WEEK 4 PREVIEW: PANTHERS AT BUCCANEERS

Cam Newton and the unbeaten Panthers head south this week to take on the division-rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

panthersbucs

Coming off their first divisional win last Sunday that ended up closer than the stats would indicate, the Panthers now travel to Tampa to face the league’s number one overall pick, Jameis Winston, and the Buccaneers (1-2). The Bucs have still yet to pick up a home win under head coach Lovie Smith and will be looking to do so against a Panthers team that continues to accumulate injuries.

With Luke Kuechly (concussion) officially out another week, and DE Charles Johnson (hamstring) now out until at least Thanksgiving, Carolina will need rookies and role players alike to step into larger roles to maintain it’s #7 defensive rank.

Expect more snaps from rookie linebacker Shaq Thompson this week, who’s seen increased playing time in every game thus far, and continues to impress. With Thomas Davis now listed as Probable with a shoulder injury, Thompson may even see a full slate of starter work – which is unusual for a player making the conversion from running back. He continues to learn at a fast pace however, making several crucial stops against the Texans and Saints that called for veteran instinct at the position.

[Panthers.com - Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez]

[Panthers.com – Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez]

Also look for newly acquired DE Jared Allen to jump into the rotation right away, hoping to help a defensive line that’s underwhelmed through 3 games. Although he just flew into Charlotte to join the team at practice this week, a pass-rusher as achieved as Allen is in a plug-and-play situation – as Ron Rivera noted in his post-signing press conference.

Impact players Josh Norman, Jonathan Stewart, Mike Tolbert, and Charles Tillman are all listed as probable as well heading into Sunday, all of whom practiced in full on Friday and will likely see their full allotment of snaps. Here’s the full injury report, from Panthers.com:

NAME POSITION INJURY FRIDAY STATUS
Philly Brown WR Illness Full Practice Probable
Jerricho Cotchery WR Ankle Did Not Practice Out
Thomas Davis LB Chest Full Practice Probable
Dwan Edwards DT Non-Injury Full Practice Probable
Luke Kuechly LB Concussion Did Not Practice Out
Josh Norman CB Non-Injury Full Practice Probable
Amini Silatolu OG Ankle Did Not Practice Out
Jonathan Stewart RB Tibia Full Practice Probable
Charles Tillman CB Non-Injury Full Practice Probable
Mike Tolbert FB Groin Full Practice Probable
Daryl Williams OT Knee Did Not Practice Out

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Josh Norman vs. Mike Evans

Josh Norman continues to make a strong case for an All-Pro season, which I’ll dive further into later, but this week he’ll line up across from the biggest and most physical-styled receiver he’ll have seen so far this year. Mike Evans, while showing some rust coming back from a hamstring injury, still managed to top 100 yards last week in Houston, and Jameis Winston has shown an immediate trust in his top pass catcher, targeting him 17 times in the 19-9 loss to the Texans. He’s been a dominant force in the league since the Buccaneers selected him in the first round last season — and along with Odell Beckham Jr, a large part of why Kelvin Benjamin’s thrilling rookie campaign flew largely under the radar.

[Grant Halverson/Getty Images]

[Grant Halverson/Getty Images]

CAM NEWTON CATCHING SOME GOOD PUB

Newton’s publicist has no doubt had a great workweek, while the quarterback has graced every national media outlet – for things other than sideline towel vogue. After leading Carolina to a 3-0 start, and commanding the offense both on the ground and through the air, he’s built himself a solid case in the early-season MVP race.

Now — before Charlotte reads this and anoints him the best in the league, let’s objectively acknowledge that Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are playing on a different level right now. But there is no quarterback in recent memory that has done more with less around him. However you’d like to frame it, he is in fact in the conversation and proving to be worth every penny of his newly-signed extension. Here are a few excerpts describing his impact through 3 games:

“Yes, the defense — which ranks seventh overall — has played a large role in the team’s success. But the fact is, Newton has basically been responsible for all of the Panthers‘ offense, generating 76 percent of their offensive yards — 792 of 1,044 — and seven (five passing, two rushing) of their eight total touchdowns. Despite the lackluster receiving corps, they rank a respectable 16th in total offense. And I think the Panthers’ 100 Million Dollar Man has proven himself to be the most valuable player in the NFL”

-Gil Brandt, NFL Media Senior Analyst

 

“Of all the 3-0 teams, to me, the most impressive is Newton’s Panthers. He has gotten to 3-0 with maybe the least amount of offensive talent around him in all of football… Most importantly, the guy who was supposed to be a fake-smiling snake has become one of the best human beings in the sport. He has displayed the leadership skills of an Aaron Rodgers or a Tom Brady—yet at times, outside of Carolina, he still hasn’t been recognized for it.”

