By: Alec Campbell
The 2011 Panthers are 2-0 in moral victories this year. Unfortunately, those aren’t the kind that win super bowls. Nevertheless, the team has unveiled an entertaining brand of football in the opening 2 weeks, and with that, potential. This week, the Panthers welcome fellow 1995 expansion club Jacksonville to Charlotte, a team they can and probably should beat.
Carolina enters Sunday’s matchup 2nd in total offense and passing behind New England in both categories. Rookie quarterback Cam Newton has had two record breaking performances and Steve Smith seems to be conjuring some old magic, but many are concerned about the lack of a running game and the inability to score in the red zone. The panthers have scored three touchdowns in eight trips to the redzone and Newton has rushed for two of those. Deangelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart combined for only 18 yards on 11 carries last weekend and 56 on 19 in week one. That’s just under 2.5 yards per carry. Discouraging numbers considering Jacksonville enters the game ranked in the top five in rushing defense and total defense.
Offensive Coordinator Rob Chudzinski has addressed the rushing woes and admits it’s an area that needs more emphasis, but that its lack of productivity has attributed to the unbalanced play-calling. Offensive tackle Jordan Gross has also been outspoken about the running game, “We get down inside the 15 and we throw it every time.” “I don’t think Chud is trusting us to get it done right now.”
Jeff Otah returns to the offensive line this week, hopefully providing an extra push for the tailback tandem. That said, it should be no surprise if the Panthers take to the air once again this weekend and try to exploit a vulnerable Jacksonville pass defense.
Defensively, the Panthers are still having trouble stopping the run and the loss of Thomas
Davis to a 3rd straight knee injury will not help that cause. The team claimed Jason Phillips off waivers from the Baltimore Ravens to fill Davis’ roster spot but it looks like Jason Williams will get the start in his place. Jacksonville is 6th in rushing thus far averaging 137.5 yards per game, and Maurice Jones Drew is running at a clip of about 4.4 yards per carry.
The Panthers may be fortunate this week, however, as Rookie Quarterback Blaine Gabbert will be getting his first NFL start for the Jags and may limit their options offensively. Jacksonville will likely rely on their running game to take pressure off Gabbert meaning the Panthers can afford to load the box all day long to stop the run and pressure the young gunslinger. Forcing him to beat you through the air should be Carolina’s defensive strategy.
Cam Newton looks for his first professional win in a game that favors the Panthers by 3.5.
You generally get 3 for playing at home and given the Panthers lack of a running game and the Jags strong run defense, it looks like the team will lean on Cam for another solid performance.
Panther fans are measuring success in many different ways this year. So far, there has been much to be proud of, but soon real wins will matter and this is a game on which the Panthers should capitalize.
Follow Alec on twitter @AlecTheDon