and strategy of the entire game.