The Panthers and Chiefs played two very different games in each of their respective openers. The Panthers found themselves in a low scoring duel culminating in a combined 38 points between the two teams. One team bested that total by one point all on their own in the Chiefs vs. Bengals game. That team lost. That team was also not the Chiefs. The Chiefs lit up the scoreboard for 41 points in their 2014 debut. However, that total needs to be taken with a small grain of salt when looking at this match-up from a defensive perspective. The Chiefs defensive tallied 2 pick sixes and De'Anthony Thomas ran a punt back 80 yards for a touchdown, meaning 21 of the Chiefs' 41 points came from their defense and special teams (That's more than half). Still though, the offensive output of Andy Reid's squad was nothing to scoff at. The Chiefs' offense was able to rack up 304 yards on just 49 plays, a very strong 6.2 yards per play, going up against a Bengals defense that finished top 5 in the NFL in both points and yards allowed per game in 2013. The Panthers will be looking to bring that number back down to Earth.
Even in defeat, the Carolina Panthers defense showed the talent and tenacity that put them near the top of the league across the board last season. The first team defense ceded only a field goal to E.J. Manuel and the Bills, and even that came at the end of a mere 13 yard drive that started in Panthers territory. The backups were largely able to keep up the strong play, making it very difficult for the Bills to sustain drives. In total, the Bills averaged only 4.8 yards per play, a number that Ron Rivera and his staff will be very pleased with. Much of the points given up were a result of poor defensive field position, save for one long Bills drive in the middle of the 4th quarter. They will be looking to have similar success this Sunday against Kansas City.
Something has got to give. Will the Chiefs be able to light up the Panthers' defense like they did the week prior against a stout Bengals defense? Or will Luke Kuechly and co. be able to put the brakes on the Chiefs' (so far) high powered preseason offense?
Panthers Rushing Defense vs. Chiefs Rushing Offense
The Chiefs have this guy on their team named Jamaal Charles. He's pretty good at taking the ball and running away from the defense. He was good enough in 2013 to finish 3rd in the league in rushing yards, tied for 1st in rushing touchdowns, and 3rd in yards per carry among backs with at least 200 carries. Expect to see him get half a dozen carries or so. The workhorse for the Chiefs in week 1 was 3rd year RB Cyrus Gray. The Texas A&M product toted the rock 10 times for 55 yards and a touchdown. He wasn't the only Kansas City back to have success last week though. QBs aside, the Chiefs' backfield gained 124 yards on an impressive 5.9 yards per carry.
That stable of backs runs behind a young offensive line. 4th year Center Rodney Hudson is the elder statesman of the unit at only 25 years old. 2013 #1 overall pick Eric Fisher has moved over to the Left Tackle position, where he'll look to improve upon the struggles he faced in his rookie year. He'll have his hands full with Greg Hardy, who has developed into a very good run stopper in recent years. Running to the left will likely be a struggle for the Chiefs, especially considering LG Jeff Allen's struggles in run blocking against a stout Panthers' DT rotation in conjunction with the aforementioned Fisher/Hardy match-up. The offensive right side is a similar story. Right Tackle Donald Stephenson is not exactly a stud and on his inside shoulder at guard is surprising (in a good way) 6th round rookie Zach Fulton.
Similar to last week, the Panthers should be more concerned with the ball carriers than with those blocking for them. The Chiefs have a very talented rushing attack, spearheaded by one of the game's best backs in Jamaal Charles. If the Panthers can stay disciplined and keep Charles wrapped up, they should have the edge in this area of the game.
Panthers Passing Defense vs. Chiefs Passing Defense
The Chiefs passing attack is led by none other than Alex Smith, known to a lot of Panthers fans as the guy who called out Cam Newton in a whole "stats vs. wins" debate. Smith has seen a career renaissance of sorts in his last couple seasons after struggling mightily his first several years in the league. Though he isn't one to single handedly win games for his team, the former Ute plays a reliable while conservative brand of quarterbacking. In an exaggerated microcosm of his style of play, the Chiefs' starter completed 3 of 5 passes for just 19 yards in his limited action against the Bengals. He is backed up by a cadre of SEC products in Chase Daniel, Tyler Bray, and Aaron Murray, appearing in that order on the depth chart. Murray only logged 5 snaps in the opener, so look to see more of him this go 'round.
These triggermen have a solid if unspectacular group of targets to throw the ball to, headlined by the immensely talented yet perennially frustrating Dwayne Bowe. The receiving corps is rounded out by Donnie Avery, Junior Hemingway, and former 49ers A.J. Jenkins and Kyle Williams. The Panthers secondary should be able to match up with the talent Kansas City has outside, especially given the edge the Panthers hold in the trenches. Last week against the Bills, the Panthers secondary sacrificed a moderately high completion percentage in favor of keeping plays in front of them, allowing only 9.6 yards per completion. Expect to see a similar approach on Sunday night. Smith and Daniel are not the type of QBs to take risks and push the ball down the field. The Panthers DBs will need to commit to tackling and limiting yards after catch for Kansas City.
But the most dangerous threat in the Chiefs passing attack isn't a WR. It's Jamaal Charles. The Chiefs' back led all RBs in receiving with 693 yards and 7 touchdowns (He scores a lot of touchdowns). He's lethal in the open field and the Panthers back 7 will face a tough task in dealing with the speedster in space. As is the case with the rushing attack, keeping Charles and the rest of the Chiefs' backs contained is the key to success for the Panthers defense.
On paper, the Panthers defense holds the edge over the Chiefs in both of the major phases of the game. The X-factor will be Jamaal Charles while he's on the field. He's the engine that makes the Chiefs offense go and shutting him down should ensure that his team is kept off the scoreboard.