Packers vs. Panthers: 5 Things to Watch for Against Carolina
The Green Bay Packers are heavy favorites heading into their Week 2 matchup with the Cam Newton-led Carolina Panthers. After a stunning NFL debut, Newton has taken over NFL attention and will face a much larger test against the highly-touted Packers defense.
This game features arguably the best team in the league against one of last year's worst. The Panthers have done much to improve, but still have plenty of work to do. The Packers will look to take advantage of getting the Panthers before they have more opportunities to gel.
The Packers should handle the Panthers quite handily, but there are no guarantees in the NFL on "any given Sunday." The Packers will need to show fully prepared and focused on their search to start their season 2-0.
Here are five things to look for as you watch the Packers take on the Panthers.
1. Can the Packers Maintain Hunter Mentality?
Mike McCarthy has not been shy about his team's philosophy, constantly mentioning that they are looking to be the hunters rather than the hunted. Coming home after an explosive Week 1 victory against a very quality opponent, the Packers can not afford a letdown in Carolina.
Heavy favorites against a team oozing with confidence on the road, has all the potential of a letdown game. The Panthers, although still with plenty of work to be done, should not be taken lightly. This is a game the Packers have the ability to win by three or four touchdowns if they play up to their ability.
Heading into Chicago for an always difficult divisional game on the road in Week 3 against the Bears, the Packers cannot afford a loss against the Panthers. They need to come into that game focused and take care of business as they should.
2. How They Play Cam Newton
In an earlier article, I discussed the Packers' first and foremost goal going into Carolina is to shut down the run game entirely. If they shut down the run, the Packers believe they will be able to get the Panthers into long distances on third downs and get pressure on Cam Newton.
After Newton's shocking Week 1 performance, he will look to follow up in a much tougher test in his first home game for the Panthers. The Arizona Cardinals secondary is laughable when compared to the Packers secondary.
Because of the threat of Newton running with the ball, the Packers may opt to use a quarterback spy at times in the game. In the Super Bowl, the Packers used Clay Matthews and Erik Walden to spy Ben Roethlisberger during portions of the game.
3. Depth at Cornerback Could Be on Display
Tramon Williams has not practiced yet and may be unavailable for the Packers on Sunday as he deals with the effects of shoulder injury suffered in the fourth quarter of the season opener. If Williams is unable to go, the Packers may be forced to change up how they approach the Panthers.
Without Williams, the Packers would move Charles Woodson from his slot-roaming position out to the edges to play strictly corner with Sam Shields on the other side. Jarrett Bush would most likely take the role Woodson had been occupying.
This could be a good opportunity for some of the less-experienced players to get more playing time against an inferior receiving core. Bush and Pat Lee would see time if this is the case, and maybe even rookie Davon House.
If Williams plays, the Packers will have much more flexibility to confuse and create problems for the rookie quarterback.
4. Offensive Line Will Need to Replicate Success
After a shaky preseason, the Packers' starting offensive line played fairly well against the New Orleans Saints. They gave up two sacks, but Rodgers had plenty of time on most throws and the running backs had nice lanes.
A good amount of Rodgers' success should be credited to the offensive line, as they increased their level of play from the preseason to the regular season. Coming into the season, it appeared as if this unit was going to be a weak link, but if Game 1 is any indication, this will not be the case.
On James Starks' touchdown run in the second quarter, T.J. Lang got down the field and made an incredible block in the second level that provided enough space for Starks to barrel over defenders on his way to the end zone.
The group needs to build on the success they had against the Saints and keep Rodgers upright and provide running lanes for Starks and Ryan Grant. If they can match their level of play, the Packers will be on the offensive side of the ball.
5. Can the Running Game Get Going?
Last season, the Packers proved they could get it down without a top-tier running game, but it would certainly be nice if they could formulate one. The Packers should have an opportunity to build an early lead and pound the rock using their two backs.
If the Packers can create a threat on the ground, it will make the rest of the offense that much more dangerous. Starks led the team against the Saints with 12 carries, while Grant had nine. It would be nice to see the Packers run the play more in this game.
Starks and Grant, while forming a threat of their own, will take pressure off Rodgers as he won't be leaned on to carry the offense week to week. Against a weaker defense, the Packers need to take advantage of the opportunity to put away the Panthers early and give their backs consistent carries.