Carolina Panthers: Breaking Down the Week 1 Game in Arizona

Tyler HornerCorrespondent IISeptember 9, 2011

Carolina Panthers: Breaking Down the Week 1 Game in Arizona

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    The Carolina Panthers will kick off the season in Arizona, the venue of Cam Newton's final collegiate performance, a win in the National Championship game over Oregon. 

    Both teams have made some big changes and we can't be sure of anything at this point. The preseason is rarely an accurate indicator of regular season success, making Week 1 the hardest time to make a prediction. 

    The Panthers and Cardinals are widely recognized at teams on the rise and for good reason. They've both upgraded the quarterback position and when you were at the cellar of the NFC last season, there is only room for growth. 

    Here is a breakdown of the positional advantages that each team has heading into this match-up. 

Quarterbacks

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    Edge: Arizona Cardinals

    I'll give the veteran Kevin Kolb the advantage over Newton for now. I haven't been particularly impressed in Kolb in the past and to say the Cardinals overpaid is an understatement.

    He struggles with his accuracy at times and often looks overwhelmed. He doesn't have great pocket presence, but has the arm strength to get Larry Fitzgerald the ball down field and the star receiver doesn't need a perfect pass to pull one in. 

    Cam Newton will make his NFL debut and it will be interesting to see how he fares against a bad—although not talent-less—defense. Newton has given fans a mixed bag this preseason. Some games he would struggle with his accuracy, but dominate on the ground and others he would be average all around.

    His most encouraging performance was against the starting Pittsburgh defense. He drove the offense down field and finally put the ball in the end zone. We'll see if he can carry his success into the regular season. 

Running Backs

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    Big Edge: Carolina Panthers

    The Panthers have a pair of stellar running backs. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart have been the most productive tandem in the league since Stewart entered the NFL three years back, but health is the key to their success. Both have battle injuries, but if they can remain on the field, Carolina will play much better than they're expected to. 

    The Cardinals have a much more questionable situation at the position. Beanie Wells has failed to live up to the expectations put on him coming out of college, but he's clearly a talented player and only 23 years old. He's not an explosive player, but he will work well into the Cardinals' offense as a power back who can pick up first downs in short-yardage situations. 

Receivers

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    Edge: Arizona Cardinals

    I might have sided with Carolina's group here had starter David Gettis not gone down with a season-ending injury during training camp. Neither team is particularly strong at the position, but Larry Fitzgerald gives the Cards an edge over the Panthers.

    Fitzgerald has a huge throwing radius for Kevin Kolb to put the ball and will find a way to get the ball, no matter who lines up at quarterback for him. 

    Carolina is deeper at the position than Arizona and will get much better contributions from the tight ends, but they lack a true starter opposite of Steve Smith and that will limit their options in the passing game. 

    Newton will lean on tight ends Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey. Expect them to get the majority of the red zone looks and be involved in many two tight end sets. 

Offensive Line

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    Big Edge: Carolina Panthers

    The Panthers have four starters who are arguably better than any player on the Cardinals' starting offensive line. The only weak link is right guard, where recently signed Geoff Hangartner will fill in for starter Geoff Schwartz, who has been placed on injured reserve.

    It's not clear whether or not Hangartner will actually be an upgrade over Schwartz. He is the better technician, but doesn't quite have the power that the younger guard, Schwartz, does. 

    The Cardinals don't have a particularly weak offensive line, but it's nothing to brag about. They lack the consistency of the Panther's starting line, but they show some positive signs. Tackle Levi Brown can be very impressive when he's motivated, but athletic defensive ends like Charles Johnson can pick on him. 

Defensive Line

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    Big Edge: Arizona Cardinals

    The Cardinals have two great players up front in Darnell Docket and Calais Campbell. Campbell is a young player who is finally beginning to reach his potential and Docket is a proven commodity on the other side of the Cards' three-man line. Nose tackle Dan Williams is a great run-stuffer in the middle. He's incredibly strong and will be a handful for Panthers' Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil. 

    Carolina is a lot younger, and hasn't looked great in the preseason. Defensive end Charles Johnson is one the league's premier 4-3 pass rushers. Greg Hardy will line up opposite Johnson and he has shown ability, but is far from a polished product. Inside, rookies Sione Fua and Terrell McClain will show up one week and disappoint the next. They are skilled, but you won't ever know exactly what you'll get from them.

Linebackers

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    Big Edge: Carolina Panthers

    The Panthers have one of the most athletic linebacking corps in the NFL. Jon Beason is a perennial Pro Bowler in the middle and James Anderson is a tackling machine on the weakside. Thomas Davis is possibly the fastest linebacker in the league. He's extremely underrated, and when healthy he's a force on the strong side. 

    The Cardinals have some solid pass rushers on the edge headed by Joey Porter, but time is definitely running out on Porter and fellow linebacker Clark Haggans. Neither have the same physical skills that they did in the past and Daryl Washington and Paris Lenon don't provide anything special inside.

Secondary

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    Slight Edge: Arizona Cardinals

    The Cardinals have two outstanding safeties, which gives them the edge here. Adrian Wilson has been nothing but extremely productive throughout his career and Kerry Rhodes is a ball hawk at free safety.

    At cornerback, the Cards are very weak after suffering the loss of Greg Toler and parting ways with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie through a trade. Their inexperience will likely be taken advantage by the Panthers' star receiver Steve Smith. 

    The Panthers' secondary has improved with the recent addition of Darius Butler, but don't expect them to force a lot of turnovers or prevent big play opportunities. They are very mistake-prone, and that comes with their youthfulness, but they can handle the task of covering Arizona's receivers, or should I just sayreceiver?

    Chris Gamble is a high-level corner who simply underperformed under lame duck coach John Fox. At safety, Charles Godfrey was a reserve for the Pro Bowl last season, yet he's a a very unappreciated part of this defense.