–Mike Freeman, Bleacher Report

 

“There are few quarterbacks better at spinning beauties than Cam Newton when he’s protected well. He won ugly in the first two weeks before a terrific outing against the Saints. New Orleans’ ball control offense limited Newton to only three first-half drives, yet he calmly abused Brandon Browner and the Saints‘ secondary when given the chance. Newton was dominant deep all game. It’s a great sign the Panthers kept throwing the ball with the lead in the second half.”

–Greg Rosenthal, NFL.com Editor

 

I’ll say again that if everything continues as it does for 13 weeks (which almost never happens in the NFL), the MVP award is truly a two-horse race between Rodgers and Brady. But Newton is playing his best football of his career, which is great to see at a time when the Panthers Super Bowl window is beginning to open. There are two types of teams in the NFL: Those who have a viable franchise quarterback to rely on, and those who don’t – and the Panthers surely won’t find themselves in the latter for a while.

LAST MEETING:

While Carolina plays Tampa twice each year, the Buccaneers haven’t actually faced Cam Newton since 2013. In their two meetings last season, Newton sat out with unrelated injuries – and watched Derek Anderson throw for a combined 507 yards and 3 touchdowns, en route to 2 critical wins.

The second came in December, amidst a 5-game Carolina winning streak that ultimately led to a 2nd straight division title, and first playoff win of the Rivera/Newton era. The Panthers have won the last 4 in their series with Tampa, and 6 out of the last 8. And let’s not forget, 2 of Cam Newton’s most exciting career plays have come against the Buccaneers:

THE GAME:

1:00 PM EST

Sunday, October 4

Jersey Color: Blue

TV Coverage: FOX

Radio Coverage: WBT-AM (1110)

Follow Austin on Twitter for breaking news, injury updates, and general football-oriented rants @Austallings

 

3 Takeaways from Week 2

IMG_08141

(Design by J3 Digital)

The Panthers start the season 2-0 for the second consecutive year, as they defeat the Texans 24-17 at Bank of America Stadium.


Much like their week 1 win in Jacksonville, Carolina’s 24-17 home victory on Sunday wasn’t without it’s flaws – but provided another valuable talley in the win column. Cam Newton was again the team’s leading rusher, and added 2 touchdown passes to his 76 yards on the ground and 1 rushing TD, which was highlight-material to say the least:

Camtd

Newton flips into the end zone for a 2 yard score. (AP Photo)


3 TAKEAWAYS

Photo via Panthers.com

Offensive Coordinator Mike Shula (Photo via Panthers.com)

1. Mike Shula Shows a More Aggressive Side

One of the most conservative-minded individuals in football showed a different side of his playbook against the Texans, twice electing to take deep shots at the end zone on 1st & 10 plays — both of which resulted in touchdown passes. The second came directly after AJ Klein’s 4th quarter interception of Ryan Mallet, appropriating a popular strategy to gamble for a quick score after forcing a turnover. With no true number one receiver on the roster, he’ll need to continue this aggressiveness to put points on the board — especially throughout the Panthers’ next slate of games which includes 4 playoff contenders. More on that later.


Photo via Panthers.com (Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez)

CB Josh Norman recovers a loose ball. (Photo via Panthers.com)

2. Josh Norman is Making a Push for a Top 10 Season

In his first contract season of a 4 year career full of ups and downs, Norman is stating an early case to be considered with the best cornerbacks in the NFL. Leading the strongest secondary that Carolina has fielded in years, he’s helped limit opponents’ top overall receiver to 60 yards or less and no touchdowns, for 9 straight games now. A list that includes Julio Jones (twice), Josh Gordon, Mike Evans, Jimmy Graham, Jeremy Maclin, and now Deandre Hopkins.

Norman, who played high school football about an hour away from Hopkins in South Carolina, was on him for most of the afternoon and gave up 6 catches for only 40 yards – none for first downs. He’s quickly shot up the Pro Football Focus positional ranks through 2 weeks of top tier coverage, and will likely demand top pay when contract talks open up again after the season. With a pass rush that can’t seem to find a difference-maker opposite Charles Johnson, he’s helped transform this defense’s identity – turning the secondary from a glaring weakness to a game-breaking strength.


