By: Allan Erickson
Hello and welcome to week 1 of the NFL! In this article, you’ll find my keys to the game for the Carolina Panthers, players to watch from both teams, and my prediction for Sunday.
Here are the keys for the Panthers-
1- Protecting Cam Newton. With a makeshift offensive front, new addition Matt Paradis taking over for the departed Ryan Kalil, the first key for the Panthers is protecting Cam Newton from the daunting pass rush that led the Rams to the Super Bowl game last season. We all know Suh and Aaron Donald are coming, with help from the edge rushers, and to beat this Wade Phillips lead defense, you have to protect the quarterback.
2- Establish Christian McCaffery early and often. What’s one of the biggest keys to beating a team that gets after the quarterback? Establishing a run game and mixing in screen passes to slow down the pass rush. Enter McCaffery – the Panthers have a lot invested in their all-pro running back, and if they’re going to beat the Rams, he’s going to need to touch the ball 20-25 times with around 140 all-purpose yards.
3- Last but not least, on the opposite side of the ball, the Panthers must carry the momentum of the preseason and continue to get after the opposing quarterbacks. The Panthers defense was middle of the pack last year, that’s because they were getting carved by some of the best quarterbacks in the game. The numbers would be understandable if the secondary was a bad unit. However, on paper, this is a stable secondary, and when the front seven performs at the level they’re expected to, the back end holds down the fort and plays well. The key to the Panthers winning against the Rams high-flying offense is getting in Jared Goff’s face, making him uncomfortable, knocking him off his spot, and forcing him to throw the ball before routes fully develop.
Key Players to watch-
1- Cam Newton- there’s a lot of questions surrounding Cam and his health this year, he starts against a great defensive unit, and he must throw the ball away if he gets into trouble. He can’t continue to take unnecessary hits and add to his injury list.
2- Christian McCaffery has to bear a huge load of this offense. It’s essential to establish the run and get him involved in the passing game.
3- Curtis Samuel- a lot of Panther fans have been high on DJ Moore since he was drafted, and rightfully so. He’s got a ton of upside and continues to make strides towards being a great wide receiver in the NFL. That being said, don’t be surprised if Samuel is the go-to guy for Cam Newton. He’s a better route runner, a little bit faster, and can beat man coverage (a staple of Wade Phillips’ defenses.)
4- Brian Burns and Marquis Haynes- what can you expect from the rookie from Florida State and the second-year player from Ole Miss? Bruce Irvin was the big splash free-agent acquisition for the Panthers this offseason. He was brought in to bolster the pass rush and help the Panthers get to the quarterback. Unfortunately, Irvin has been ruled out for game 1. This gives both Burns and Hayes a chance to step in, play well, and earn more reps as the year goes on. I’ve already spoken on the importance of getting pressure on the quarterback this year. These two young players are going to be vital in the Panthers’ success this season, especially week one without the presence of Irvin.
5- Joey Slye- the rookie kicker out of Virginia Tech was rock solid in the preseason, and the Panthers placed Graham Gano on IR making Slye the kicker for the 2019 season. While the Panthers have every right to be excited and have confidence in Slye, there will be some jitters. If there’s a late-game chance for the Panthers to win the game with a field goal, watch out for some nerves. I believe he’ll be fine, but you never know what’s going through a rookie’s head, especially if the game is entirely put on his foot.
Key Players for the Rams
1- Todd Gurley- we still never got a full explanation as to why Gurley spent most of the Super Bowl on the sideline. Will he return to form this season? Will he be the running back he was before the knee “tweak” that happened sometime last season? The way to beat the Panthers defense is hard, downhill running, which sets up play-action passes. Gurley is that style of a runner to a tee. One cut puts his foot in the ground and gets downhill. Will we see the Gurley of old, or will he be on a snap count?
2- Jared Goff- the only thing you need to see from Goff if you’re a Rams fan is him continue to improve on his ball security. If he doesn’t turn the ball over, the Rams are a successful team. If he turns the ball over against the Panthers, they will make the Rams pay dearly.
3- Last but not least- the best defensive player in all of football- Aaron Donald. Pure and sheer dominance, but he will have his hands full on the interior of the Rams’ defense. Matt Paradis and Trai Turner are studs on the inside, keep an eye out on these matchups because the Panthers could neutralize Donald in the run game, they can only hope to contain him in the passing game.
I honestly think this is the toughest game to call this week. So many question marks surrounding both teams. Which Gurley do we get? Which Cam Newton do we get? This is truly a coin toss, but I’m going to go with my gut and my heart and say the Panthers get the win at home. I don’t see a ton of scoring in this game, both defenses are aggressive and can turn the momentum around at any given point in a game. Look for McCaffery to out-produce Gurley, look for Cam Newton to make safe, accurate throws while taking some shots down the field. The defense will get after Goff and take advantage of a few turnovers from the third-year quarterback. Panthers take the game 24-20.
I’ll be back on Tuesday to recap week 1 for the Panthers. Until next time, y’all keep pounding. And remember, it’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.