Carolina vs. Pittsburgh: Panthers' Final Preseason Game Preview
The regular season is so close that football fans can smell it in the air! Before the games start counting, however, teams have to play one more exhibition game. The Carolina Panthers (1-2) will close the door on their preseason with a meeting against the Pittsburgh Steelers (1-2). Carolina head coach Ron Rivera stated his starters would play in this game; how long they will be in the game remains to be unseen.
One starter will not be suiting up for the preseason finale.
Cam Newton suffered a hairline fracture in his rib against the New England Patriots in last week's contest, and while he only missed one play and returned to action to play out the rest of the half, this decision to bench him is precautionary.
Fans have reason to be concerned about the health of the team's quarterback, but other issues need to be addressed before Week 1 kicks off at Tampa Bay. Can the defense play better? What will it take to get the running game clicking?
Hopefully, some of those issues can be resolved Thursday night.
The two franchises make it an annual event to meet up in the preseason, and this will serve as the first of two meetings this year. Carolina will host Pittsburgh next month on Sunday Night Football in a Week 3 game. Until then, here is the game preview for the Panthers' first matchup with Pittsburgh at Heinz Field.
Carolina Third Preseason Game Recap
The only thing that can be said about the Carolina Panthers game last week is that, fortunately, it was only a meaningless preseason game. The New England Patriots dominated the game and saw Tom Brady throw for more than 200 yards and two touchdowns in one half. There were some good moments from the Panthers, but the lopsided 30-7 score overshadowed them.
Rookie Kelvin Benjamin appears to be ready to embrace the role of a go-to receiver in the league. He had another impressive game and should give Cam Newton a reliable target during the season. Benjamin handled the coverage by veteran cornerback Darrelle Revis very well and continued his solid production.
Brenton Bersin, another receiver who has flown under the radar, has been a pleasant surprise this month and could be the No. 4 receiver on the depth chart.
Seeing Newton go down with what was initially called a back contusion was an unnerving sight, but he did return to the game. Much like the week before, he wasn't good, but he wasn't bad either. With any luck, missing two preseason games will not hurt him going into the regular season.
Overall, the Panthers took a beating that would be a tough pill to swallow had it been an actual game. Ron Rivera and his staff no doubt addressed the issues that plagued the team last week and made efforts to correct them.
News and Notes
Both right tackle Nate Chandler (knee) and rookie guard Trai Turner (groin) have been dealing with injuries the past week. Chandler is on pace to return for the preseason finale at Pittsburgh, but Turner may sit out.
This is interesting to watch, because the line needs to be intact for the Panthers to get anything significant accomplished on offense. Both men are considered to be assets on the right side of the offensive line, and having one or both out for a considerable amount of time would be counterproductive.
Despite missing the last preseason game of 2014, quarterback Cam Newton expects to be ready for the regular-season opener. Head coach Ron Rivera appears to be optimistic based on what he has seen from his fourth-year quarterback this week. The only question remaining is, How effective will he be when he takes the field?
Carolina trimmed its roster to 79 this past Sunday and then again on Tuesday. Among those released or waived were wide receivers Kealoha Pilares, Tiquan Underwood and Marvin McNutt.
It's not surprising that the receivers were cut, because the position had been crowded. What is surprising is that one of them was Underwood. There was an air of optimism about him when he was signed earlier this year, but his preseason has been less than impressive. These moves also mean that undrafted rookie Philly Brown has left quite an impression on the coaches.
The full list of those released or waived is below.
|Kevin Matthews||C||Injured Reserve|
|Matt Blanchard||QB||Injured Reserve|
Greg Olsen will not be at the Panthers' final preseason game as his son T.J. had open heart surgery this past Monday. T.J. Olsen has been fighting hypoplastic heart syndrome since he was born. Hopefully, this final surgery will allow the young boy to live a long and normal life. Olsen should be back with the team in time for the regular-season opener.
|Cam Newton, QB||Ribs||Out|
|Roman Harper, S||Toe||Probable|
|Mike McNeill, TE||Knee||Questionable|
|Josh Thomas, CB||NFI||Out|
|Nate Chandler, RT||Knee||Probable|
|Trai Turner, OG||Groin||Doubtful|
Some of the names aren't surprising to see here. Roman Harper, Mike McNeill and Josh Thomas all could miss another game, but the Carolina Panthers have handled their absences well. If anything, players behind them on the depth chart are getting more than enough opportunities to shine.
Cam Newton's absence will most likely mean that Derek Anderson will get the start Thursday night. Expect him and Joe Webb to handle the bulk of the snaps. It's too early to speculate, but Webb could have the inside track on the third quarterback spot over Matt Blanchard.
Nate Chandler should be good to go for the finale but could be limited to give his knee more time to rest. He could possibly get a few snaps to shake off the rust and see how he feels. There shouldn't be too much concern about his status for Week 1.
Trai Turner should be ready for the start of the season too. Unlike Chandler, it's unlikely he will play Thursday. Carolina needs its linemen healthy, and having a young, promising guard like Turner at 100 percent will go a long way in making the unit effective.
X-Factors and Matchups to Watch
Carolina Receivers vs. Pittsburgh Secondary
Kelvin Benjamin versus Ike Taylor or Mike Mitchell could be a fun matchup. The same could be said about Brenton Bersin if he is allowed to play with the first team. It's uncertain how much time either team will allow their starters to stay in the game with the regular season beginning next week.
Mitchell played well with Carolina last year, and now that he is taking on his former team—sans the receivers from last year—he should be eager to go against his old club prior to the actual meeting in Week 3.
Carolina Backups vs. Pittsburgh Backups
Let's face it: This game will be more about the depth-chart players than the starters. In the end, the last preseason game of the year is nothing more than a glorified scrimmage. However, the first round of cuts will have been completed by the time these two teams kick off, and both squads will need to trim the roster to 53 soon afterward. A lot of players will have a lot riding on this game, and it could be their last shot to stand out among their peers.
Panthers' X-Factor: Secondary
This unit needs a chance at redemption in the worst way. Ben Roethlisberger is no Tom Brady by any means, but he can get the job done. As noted earlier, the starters may not stick around too long in this one. However, after being picked apart by the New England quarterbacks last week, the Carolina defensive backs cannot afford another letdown. If they allow Bruce Gradkowski and Landry Jones to have their way with them, it could be trouble for the Panthers when the season begins.
This game will not mean a thing once the final whistle sounds. Many players will be out there competing for jobs and a future with their team, and fans may lose interest after the first half. That is the definition of a preseason game. The starters will likely be pulled after two series or after one quarter, and by then, it will be a who's who of the depth chart.
If the starters played the majority of the game, it would serve as a nice preview for Week 3's rematch.
However, things will be very different when that game arrives.
It's possible this game could be uneventful and even boring, but for most diehard fans, it will be a way to evaluate the strength and talent of the depth chart. After all, that diamond-in-the-rough could be anyone. One possible player to fall into that category is Brenton Bersin.
Assuming the starters on both sides have a short night, it could be a fairly even contest.
Prediction: Carolina 18, Pittsburgh 14