Photo via Panthers.com (Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez)

Photo via Panthers.com (Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez)

3. AJ Klein Could Start at Linebacker for Several NFL Teams

Similar to his rookie season in 2013, when he got his first career start due to a Chase Blackburn foot injury, AJ Klein’s number was called again this week — this time to fill the shoes of the league’s leading tackler. After Luke Kuechly suffered a concussion late in the first half of last week’s contest in Jacksonville, Klein stepped in at middle linebacker and led an defensive performance that only allowed 75 second-half yards — and never let the Jaguars offense cross midfield.

Earlier this week he learned that he would get the start in Kuechly’s void, and once again exceeded expectations. The 5th round pick out of Iowa State, who knows all three linebacker positions, recorded a momentous late game interception that led to 7 immediate points and Carolina’s largest lead of the game. Having a versatile 4th linebacker on the roster who can step up when called on is exceedingly valuable to this defense, as well as Luke Kuechly’s long-term health. From the game film that he’s laid down, to the leadership beyond his years that he’s provided, its safe to say that there are several teams that could use Klein’s full-time services. But with Thomas Davis in his 11th NFL season, and the depth that Klein has afforded the defense, he’ll likely have his contract extended before any teams get the chance. 


NEXT UP

The Panthers enter division play for the first time in 2015, as they’ll play host to New Orleans at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday. The Saints will be looking for their first win of the season after a tough home loss to Tampa Bay, in which they allowed the Buccaneers to rush for 139 yards — the same total that Carolina’s ground attack is averaging through 2 games.  

Free agent acquisition CJ Spiller, who underwent knee surgery early in training camp, only saw 7 snaps in his highly-anticipated Saints debut, and will arrive in Charlotte to face a much stingier defense — one inside the top 10 in all major categories. 


ANOTHER STRONG START

This marks the second consecutive season that the Panthers have started 2-0, and the only two in the Rivera-Newton era. Dating back to the start of last December (including playoffs), the Panthers are 7-1, with an undefeated record at home. 

Frame it any way you like, every major media outlet paints its own narrative anyway, but starting an NFL season with 2 wins gives a franchise a 63% chance at playing January football.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Carolina’s biggest obstacle looks to be the division-rival Atlanta Falcons, who find themselves in the same percentile, and have looked strong in the process. The two teams face off in weeks 14 and 16, both of which stand a chance to have major playoff implications attached. Of course, the Panthers will first have to get through a brutal slate of games over the next 6 weeks — one that includes perennial playoff contenders in the Seahawks, Eagles, Colts, and Packers — for those two late Atlanta matchups to have much meaning. 

Follow Austin on Twitter for breaking news, injury updates, and general football-oriented rants @Austallings

Week 1 Film Review: Jerricho Cotchery

[Photo Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez]

Jerricho Cotchery celebrates the team’s only offensive score of Sunday’s game.    [Photo: Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez]

 

 

There’s a reason that the day immediately following the first slate of NFL games is referred to as Over-reaction Monday.

The casual fan likely watches their favorite team play, or whatever game was broadcast in their market, and later begins to skim the rest of the league’s box scores. While a win in this league is worth it’s weight in gold, scores and stat lines aren’t always a telling indication of a team’s outlook going forward – or where it sits in the current landscape among others.

In week 1, the Seahawks lost to the Rams, Adrian Peterson only rushed for 31 yards, and Peyton Manning didn’t throw a single touchdown. All shocking realities you may have noticed in the score section – but none necessarily any cause for concern. As it relates to the Panthers, Cam Newton’s stat line of 175 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception is unimpressive by any measure. But the film reel would suggest that if not for a questionable pass interference call on Greg Olsen’s would-be touchdown, and an inexcusable drop by an end zone-bound Ted Ginn – Newton is looking at a much more appealing 214 yard, 3-score outing.

Of course, that’s not a sustainable point for argument’s sake; Its impossible to separate individual plays and analyze them in a vacuum. But it’s worth noting, to convey the disparaging gap between statistics and film. Below is another look at the Ted Ginn drop, in which the closest Jaguars defender was seen having a beer across the street:

 

If you’re looking for any hope in the realm of this season’s Carolina pass catchers, there may be reason to look to Jerricho Cotchery. While the 12th-year veteran’s most valuable asset comes off the field in the form of mentoring, and you won’t see him beating any top corners this late in his career — he still possesses the sure hands and precise route-running ability that allowed him to catch 10 touchdowns with Pittsburgh just two years ago.

