When the Las Vegas Raiders open their season in Carolina, they will encounter a vastly different Panthers team. Unlike years past, this team bears only a slight resemblance and approach to the previous season. Franchise quarterback Cam Newton plays in New England. Newton was the Carolina Panthers. Through ups and downs, big wins and crushing losses, Newton served as the constant, the face of the franchise. Arguably the best offensive player to suit up in Charlotte, Newton cast a shadow that will hover over this franchise until the team wins and excels offensively.
Matt the Rhuler
When the Panthers hired Matt Rhule, nary an eyebrow raise. However, the length and money of the deal shocked many. After signing a seven-year, 68-million dollar deal, Carolina showed astounding faith in him. As a result, Rhule attempts to remake the franchise. While Riverboat Ron Rivera plies his trade in DC, Rhule brings a different dynamic. He’s a team builder that changes the culture. Remember, Rhule took over at Baylor and the Briles mess, turning around a disaster.
Joe Brady may not ring any bells, yet. Meanwhile, he served as the architect of the 2019-20 LSU offense. The same one that lit up scoreboards en route to securing a national championship. Despite his age (30), Brady appears to grasp the most important part of the offense: understand your personnel. Opponents use the phrase ” playmakers in space” That is to say, whether underneath or vertically, the Panthers will test defenses in one-on-one opportunities.
The Panthers will field three wideouts, a fullback, and a running back. If you look at the Panthers depth chart, the tight end appears absent. If you’ve followed the Raiders over the decade, you understand how much this helps the Silver and Black. A decade or so of failing to cover the tight end, a much-needed break should benefit the defense. With that, the emphasis on the back and wideouts should cause the Raiders a concern or two.
Teddy B in Charlotte
After Cam Newton departed, the Panthers signed a quarterback that appears as the polar opposite on the field as one could be. While Cam Newton took chances with his arm and legs, Teddy Bridgewater brings a different dynamic. Measured and deliberate, Bridgewater realizes his limits and stays within himself. To borrow a line from a classic song, Bridgewater sticks to ” the rivers and streams that he’s used to”.
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The Raiders will not see designed runs or scrambles when the play breaks down. Even before his catastrophic need injury, Bridgewater never profiled as a dual-threat. Yet, what he will do is place the ball on time, with touch. Last year, as a Saint, Bridgewater completed 81 percent of his on-target passes. The Raiders need to expect timing routes and a quick release. Bridgewater may take one or two shots downfield but will attempt to eat the intermediate areas.
CMC Yardage Factory
Despite stereotypes and laziness of others, Christian McCaffrey can lay claim to the title of the best running back in the NFL. If not, with Alvin Kamara close, the most versatile. McCaffrey will never bowl over defenders. That will never be a part of his game. However, unlike Kamara, the entire offense runs through McCaffrey. What else do you call a running back that tallied 413 touches and a thousand yards rushing and receiving?
How McCaffrey Terrorizes Defenses
Playing right into Joe Brady’s offensive intentions, McCaffrey gets to the perimeter with relative ease. The Raiders need to secure the one-on-one stop in space. That falls on the linebackers. Littleton, Kwiatkoski, and McMillan cannot fail in this spot, as McCaffrey runs to daylight in a hurry. Imagine the Panthers slotting their three wideouts to the left, with McCaffrey to Bridewater’s right. That overload will see a one-on-one with a defender.
The Panthers feature an intriguing mix of receivers that provide a fun matchup for the Raiders. DJ Moore, head and shoulders, is the lead wideout. He traces fairly crisp routes with quickness, securing passes with a steady stab. Moore and Trayvon Mullen should see plenty of each other this Sunday. Free Agent signing and former Temple standout Robby Anderson gives Carolina a big-play threat to stretch the defenses. Initially, the battle between Damon Arnette and Anderson should entertain. As mentioned, Bridgewater won’t test the secondary often deep. Yet, the jam between the physical Arnette and the deceptively strong Anderson should open eyes.
When the Raiders climbed towards their 2016 dream season, Seth Roberts played a role. Now, most of us remember Roberts as a feast-or-famine receiver. Meaning, he would make the tough catches, but drop the routine ones, much to the frustration of coaches and fans alike. After signing a lucrative deal, the Panthers count on Roberts to fill out the receivers group. The best way to describe Roberts is enough. He does enough of each aspect of the job to warrant defensive attention. In the run game, he will willing block, provided he doesn’t catch a penalty.
In all honesty, the Carolina Panthers’ skill position players possess the potential to compete this Sunday. Yet, with a new coach and quarterback, the Raiders should win. However, with this team, it will never be easy.