After one of most memorable opening Sundays in recent memory, Week 2 of the 2011 NFL season will feature a marquee matchup between the defending Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers and the upstart Carolina Panthers.
The Packers will be looking to continue their winning ways on the road, while Cam Newton and the Panthers will look to rebound from a devastating week one loss to the Cardinals.
Here are five Packers who must have a big game for Green Bay to come out on top.
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A Packer victory in Week 2 must start with a win in the trenches. On the defensive end, that means B.J. Raji will need to have a much better game against the Panthers than he did against the Saints. While he did come up big on the goal line, he disappeared far too often over the course of the game, thanks in large part to the play of Saints OG Carl Nicks.
This week, Raji will be matched-up against Panthers All-Pro center Ryan Kalil, one of the most fundamentally sound lineman in the game. If Raji is unable to consistently win that matchup, the Panthers will likely be able to run the ball effectively, thus opening up passing lanes for Cam Newton.
It all boils down to B.J. Raji needing to have a great game. If he does, the Packers will win handily. If he does not, the Panthers just might pull off an upset.
Another member of the Packer defense that figures to have his hands full in Week 2 is CB Tramon Williams, who will be matched-up against Panthers All-Pro WR Steve Smith for most of the game. Young QB Cam Newton has already developed some chemistry with Smith, who looked five years younger against the Cardinals talented secondary.
The good news for the smaller Williams is that Smith is not an overpowering, physical receiver; as such, he should be able to play the finesse game with which he is far more comfortable (and effective).
The bad news for Williams is that even one blown coverage could very easily result in a game-changing touchdown, especially given Newton's impressive arm strength and big-play ability. Williams must bring his "A" game if he hopes to shut down a game-breaking talent like Steve Smith.
It is not very often that a former two-time 1,200-plus yard rusher is forced to fight for his job. However, that is situation in which Packers RB Ryan Grant finds himself after a lackluster preseason and week one showing.
The Panthers front four will be dead-set on applying constant pressure to Packers QB Aaron Rodgers. Thus, it will be up to Grant to pound the ball effectively, slowing down the Carolina pass rush and opening up play-action down the field and allowing Green Bay to control the clock.
If Grant can run the ball between 15 and 20 times at 5.0 yards per carry, the Packers should be well on their way to a convincing victory. If he is unable to get anything going on the ground, it could open the door for a potential Panther upset.
Its no secret that Aaron Rodgers is the straw that stirs the Packers' drink. He's the one guy that transforms the Green Bay offense from "above average" to "unstoppable." The Panthers know that, too—and they'll be counting on RDE Charles Johnson to stop Rodgers.
That's where Pro Bowl LT Chad Clifton comes in. If he can successfully contain the faster, stronger Johnson, the Packers will be well on their way to a victory. However, if Johnson is able to consistently apply pressure to Rodgers, it might be enough to throw a wrench into the well-oiled Packer offensive machine.
The key to keeping the Packer offense operating at peak performance is in Chad Clifton's massive hands. He must keep pass-rushing demon Charles Johnson in check if Green Bay hopes to come out on top.
While Cam Newton only has one NFL game under his belt, it's already apparent that he loves involving his Tight Ends and running backs in the passing game early and often. In their Week 1 matchup against the Cardinals, Newton completed seven passes to TEs and another four to RBs for a combined 150-plus yards.
For the Packer defense to keep the Panther offense in check, they'll need to take away Newton's safety blankets (usually the TEs and RBs in underneath routes), thereby forcing the young QB to either throw at excellent cover CBs Tramon Williams, Charles Woodson and Sam Shields or try to force balls into double coverage.
If the Packers are able to successfully take away Shockey and Olsen, Newton and the Panthers will struggle to generate consistent offensive pressure. If the Panthers TEs are left open underneath, it will open up throws down the field and allow the Panthers' game-breakers to make plays in space.
For Green Bay to win this game, they need to make Cam Newton uncomfortable. The best way to do that is to take away his safety blankets and force him to make high-risk, low-percentage throws into the tenacious Packer secondary.