He put that same route running on display in Jacksonville last week, as he went for Carolina’s only offensive score of the game. It was his supreme understanding of NFL defenses, as well as some timely footwork, that found him wide open in the end zone late in the first half.


 

FILM BREAKDOWN

CotcheryTD(1)

On first and goal from the Jaguars 7, the Panthers line up in the Shotgun, with 2 wide receivers Left and Jerricho Cotchery the lone receiver on the Strong side (bottom of frame). He motions toward the middle of the field and settles on the “10”, where he’ll begin his route. Notice both Greg Olsen and Jonathan Stewart drive their routes outward toward the right sideline, taking the outside linebacker and cornerback with them.

CotcheryTD(2)

Philly Brown also runs a flat to the left side of the field, sending a total of 3 defenders to the sidelines and opening up passing lanes to the middle of the field. At this point, Cotchery (red) seems to be settling into a short 5-yard route, which forces the middle linebacker to stay and maintain his zone responsibility. This also leaves the free safety with no choice but to lock into help-coverage with Ginn’s post route. (top-right of frame)

It is with great timing and footwork that Cotchery then breaks into the second hitch of his route, allowing him to find free space in the end zone.  Newton makes the correct read and places the ball just outside of the middle linebacker’s reach. Watch the play in-full below:

 

Without top-wideout Kelvin Benjamin this season, the Panthers will need their remaining pass catchers to step into greater roles than they’ve seen in the past — and with Greg Olsen tasked with blocking all-world defensive end JJ Watt this week, don’t be surprised if the veteran Cotchery sees more targets than usual; Especially in the red zone.

 

Week 1 Preview: Panthers @ Jaguars

 

week1

Design by J3 Digital

In a week that saw the NFL break more off-the-field news than on, fans and players alike are eager to line up and kick off the 2015 season. And while that was officially done on Thursday night, as the Patriots beat the Steelers 28-21, Carolina will embark on a title-defense of its own tomorrow, against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

 

1995 EXPANSION

On October 26, 1993 – the NFL announced that its owners had unanimously voted for the Carolinas and Jacksonville to receive the 29th and 30th franchises – its first new teams since 1976. While there’s since been a significant re-alignment of structure in 2002, here’s how each have fared since inception:

Panthers Jaguars
Division Titles 5* 2**
Playoff Record 7-6 5-7
Conference Championship Appearances 3 1
Super Bowl Appearances 1 0

*4 within current alignment, 1 NFC West Title (1996).

**Both titles from defunct AFC Central.

 

It’s evident that Carolina has seen the more successful start, but they find themselves limping into this Week 1 matchup – on a day that all records stand even.

 

An offseason that included season-ending injuries to number one wideout Kelvin Benjamin, and vital rotation piece Frank Alexander – the Panthers will look for new faces to take on greater responsibility, no different than standout rookies Bené Benwikere and Tre Boston did in last season’s playoff push.

 

Jacksonville is no stranger to injury woes, having lost two marquee players in Julius Thomas and Dante Fowler Jr.

 

Thomas, a blockbuster free agent acquisition from Denver, fractured his right hand in his first preseason action in Jacksonville, and will miss the first month of the season after a necessary surgery. Fowler, the Jaguars #3 overall pick, suffered a torn ACL in his very first practice following the draft.

 

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

NEW SECONDARY

Free Agent acquisition, Charles Tillman, will lead a revitalized secondary this season [Photo Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez]

Free Agent acquisition, Charles Tillman, will lead a revitalized secondary this season [Photo Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez]

This season’s Week 1 Defense will include only one defensive back who started last season’s opener, in Roman Harper. The other three: Melvin White, Antoine Cason, and Thomas Decoud – have all been released from the team. Until Star Lotulelei returns, the Panthers won’t boast the elite defensive line that they’ve fielded in years past – so this new-look secondary will need to step up if the group plans to return to Top 10 prominence.

