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Jacksonville Jaguars at Carolina Panthers Game Preview: Carolina Roster Breakdown

September 21st, 2011 at 3:12 PM
By Brendan Sonnone

The Jacksonville Jaguars (1-1) take on the Carolina Panthers (0-2) this Sunday at 1:00 p.m.  While the Cam Newton led squad is winless, the Panthers are showing signs of life and are playing better than their 0-2 record indicates. 

 
Jaguars 101 takes a look at Carolina’s sneaky-good roster in a kickoff of this week’s pre-game coverage.
 
Offense
 
It looks like everything will start and stop with rookie quarterback sensation Cam Newton. The first selection of the NFL Draft has been tearing it up early in the season, throwing for 854 yards and three touchdowns. He’s also rushed for 71 yards and two scores. 
 
The problem is the physically-gifted Newton has also thrown four interceptions (see, don’t feel so bad Luke McCown) and has struggled to consistently read defenses.
Behind Newton, Carolina has two talented running backs that have been underutilized. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart were one of the league’s top one-two punches a few years ago but have combined for just 30 carries this year. Williams is averaging 2.5 yards per carry and Stewart is moving to the tune of 2.4 per, so production is an issue, but it seems odd that neither back has had the opportunity to get into a grove given their talent level. 
 
Attributing to the lack of a run game is the fact that Carolina has had some injuries amongst the offensive line. But when healthy, this is one of the league’s better units. Jordan Gross is a strong left tackle while center Ryan Kalil and right tackle Jeff Otah are above average-to-good. Otah missed last week’s game at Green Bay with a concussion but he should be back this Sunday. 
 
Carolina’s receivers should offset the problems in the run game though. Steve Smith has seen his career revitalized by Newton’s solid play. Smith, 32, has 334 receiving yards and two touchdowns so far this year. He also has seven plays of 20 yards or more. Brandon LaFell has been a solid second option, while the tight end duo of Jeremy Shockey and Greg Olsen is awfully tough for teams to match up against. Stewart has 114 yards out of the back field.
 
What it means for Jacksonville: The Jaguars have been stellar on defense so far this year and are stout against the run. Unfortunately, dealing with a scrambling quarterback with the arm strength of Newton will cause some problems for an iffy secondary. The Jaguars also have a difficult time defending tight ends and will have to go against two good ones in Shockey and Olsen. Winning first and second down will be crucial for the Jaguars this week.

Defense 
 
The Panthers have been struggling on this side of the ball. They rank in the bottom seven in the league in points allowed per game (29) and yards allowed (406.5 per game) through two contests. 
 
Defensive end Charles Johnson is regarded as the team’s top player and for good reason. He logged 11.5 sacks last year before becoming a free agent and re-signing with Carolina. It seems like the money hasn’t gone to his head, as he’s gotten off to a hot start in 2011, totaling two sacks already. 
 
Physical freak Greg Hardy starts opposite of Charles. While the former Mississippi standout didn’t live up to his expectations his final year in college, he has the potential to create some problems for teams when they focus too much on Charles. 
 
Carolina is vulnerable inside, where they start rookie tackles Sione Fua and Terrell McClain. 
 
Linebacker also appears to be a problem for Carolina, as starters Jon Beason and Thomas Davis are out for the year with ACL injuries. James Anderson is productive and Omar Gaither isn’t a bad outside linebacker either, but both are significant drop offs from the athletic duo of Beason and Davis. 
 
Carolina’s secondary is also a weakness. Chris Gamble is a solid cornerback, but after that the team lacks playmakers. The Panthers have zero interceptions this year.
 
What it means for Jacksonville: It’s a good first game for rookie Blaine Gabbert to start. The Panthers have playmakers on the outside but that’s about it. Maurice Jones-Drew will have a chance to get off on inside runs and Gabbert can then settle in with some play action passes.  
Tags: Cam Newton, Carolina, Carolina Panthers, Charles Johnson, Football, Jacksonville, Jacksonville Jaguars, Maurice-Jones Drew, NFL, Steve Smith

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