Kansas City vs. Carolina: Panthers' Second Preseason Game Preview
After their late-game rally fell short against the Buffalo Bills in the team's preseason opener, the Carolina Panthers (0-1) draw a prime-time meeting against another AFC opponent, the Kansas City Chiefs (1-0).
This will be an interesting game to watch as Cam Newton will be making his preseason debut, and fans will be eager to see his chemistry with a new-look receiver corps. Considering that one of those receivers is rookie first-round pick Kelvin Benjamin, the interest level should be high.
Kansas City was another surprise team last year that started out hot under the guidance of veteran head coach Andy Reid, who was in his first year with the franchise. Reid was able to lead the Chiefs to a playoff berth as a wild-card team. He and his offense will test a dominant Carolina defense Sunday.
Neither team figures to keep their starters in for long, but Carolina head coach Ron Rivera mentioned the starters could play longer into this game, given the short turnaround to prepare for New England.
While there are two more games left to play once the dust settles after this weekend's matchup, players will need to give their all to stand out to the coaching staff with roster cuts looming.
In the meantime, here is the team preview heading into the second preseason game.
Carolina's First Preseason Game Recap
Carolina Panthers football returned last week when the Buffalo Bills visited the Queen City.
While the preseason is regarded as meaningless football, it sets the stage for coaches to evaluate their teams and get a feel for which players can be assets on during the regular season. This is especially true for rookies and free-agent acquisitions.
Two points separated the Carolina Panthers and the Bills in a 20-18 contest. Cam Newton was held out of this game, but rookie Kelvin Benjamin provided reason for optimism this season with a great touchdown reception. Backup quarterback Joe Webb saw the bulk of the snaps as he tries to secure a spot on the depth chart. He finished the game 16-of-28, for 180 yards and one touchdown.
Despite giving up 20 points, the defense showcased the talent that made them a top unit in 2013. Greg Hardy recorded a sack and Josh Norman registered two tackles and two passes defensed, one of which was intercepted.
With starters expected to see more time against the Chiefs, this Sunday's game could offer a preview of what to expect from the Panthers this season. The main thing is for Carolina to turn in a quality performance and stay healthy.
News and Notes
Cam Newton will Play
As mentioned earlier, Newton will suit up and play Sunday. Offseason ankle surgery has limited him during camp, but he is medically cleared and ready to go. The Panthers will probably have him take it easy since it is a preseason game, but he will probably get a few opportunities to test it out in game situations.
Additionally, he will get his first opportunity to work with Kelvin Benjamin (and his brand new receiving unit) this weekend as well. The passing game will be critical to Carolina's success, but the contributions in camp and after one preseason game from its current receivers are gradually making the fans optimistic about this year.
Starters Could Play Entire Half
If Newton played last week and the preparation time for New England wasn't short, the starters would probably play a couple of series before being replaced by rookies and those vying for a roster spot. Having the starters in longer than usual will help build chemistry.
This year will be the first with Newton as the leader of the offense, and he can show that he is ready to take the reins of the team and call it his.
Offensive Line Appears Set
Carolina could have its starters for the offensive line well before the regular season kicks off. According to ESPN's David Newton, the Panthers seem content with a line comprised of Byron Bell (LT), Amini Silatolu (LG), Ryan Kalil (C), Trai Turner (RG) and Nate Chandler (RT).
Nothing is guaranteed, but this line is probably the one lining up in front of the Carolina backfield this upcoming September.
Benjamin Getting Top-Receiver Treatment
It was a hoped that rookie wide out Kelvin Benjamin would become the team's top receiver at some point in the next two or three years.
What wasn't necessarily expected is that he might be ready to assume the top spot at the position sooner rather than later.
Ron Rivera and his defensive coaches have been sending a lot of coverage at Benjamin, and he has accepted the challenge head on. NFL.com writer Mike Coppinger noted the preparation of Benjamin as the go-to receiver and, considering the patchwork makeup of the unit, it makes sense. Rivera has been throwing a lot of different coverage schemes at his rookie, and as the fourth-year coach stated, "He's going to have to get used to it."