RUNNING GAME

Jonathan Stewart breaks away for a 69-yard touchdown run against the Saints. [Photo AP - Bill Feig]

Jonathan Stewart breaks away for a 69-yard touchdown run against the Saints. [Photo AP – Bill Feig]

Over the final 6 weeks of 2014, including playoffs, Jonathan Stewart laid down a stat sheet second to only Marshawn Lynch – and looked on film to be one of the most exciting rushers in the league. Monster games against the Saints, Browns, and Cardinals (in which he rushed for over 120 yards each) led the way to an average of 5.1 yards per carry – and helped propel the Panthers to a division title and playoff berth. If he can pick up where he left off, Stewart has the chance to lead this Carolina offense in a fashion that it desperately needs after losing Kelvin Benjamin. Although Ron Rivera noted this offseason that they’d like to limit him to the neighborhood of 15 carries per game, he’s shown that he still has the ability to take over a series, and they won’t steer away from him if he starts rolling. Look for him to get out to a hot start against a Jaguars defense that gave up an average of 127 yards on the ground last season.

 

The Panthers re-elect their 6 team captains from last season. [Image via Panthers.com]

The Panthers re-elect their 6 team captains from last season. [Image via Panthers.com]

SEASON CAPTAINS

Position – Player (Years of Captainship)

 

QB – Cam Newton (3rd)

TE – Greg Olsen (2nd)

C – Ryan Kalil (3rd)

DE – Charles Johnson (3rd)

LB – Thomas Davis (5th)

LB – Luke Kuechly (3rd)

 

LAST MEETING

On the third week of the 2011 season, Cam Newton & Ron Rivera’s rookie year, the Jaguars traveled to Charlotte for a game that featured a torrential downpour, much like that of the memorable 2013 matchup with the Saints. With the Jaguars in the lead for much of the second half, Cam Newton drove down the field with 4 minutes left to play – and completed both a touchdown pass and 2-point conversion to Greg Olsen, notching his first game-winning drive and first career win in the NFL. The game also featured an incredible catch-and-run by Jonathan Stewart, which was called back – noted here by David Newton.

 

 

You can watch the null-and-void Stewart play here.

 

 

INJURY REPORT

NAME POSITION INJURY WED THURS FRI STATUS
Richie Brockel TE Shoulder DNP DNP DNP Out
Nate Chandler OT Knee LP DNP DNP Out
Ryan

Kalil

C Knee LP LP FP Probable
Josh Norman CB Concussion LP LP FP Probable
Teddy Williams CB Groin FP FP FP Probable

 

Practice Status:

DNP = Did not participate in practice

LP = Limited Participation

FP = Full Participation

(-) = No Practice Status Available

 

Game Status:

Out = Player will not play

D = Doubtful (25% chance a player will play)

Q = Questionable (50% chance a player will play)

P = Probable (75% chance a player will play)

(-) = No player status available

 

 

GAME BROADCASTS

 

TELEVISION

 

FOX (1:00 PM)

Play-by-Play: Chris Myers

Analyst: Ronde Barber

Sideline: Jennifer Hale

 

RADIO FLAGSHIP

 

WBT-AM (1110 AM in Charlotte)

Play-by-Play: Mick Mixon

Analysts: Jim Szoke, Eugene Robinson

Sideline: Jordan Gross

Follow Austin on Twitter @Austallings for Breaking News, Injury Updates, and General Football-oriented Rants.

Week 1: Practice Update

 Jonathan Stewart leads the running back unit through agility drills. What became a position of worry last season, is one of this year’s deepest groups. Photo courtesy of Panthers.com (Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez)


Jonathan Stewart leads the running back unit through agility drills. What became a position of worry last season, is one of this year’s deepest groups. Photo courtesy of Panthers.com (Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez)

(By Austin Stallings)

CHARLOTTE — 11:30 AM

In the shadow of Bank of America Stadium, the Panthers kick off their final few practices before this season’s first meaningful game action.

Not much has changed from last season’s typical practice routine, except for new faces at each Tackle position, a new secondary, a new band of pass catchers… Oh, and the team now syndicates a high-energy music playlist — laden with hits by Future & Drake — to keep the intensity up during times of transition. This means the Panthers have caught on to a trend that’s been making it’s way around the league for years now, and seems to be well-received by players and coaches alike. Alright, on to football:

(by Austin Stallings)

(Photo: Austin Stallings)

Star Lotulelei will participate today, but again without pads. Making his way to the field with an apparent limp, he’ll likely work out solo as he continues to nurse a foot injury suffered early in Training Camp. Based on how little commitment both he and Ron Rivera have shown to his week 1 availability, don’t expect him to take the field against Jacksonville.  All for the better though, as he holds the key to the Panthers returning a top 10 defensive unit for the fourth consecutive year — and will be needed for the long term.

