When: Noon CST, Sunday, September 18, 2011
Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC
TV: FOX, Ron Pitts and Jim Mora, Jr.
Radio: 620 AM WTMJ (Milwaukee); Packers Radio Network
Series: Packers lead, 6-4 (Panthers won last regular season game, 35-31, in Nov. 2008 at Lambeau Field)
Five things to watch
Cam vs. the doubters
In the past year or so, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has been doubted about everything from the authenticity to his smile to his ability to pick up a simple NFL offense. While his 422-yard NFL debut emphatically silenced most of those critics, they’ve been replaced by new doubters who think there’s no chance he’ll do well against a more talented Packers defense Sunday afternoon.
I, for one, hesitate to doubt Newton, who has risen to nearly every football challenge laid before him. There’s just something special about Newton that’s hard to attribute with stats or scouting terms. He has that “it” factor.
This will arguably be the biggest test of his football career, however, as Newton has never seen a defense as talented or multi-faceted as the Packers team he will face Sunday. Can he rise to this task as well? He might not lead the underdog Panthers to an upset win, but it’s hard to bet against Newton playing well, especially with Tramon Williams potentially on the sidelines.
Spreading the wealth
Much has been made in the 10 days leading up to this game about the disappearance of receiver James Jones in the offense during the Packers’ Week 1 win over the Saints. I think any competitor would be upset in his shoes, and he’s voiced that opinion a few times this week. It’s been discussed more than it needed in the lead up to this game, in my opinion.
Every dog will have his day in the Packers offense, but every dog won’t be satisfied every week. That’s just how it will go this season. Would anyone really be surprised if Jones caught a handful of passes this season?
Remember, both Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers have difficult jobs. All the weapons that the Packers have is a good problem, but it also has to be handled in a certain way. McCarthy has to get the players who give him the best chance to win games on the field every Sunday. Rodgers can only throw to players who are open in his progressions as a passer. There’s no forcing it to certain players from either guy. On any given week, those two priorities will invariably keep a player or two from seeing much of the football.
A young, athletic quarterback with a big arm. A first-year coach looking for his first win in the NFL. A team still in development but with some pieces intact. And the hot, September sun beating down on a mid-day game. The Packers’ meeting with the Panthers appears as if it has some similar aspects with McCarthy’s worst loss as Packers head coach, when his team traveled to Tampa Bay and lost to rookie Josh Freeman and Raheem Morris’s then-winless Buccaneers in 2009.
But don’t look too far into it. This is a different Packers team then the one who lost that game two seasons ago. They’ve matured. Dom Capers’ 3-4 defense is no longer in the baby years, and Aaron Rodgers wasn’t nearly in the almost untouchable arena that he now is.
Remember back to 2008, when the 8-3 Panthers beat the 5-6 Packers at Lambeau Field? Receiver Steve Smith had a lot to do with it. He caught two long passes, one on Charles Woodson and the other on Williams, that set up easy DeAngelo Williams touchdowns. His first catch allowed the Panthers to tie the game at 28, and the second put the Panthers on the doorstep with under two minutes left and Carolina down three points. Williams finished off the drive with his fourth touchdown, giving the Panthers the win.
Smith’s play declined in the two years since ’08, but he looks like a revitalized player with Newton in Carolina. If Williams can’t go, Smith could present the Packers some problems in the secondary. Even if the Packers match up Woodson on him exclusively, they’ll need to bracket their coverage to make sure he doesn’t hurt them again.
Clay Matthews was held without a sack in the Packers’ opener, but he’s going to get the opportunity to change that in a big way Sunday. Jeff Otah, the Panthers starting right tackle, is doubtful for the game after he suffered a concussion in Week 1. That leaves undrafted rookie free agent Bryon Bell to take on Matthews. That’s undeniably a matchup that favors the Packers.
You’d have to guess that the Panthers will give Bell help on almost every passing play. Still, there will be times when Matthews has Bell in one-on-one situations. He’ll win those battles nine times out of ten. Expect to see Matthews’ name in the sack column on Sunday.
Prediction: Packers 38, Panthers 17
Newton is going to make a few big plays for the Panthers, but he’s also going to turn it over a few times against defenses he’s never seen in his football career. There will be blitzes and zone concepts thrown at him by Capers on Sunday that he simply didn’t have enough time to study for in preparation of this game. On the other side of the ball, the Panthers just don’t have the depth in the secondary to keep the Packers’ receiving weapons at bay. They need to put pressure on Rodgers to have a chance, but everyone knows the risks involved in blitzing the Packers quarterback. No quarterback in the game is better in those situations. The Panthers will hang around in this game longer than people think, but a couple late-game mistakes from Carolina’s rookie quarterback will give the Packers a comfortable victory. Green Bay will go into Bears week 2-0.——————
Zach Kruse is a 23-year-old sports journalist with a passion for the Green Bay Packers. He currently lives in Wisconsin and is working on his journalism degree, while also covering prep sports for The Dunn Co. News.
You can read more of Zach's Packers articles on AllGreenBayPackers.com.Follow @zachkruse2