Considering that the updated injury report has five of the key players listed as probable, there is no reason why the Carolina Panthers shouldn't be able to get a good look at everyone on the list. Granted, the coaches will keep an eye on these guys as they all are vital members to the team, so they could be limited on Sunday.
Roman Harper could see limited action as he recovers from the turf-toe injury. The Panthers need to keep their defensive backfield healthy and the veteran Harper figures to be a critical part of its success. While he was listed as probable on CBSSports.com at the time of this writing, the Charlotte Observer's Jonathan Jones confirmed that Harper will be out this Sunday.
In his absence, Thomas DeCoud should get his reps. However, there are plenty of young guys who can do themselves a service by making a strong statement when given a chance on the field tomorrow night.
Cam Newton's ankle will be under close scrutiny as this will be his first live game action of the preseason. Jonathan Stewart will be watched closely as well given the fact his season has been ended prematurely the last two years. The Panthers hope he can stay healthy and remain on the field to be a valuable component of the running game.
If Stewart isn't 100 percent, look for Darrin Reaves to take over for him in the backfield.
Graham Gano should be ready to return from a sore back after sitting out last week's contest. With the NFL experimenting with moving the point after touchdown to the 15-yard line, it should be interesting to see how he responds. Last week, replacement Jorday Gay struggled with the change however, he is in camp to spell Brad Nortman on punts.
While not listed on the injury report, defensive end Charles Johnson has been nursing a sore hamstring since August 2nd and finally returned to practice 12 days later. Johnson hopes to play, but it's uncertain if he will this week.
X-Factors and Matchups to Watch
Cornerbacks vs. Dwayne Bowe
A question mark from last season, the secondary got a boost in both free agency and the draft. Veteran Antoine Cason was brought in to replace Captain Munnerlyn and Bene Benwikere was drafted this past May. Returning corners are Melvin White, Josh Norman and Charles Godfrey. These guys will be counted on to shut down Kansas City receivers, in particular Dwayne Bowe.
Bowe's 2013 numbers were less than spectacular, but that doesn't mean he can't be a threat. Either Cason or White will probably get the call to match up with Bowe, and he could be a handful if he can beat the coverage.
However, the Chiefs top receiver has a way to go to return as a top receiver in the league.
Kony Ealy/Greg Hardy vs. Eric Fisher
This will be an interesting matchup based on the possibility that Hardy could miss some time this season and the fact he is a free agent in 2015.
Should Hardy be suspended, Ealy could replace him and be tasked with wreaking havoc on the opposing quarterback's blind side. If he is to be a possible long-term solution opposite end Charles Johnson, Ealy will have to prove he can beat top tackles.
Cam Newton vs. Kansas City defense
With Newton appearing in his first game of the year, he needs to prove he is ready to go and has no limitations. Additionally, he will have to show his growth at quarterback and make good decisions when throwing the ball. Newton has shown a tendency to overthrow his receivers in the past, but with taller receivers now at his disposal, it'll be interesting to see whether that problem gets corrected.
Panthers' X-Factor of the Week: Carolina's Offensive Tackles
An argument could be made to put the Carolina offensive line as this week's X-factor, but much has been made about the offensive tackle position. With its responsibility to keep Newton upright and protected, it could be the difference in this Sunday's game.
Byron Bell and Nate Chandler have been doing well in camp, with the former easing into the left tackle role more comfortably. While nothing has been established for the regular season, Bell and Chandler appear to have the starting spots locked up.
A strong showing against the Chiefs could solidify that claim.
A narrow defeat in the preseason opener and the return of Cam Newton should pave the way for a strong outing by the Carolina Panthers.
While essentially meaningless, an exhibition win still could go a long way toward boosting the confidence of the team and serve as a foundation to build upon for the remainder of the preseason.
If the Carolina first string plays the majority of the first half and Kansas City pulls theirs early, the Panthers could get a big early lead to start the second half.
The second half should be about position battles and fighting to survive the next round of cuts. Regardless, the Panthers will be playing on national television, eager to show what kind of potential they will bring into the 2014 season.
Panthers 24, Chiefs 20