After a sound victory against the 49ers, the Carolina Panthers return home for their opener against the Buffalo Bills. Historically, the Panthers under Rivera found success in home games during week two, boasting a 4-1 record since the beginning of his tenure. There’s very little reason to believe that trend won’t extend to this year.
On paper, this matchup is much more favorable than against the 49ers. The Buffalo Bills lack vertical threats at wide receiver alongside questions at linebacker. Tyrod Taylor still has a ways to go, and the organization’s mindset is in rebuild mode.
Even so, there’s still plenty to look out for. The Panthers will likely test out a few new kinks in their offense as they go against former Panthers DC Sean McDermott. Cam Newton will be one to watch on whether he’s still rusty or not. And of course, the Panthers keeping up their dominant defensive performance will be something to keep an eye on.
So, what are the big matchups to watch for this weekend? Take a look below to find out.
Panthers Offensive Line VS Bills Front Four + McDermott
A very big matchup, the Panthers get to face off against their old defensive coordinator in Sean McDermott. Known for his Johnson-inspired blitz packages, McDermott enjoys pouring out the blitz from all over the field in creative packages. His defense forces quarterbacks to play their best as his zone scheme forces offenses to play smart.
The Buffalo Bills’ front four is also very stout. Shaw Lawson, Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus, and Jerry Hughes are all solid contributors to a dangerous front four. They will be a solid test for our offensive line this Sunday.
On the other end, the Carolina Panthers offensive line held up well in pass protection against the 49ers. The Panthers did not allow a sack from one of the league’s upcoming front sevens, and gave Cam Newton time for the most part. On paper, this spells very well against the Bills.
However, context also plays a role. The 49ers did not blitz nor doing anything creative that much, bringing four man pressures for a very large majority of snaps.
The Panthers offensive line should be able to handle the talented Bills front four based on their own talent, but so far no data is present on what will happen when Wilks brings the heat. Considering McDermott’s history, he’d love nothing more than to bring in a few of his hidden blitz’ against the Panthers and work them well.
Either way, the Bills will bring the pressure, and it’s up to the Panthers to counter. Based on the Panther’s offensive line’s uncertainty, The Bills head coach, and their front four’s consistency, expect this matchup to favor the Bills, but not to the point it’s game-breaking.
Panthers Slot Receivers + Runningbacks VS Bills Linebackers + Middle Field Defenders
A very exploitable matchup, the Panthers are going to have some fun going against this group.
The Bills boast linebackers who are on the wrong side of thirty. OLB Lorenzo Alexander (34) and ILB Ramon Humber (30) aren’t exactly young, and they are by no means anywhere close to Thomas Davis’ level. The groups biggest weakness is coverage, which should play nicely in the Panthers hands.
In terms of Panthers runningbacks, the Panthers used them extensively in the passing game. Jonathan Stewart and Christian McCaffrey account for nearly one-third of the Panthers passing yards (32%) against the 49ers. It’s fair to expect this to continue.
One of Christian McCaffrey’s strengths is exploiting matchups against linebackers. The former Stanford runningback often found himself in these situations, embarrassing defenders down the middle while showing off sophisticated route running and execution.
As seen above, McCaffrey goes up against a linebacker from the slot. Using his quickness, hesitation, and cuts, he easily beats his man for a touchdown.
Expect to see a lot of matchups like that against the Bills.
Also, for the first time in Cam’s career, the Panthers have a wealth of slot receivers in Russell Shepard, Curtis Samuel, and Christian McCaffrey. All three have shown ability to separate down the middle and do decent work in the slot.
For any matchup down the middle, Curtis Samuel is someone to look out for. During his days at Ohio, Samuel was a nightmare in the slot and coming out of the backfield. When given the chance down the middle of the field, Samuel exploits each and every matchup.
If Curtis Samuel gets significant playing time, expect him to take advantage. Samuel is a huge sleeper on the Panthers, and a weapon who will force defenses to pay.
This matchup is clearly in favor of the Panthers. It’s not even close.
Panthers Run Defense VS RB LeSean McCoy
Finally, one big test for the Panthers run defense comes at the hands of the Buffalo Bills. LeSean McCoy is arguably one of the NFL’s most elusive backs and consistently one of the hardest to stop. Couple his ability with a stout offensive line, and the Panthers defense has a lot to handle.
Against the 49ers, the Panthers had a rough time with Hyde in the first half, averaging 5 yards per rush. However, the Panthers have also had the same issue against runningbacks in the past, as they also allowed Broncos runningback CJ Anderson to average 4.6 yards per rush in the 2016 season opener.
For context, the Carolina Panthers were in the top 10 against the rush for the rest of 2016, even going on streaks in the top 3 for a few weeks. Even without Luke Kuechly for a large portion of the games, they still did well. Based on past trends, the Panthers run defense should be nothing to worry about.
One thing that stands out in particular is how Hyde took advantage when NT Star Lotulelei was resting. With the Panthers unable to reset the line of scrimmage, Hyde went off to have some of his best runs of the day.
With promising DT Vernon Butler coming back this week, expect Star to remain in a few more snaps than last week against the run. Star is absolutely critical for the Panther’s defense. Against a decent offensive line in the Bills, the Panthers need to ensure they have the advantage.
And, as said again and again, Star’s role is absolutely critical for the Panthers defense as a whole. He elevates everyone in his own silent way.
So, expect LeSean McCoy to slow down a bit against the Panthers as the run defense proves to be in the top tier yet again.
Overall, the Panthers matchup against the 49ers is much tougher on paper in comparison to the Bills. The 49ers have far better WRs, a better offensive coordinator, and a better front seven overall. That led to the prediction the 49ers would keep it close with the Panthers, which ultimately proved false.
This week, expect the Bills to be even easier to beat than the 49ers. On paper, the Panthers’ strengths rival the Bills’ strengths, with the Bills weaknesses the Panthers greatest advantage. While McDermott may make it challenging at first, the difference in talent level is far to great for him to overcome.
Expect a blowout at home with the Panthers invigorated and motivated to the end.
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