Ryan Kalil, who injured his knee against the Dolphins, appears to be on track to play Sunday — although there’s no need for him to enter any contact situations until then. As an offensive captain who has anchored the line for years now, the veteran’s status will be paramount if the Panthers have any hope to sustain drives early in the year.

Rookie wide receiver Rookie wide receiver Devin Funchess approached the field in full pads today after battling through a nagging hamstring issue this preseason. Although Ted Ginn and Philly Brown were named the Week 1 starters on Tuesday, look for Funchess to be moved around the field — both on the outside and in the slot — to create mismatches against smaller defensive backs. Being versatile at the receiver position is something the Michigan product has prided himself on throughout the entire draft process.

(Photo: Austin Stallings)

(Photo: Austin Stallings)

Charles Tillman & Josh Norman both donning full pads. While Tillman has already been cleared to play against Jacksonville, Norman still has one more test to pass before he’ll get the green light. Both cornerbacks suffered head injuries in consecutive weeks of preseason action, and both will be vital to the success of the revamped secondary this season.

(Photo: Austin Stallings)

(Photo: Austin Stallings)

Always a great sight to see Jonathan Stewart participating in full pads. He’ll look to complete his first 16-game season since 2011, while seeing the top of the depth chart for the first time in his eight year NFL career.

(Photo: Austin Stallings)

(Photo: Austin Stallings)

After sustaining a combination of calf and neck injuries through Training Camp, Charles Johnson has yet to see the field this preseason. All signs are trending upward though, as he’s been a full participant in practice this week and remains adamant that he will start on Sunday.

Don’t fret upon seeing Kony Ealy without shoulder pads, a team intern followed closely behind carrying the rest of his gear. He’s set to start opposite Johnson this Sunday, and will attempt to help replace the 15-sack void left behind by Greg Hardy’s departure for Dallas.

Stay tuned for the Week 1 Preview, which will include the team’s fully updated injury report.

Follow Austin on Twitter @Austallings for Breaking News, Injury Updates, and General Football-oriented Rants.

Preseason Week 4: The Last Audition

(Written by Austin Stallings)

If you’ve seen the HBO hit-series, Hard Knocks, you’re well aware that the NFL’s final roster cuts are looming — and as unfortunate as it may be, it’s sometimes the fan-favorites that get sent packing. That is something Panthers fans know too, after seeing wide receiver Jarett Boykin, and cornerback Melvin White waived earlier this week when the roster was trimmed to 75. White was instrumental to the team’s 2013 success, and Boykin was thought to add much-needed depth to the receiving corps, after being claimed from Green Bay’s roster in May. Now heading into the final week of the preseason, the team must trim an additional 23 players by 4:00pm on Saturday — and tonight’s matchup with the Steelers is sure to figure in heavily to the decision.

Look for the starters and roster-safe players to see a series or two at most, before making way for position battles to take place at several positions. As Ron Rivera acknowledged himself, “the final cut we make, no pun intended, is not very clear-cut,” “there are a lot of young guys you let go who can play in this league.”

 Rookie Wide Receiver Devin Funchess will make his return to the field tonight, after being sidelined with a troublesome hamstring. (Image via ESPN)


Rookie Wide Receiver Devin Funchess will make his return to the field tonight, after being sidelined with a troublesome hamstring. (Image via ESPN)

 

Tonight will also mark the return of second-round pick Devin Funchess, who has been sidelined with a troublesome hamstring for most of the preseason. He’ll look to build on a successful Week 1 showing, and give the offense a beacon of hope after what has been a trying preseason. While Funchess should certainly be an upgrade to the current landscape of pass-catchers in Carolina, he won’t be without his rookie growing pains this season, and shouldn’t be expected to fill the impossible void left by an injured Kelvin Benjamin.

Nevertheless, he’ll draw each team’s top defensive back, which should leave more room for the rest of the offense to operate.

Overall, don’t read too much into tonight’s game – as maybe we have for the past three weeks. It will serve as a valuable film-reel for the team’s front office, but even the most accredited analysts can’t predict how final roster cuts will shake out. Between the GM’s vision, and the head coach’s direction – people outside of the building won’t know what the finalized 53 man roster will look like until it’s published. It will be a fun one to watch though, with every player on the field fighting for a job, be it with their current team or otherwise.

