NFL Picks Week 3: Will Panthers Get 1st Win Against Jaguars?
The first two games of the Panthers season brought us hope for the future.
Every pass Cam Newton threw seemed to bury any of the remains leftover from the awful quarterbacking of Jimmy Clausen and Matt Moore.
Every blitz drawn up on defense seemed to be a big middle finger to the conservative drop back coverage schemes that John Fox had implemented over the years.
Every third and eight that was not a draw showed us that the team was not going to give up at the snap of a finger.
But even though the Panthers are doing a lot of things to bury their past, they are still losing like it is September 2010. This team seems to have caught the 2010 Bills disease of giving fans hope by finding a different way to lose just about every week.
But in the first two weeks of the season the Panthers played potential division champions who were supposed to destroy them. This week the Panthers play a team they are better than and a team they are supposed to beat.
Here are four reasons why hope will finally turn into results.
The Panthers Will Establish a Running Game
The Panthers running game has had a borderline embarrassing fall from grace over the past two seasons.
In 2009, both DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart had over 1,000 yards rushing. In 2011, both running backs are on pace for about 350 yards each.
Williams and Stewart both averaged about five yards per carry, but this season both running backs are averaging around 2.5 yards per carry.
The Panthers running game has been so bad that often times the team has given up on the run after one quarter. To prove just how putrid the Panthers rushing offense has been, Cam Newton leads the team in rushing yards with 71.
With two great running backs and at least three Pro Bowl caliber offensive linemen, the Panthers running game has to get back on track soon.Expect for this to happen against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Even though the Jaguars contained Chris Johnson in the first game of the season, the defense came back down to earth against the New York Jets.The mediocre Jets running game was able to rush for about three and a half yards a carry and rush for over 100 yards against a worn out Jaguars defense.
I still believe that the Panthers have better running backs than the Jets and I think the Panthers will be able to average around four and a half yards a carry against the Jaguars. The Panthers will use a lot of misdirection and draws to make sure that the running game gets going and this will even open up the play action passing game.
Both Williams, Stewart, and the Panthers run blocking have been absolutely dreadful in the first two games of the 2011 NFL season. The Panthers will run the ball about 80% of the time in the first half and this will wear down a Jaguars defense that is already falling apart (gave up 32 points to the Jets last week).
The Panthers three best offensive linemen will be able to dominate the Jaguars three best defensive linemen, and I think the Panthers running game finally gets going.
The Panthers Will Pressure Blaine Gabbert
The first game for a rookie quarterback is always sort of a mess.
In Cam Newton's case it was a "beautiful mess," but even Newton struggled to read Arizona's simple defenses and just got by because of his natural skill and confidence in himself. I do not believe Blaine Gabbert's first game will be the "beautiful mess" that Cam Newton's first game was.
Gabbert has never traditionally been a fast starter and does not have the natural talent that Cam Newton.
In Gabbert's first season as a college starter in 2009, the Missouri Tigers almost lost to Bowling Green and Nevada.
In Gabbert's second season as a starter in 2010 the Tigers struggled against Illinois and San Diego State in the first few weeks of the season.
Remember that this is in college and Blaine Gabbert only had to run the simple spread offense and play against the slower defenses of Big Ten and non BCS conference teams. On Sunday Blaine Gabbert will be running an offense that is much more complicated than the one he ran in college, and he will be facing a faster and more complex defense.
The Panthers defense is already a blitzing defense. Last Sunday they were able to force the mighty Packers offense to punt the ball by blitzing on second and third down and confusing Aaron Rodgers with their blitzes. If the Panthers blitzes and coverages can confuse Aaron Rodgers, what will they do to Blaine Gabbert?
I think the Panthers defense forces a few turnovers and the points off these turnovers will be the difference in the game.
Cam Newton Will Continue to Play Well
Cam Newton threw for over 420 yards against arguably the best secondary in the NFL last week
Even though the Jaguars have only given up 215 passing yards per game in the first two weeks, we have to remember that they played the run heavy offenses of the Tennessee Titans and the New York Jets.
While the Titans and Jets will probably end up winning games between the tackles the Panthers have the second best passing attack in the entire National Football League.
The running game the Panthers will establish in the first half will open up the passing game in the second half.
The Panthers will use play action to keep the Jaguars eight man fronts off balance and will be able to have at least three plays over 40 yards in the passing game.
The Jaguars secondary does not have the speed to contain Steve Smith and will struggle underneath with the size of Greg Olsen and Jonathan Stewart.
I do not think that Newton will continue his streak of 400-yard games, I do think this will be his best game as far as completion percentage and passer rating goes.
The Play Calling
Besides the Patriots, the Panthers have had the best combination of offensive and defensive play calling in the entire league.
The Panthers have done a great job of spread the ball around on offense and change coverages on defense. I believe the Panthers playcalling takes another giant step forward Sunday.
The Panthers will finally have balance on offense and will be able to blitz on just about every down against the Jaguars.
Due to the balance of the offense the Panthers will finally be able to get touchdowns in the red zone and will put up at least 28 points Sunday.
The Panthers coverage and blitz schemes will allow them to confuse Blaine Gabbert and the Jaguars offensive line and force them into at least three turnovers.
The Panthers get their first victory of the season 31-21.