The Carolina Panthers have not won a season opener since 2008 in San Diego (how many remember the fantastic finish on that one?) Coincidentally, this was the last year they made the playoffs, or even finished with a winning record. Despite Carolina facing it's toughest opening opponent in recent memory, I believe that the Panthers have a reasonable opportunity to pull out the win against the NFC's trendy Super Bowl pick, the Seattle Seahawks.
Most fans remember the close week 5 loss at home. The Panthers offense was beyond horrible. Almost as inept as the Jimmy Clausen era. While last year's game has no direct bearing on this year's game, several things stand out from the 16-12 loss:
*(after you read each bullet point in your mind say, "yet we only lost by 4 points")
- The Panthers never scored an offensive touchdown*
- Cam had one of the most anemic passing games of his career (12 of 29 for 141 yards)*
- Johnathon Stewart and DeAngelo Williams COMBINED for a paltry 22 yards on 10 carries* (let that one sink in)
- Steve Smith was held to 40 yards on 4 catches, despite being targeted 13 times*
- Greg Olsen was only targeted three times*
- The Seahawks only touchdown was scored after Stewart uncharacteristically fumbled the ball on the Panthers own 26 yard line late in the 3rd quarter
- Wilson was extremely efficient in the air, completing 76% of his passes (19 of 25). Yet the Panthers defense eventually able stall drives by forcing punts, field goals, or turnovers.
Potential hitches in our giddy-up:
- After the game, Wilson continued developing into a rookie phenom. Ten of Wilson's eleven remaining games showed him having a higher passer rating than the Panthers game.
- Turnovers kept us in that game. Other than the Panthers game, Wilson only had one other game all season where he threw multiple picks.
- Last year the Hawks pressured Cam Newton. Now they have added Micheal Bennett, a solid pass rusher familiar with the Panthers, as well as Cliff Avril
- Their front dominated our run game last year, and there is no indication that could be different (especially with Stewart out)
- Their corners dominated our receivers, and there is no indication that could be different.
(if you want to know more about the Seahawks schemes, check out the top-shelf work over at fieldgulls.com)
- We have to get our running game going, and it remains to be seen if our offensive line can handle their defensive front. But the Panthers had wins and losses against the Hawks by use of the read option
- Greg Olsen has to get more targets, especially if Seattle's premier CB's lock our wideouts down on the outside again (He caught two of his only 3 targets for a nice 37 yards)
- As against Drew Brees, interior pressure is important to disrupt throwing lanes. The ultimate game within the game will include Pro Bowler Unger at center, but potentially exploitable guards. Star needs to push the pocket, while Short shoots gaps and gets those airplane wings up to bat some passes.
- The front 7 has to limit Lynch and contain Wilson's scramble...Hello Mr. Kuechly! (While Lynch ran for 85 yards last year, that's a win from our perspective because he broke 100 yards in 10 of the other 15 games they played)
- The methodic running game sets up the big play, which the secondary must be ready for
Fortune smiles on us. Bruce Irvin is suspended for drugs (ADD type). Chris Clemmons is recovering from a torn ACL. Percy Harvin is out injured. Cliff Avril is a scratch. The Hawks will be running for the first time in a long time without Michael Robinson, Marshawn Lynch's former stud lead blocker. The game is on the road three time zones away, and has the dreaded early start time for a West Coast team (10 AM PST).
If there was a big game tailor made for the Panthers to upset, it's this one. I believe we will know early in the season where this year's team stands. If they lose here and to the Giants and enter the bye-week at 1-2, it's the same old Panthers (beat the weaklings, lose to the real teams). But if they can start fast with some early upset wins, the sky is the limit.