The Carolina Panthers won their season opener in a game that wasn't as close as the final score indicates. They held the Tampa Bay Buccaneers scoreless until there were fewer than eight minutes left in the game, they outgained them by 70 yards and their quarterback had a passer rating over 30 points higher than the opponent.
While it wasn't a flashy win, the Panthers showed their clear superiority over the Bucs. But, they also gave us a peak at some of their weaknesses -- weaknesses that the Detroit Lions will try to exploit on Sunday in an effort to grab a big conference win.
The Panthers' offensive performance was modest overall. Derek Anderson did a valiant job stepping in for the injured Cam Newton, completing over 70 percent of his passes for an adequate 230 yards. Carolina managed just 20 points and 334 yards, but it was enough to get the victory.
However, the Panthers struggled to get things going on the ground. Though they totaled 113 rushing yards in the game, they only managed 3.4 a carry. This was due to a brand new group of offensive linemen still trying to work out some chemistry.
This offseason, the Panthers played merry-go-round with their offensive line. Their right tackle became their left tackle, their right guard slid over to right tackle and they plugged in a rookie to fill the left guard vacancy. The result is very much still a work in progress, but their performance in Week 1 was not the full-fledged disaster that some were predicting. Still, it wasn't hard to find some chinks in the armor:
On the play above (third-and-1), the Panthers brought in two extra tackles on the right side, a tight end on the left side and a fullback in the backfield to load up the line of scrimmage. But watch as Ndamukong Suh-clone Gerald McCoy busts through a double-team on the right side of the line to make the play in the backfield.
Last week, the Lions held the New York Giants and their questionable offensive line to just 2.4 yards per carry. This week they'll have an opportunity to do so again, but there is one major factor in their way: the return of Cam Newton. Newton brings an extra dimension to the Panthers running game, and the Lions will undoubtedly see some option looks.
Defending the option is no easy task, but let's take a look at how it can be done, again by looking at the Bucs:
The key here is quick recognition by both the defensive end and the outside linebacker (this is also a poor read from Newton, for the record). The good news for the Lions is that they have quick, instinctual players at those positions in Ziggy Ansah and DeAndre Levy.
Overall, the Panthers offense is dependent on a good running game. The Lions have a big advantage on the line of scrimmage and that may be enough to slow the Panthers' offensive attack to a crawl.
On defense, the Lions will be facing a Panthers team that looks like the inverse of the Giants team they faced last week. The Panthers have one of the best front sevens in the league, but their secondary remains a bit suspect.
Last week Tampa wasn't able to get much of anything going in the passing game. The Panthers were able to successfully bring pressure all day, and unfortunately for the Bucs, they have a quarterback who makes plays like this:
Last season, Matthew Stafford made a living by getting rid of the ball quickly. On Monday night, we saw what he could do with a little extra time. However, with Carolina's strong defensive line, and the Lions ailing on the offensive line, Stafford may be wise to get rid of the ball quickly again. This requires Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate to get quick separation from their defenders, which is easy to envision, especially against this Carolina secondary. Expect a lot of quick outs and post routes to avoid the Panthers' solid linebacking crew.
The Panthers will be a much bigger test for the Lions this week. Carolina is better on both sides of the ball than the Giants were, and playing on the road will up the stakes even higher. But if the Lions can control the line of scrimmage on defense and utilize their talented receivers against a subpar secondary, they will have a good chance to move to 2-0.