Follow Austin on Twitter @Austallings for Breaking News, Injury Updates, and General Football-oriented Rants.

https://bringbackthebuzz.wordpress.com/about/the-buzz-shop/

Crown Town Football Shirt

 

 

Patriots @ Panthers: What to Watch For by Austin Stallings

vzTvxaPF

Image by our new Graphic Designer GiddenDesigns

In the NFL, the third week of the preseason serves as a dress rehearsal for the live rendition, and brings with it a set of expectations for the season to come. For better or worse, each franchise’s long-brewing questions will at last be answered, and fans will see starters play their most significant snaps until the regular season begins. Tonight, the reigning Super Bowl champions come to Charlotte where they’ll face a team with as many unanswered questions as any in the league, and a fanbase eager to see who will survive this weekend’s roster cuts. Here’s what to watch for in tonight’s matchup:

WHICH WIDEOUT WILL STEP UP?

After losing a rising star in Kelvin Benjamin, the Panthers’ wideout play tonight will factor in heavily to what the team does with the position going forward. The front office has been adamant about finding answers within it’s own roster, but there’s likely to be a veteran on the free agent market who can help this team’s passing game, especially if second year player Corey Brown continues to struggle. It’s also one of Jarrett Boykin’s last chances to show his hometown that he’s worthy of a spot on the final 53, as his production has been inconsistent since signing with Carolina in May. This group has been thrown into the spotlight since Benjamin’s injury and will continue to be under close watch throughout the season. With rookie Devin Funchess unlikely to play tonight, there are plenty of targets to go around to those battling for roster spots.

A CROWDED BACKFIELD

A key cog in the Panthers’ postseason run in 2014, Fozzy Whittaker may now find himself on the roster bubble as final cuts approach next week. Although the coaching staff maintains that the depth chart hasn’t shifted much since the beginning of camp, inspiring play from a trio of new runners will make the decision a hard one. Rookie Cameron Artis-Payne, free agent acquisition Jordan Todman, and undrafted free agent Brandon Wegher have each made an impact in their own right through 2 weeks of the preseason – and each bring a different caveat of value to the team. With Todman on pace to be the team’s lead kick returner, and Artis-Payne appearing to be a polished 3-down backup to Jonathan Stewart — the final spot will come down to Whittaker and Wegher, who’s now racked up 3 touchdowns over the past 2 weeks. While Fozzy Whittaker made arguably the franchise’s most important play last season, Wegher has since become a fan favorite and likely would be quickly claimed by another team if transferred to the practice squad — which leads me to believe he has more than a fighting chance to earn a spot on this roster. Ultimately, it will come down to how the duo can contribute on special teams.

NEW FACES IN THE SECONDARY

After adding veterans Charles Tillman and Kurt Coleman in the offseason, Carolina looks to have more depth in the secondary than it’s seen in several years. Second year standouts Bené Benwikere and Tre Boston are sure to factor in coming off impressive rookie campaigns, but neither will find themselves in the starting base package to kick off the season. Look for Kurt Coleman to get the start beside Roman Harper, with the high-ceiling Boston breathing down his neck. Benwikere recently stated that he’d rather play outside the numbers than in the nickel slot where he currently lines up, but it’s his versatility that makes him a vital piece to this defense. Either way, the front seven will surely appreciate having more depth and experience behind them than in years past. Tonight they should have a great opportunity to make plays, against a team with it’s top 3 wide receivers out with injuries.

OFFENSIVE LINE TO BE TESTED

A clear team weakness last year has continued to show vast improvement, dating back to the final five games of last season. The group has looked solid thus far, creating viable pockets against the talented defensive fronts of the Bills and Dolphins. That may have looked promising, but it’s important to note that defensive coordinators don’t utilize any complicated schemes in the first two games of the preseason. Still in the process of evaluating talent, there aren’t yet any exotic blitzes or stunts in the gameplan, and thus are much easier to read in pass blocking situations. The group’s first true test will come tonight, when the Patriots bring a more complex scheme to the field, aiming to find which players grasp these concepts faster than others. If the offensive line produces another good showing tonight, I’ll be sold — and it will be a great sign for this offense going forward.

THE GAME:

Bank of America Stadium, 7:35 pm.

Charlotte, NC

Kickoff Weather: Sunny, 80° F