WR Jordy Nelson caught a TD pass last week and is just one of Aaron Rodgers' many weapons. (AP Photo)
GAME: Packers (1-0) at Panthers (0-1)
TIME: 1 p.m., FOX
ANNOUNCERS: Ron Pitts, Jim Mora
LAST WEEK: Packers defeated the Saints 42-34. Panthers lost to the Cardinals 28-21.
RANKINGS AMONG NFL: Green Bay offense overall: 8th; 14th RUSHING; 9th PASSING; 1st SCORING; Green Bay defense overall: t-29th; 13th RUSHING; 30th PASSING; t-26th SCORING; Carolina offense overall: t-3rd; 23rd RUSHING; 2nd PASSING; 19th SCORING; Carolina defense overall: 24th; 18th RUSHING; 23rd PASSING; 22nd SCORING
BY THE NUMBERS: 477 – Total yards by Carolina’s offense last week, more than they put up in any game last season.
PANTHERS OFFENSIVE GAME PLAN: The Panthers will have to overcompensate for not having RT Jeff Otah in the lineup, meaning running backs and tight ends may have to stay in and help chip for sub Byron Bell. Expect more of the same from the Panthers this week as they’ll be throwing the ball more this season with Cam Newton at the helm. Don’t be shocked if he throws it more than 35 times and throws for at least 280 yards.
PANTHERS DEFENSIVE GAME PLAN: The Panthers are without MLB Jon Beason, so that immediately makes them slower and less talented in the middle of the field. Dan Connor is a solid reserve, but he’s not Beason. The Panthers probably won’t blitz Aaron Rodgers as much as they did the Cardinals especially since nobody was better at beating the blitz last year than Rodgers. Carolina needs to keep tabs on TE Jermichael Finley.
KEYS FOR THE PANTHERS:
1. Pressure Aaron Rodgers. The Panthers have to find a way to slow down Rodgers, who’s making the game look simple right now. The only way to do it is to get pressure on him and force him to throw earlier than he wants while at the same time disrupting the receivers' routes. That said, the Panthers can’t go all-out blitz too much or he’ll burn them.
2. Get Steve Smith involved. Sure, it won’t be easy and it could take some creativity, but the Panthers can’t simply use Smith as a decoy. Not in this game. They have to find ways to get him the ball even if by unconventional means.
3. Don’t go away from the run too early. At some point, the Panthers are going to need to establish the run with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart and what better week to do it than against the Super Bowl champs? Carolina need to keep Rodgers off the field and a steady dose of Williams and Stewart is the best method. Trouble is RT Byron Bell is a better pass protector than run blocker..
KEYS FOR THE PACKERS:
1. Don’t look ahead. The Packers have a huge game next week against Chicago, but they can’t afford to take the Panthers lightly. Cam Newton is the real deal and the Packers have to understand that coming in or they could fall into a trap game situation.
2. Confuse Newton. Look for defensive coordinator Dom Capers to pressure the heck out of the Panthers and do his best to confuse Newton by dripping different linemen into coverage. Capers’ defense is complicated and has a lot of different looks. His units typically have good success against rookie quarterbacks.
3. Air it out. Put the game in the hands of Rodgers and you probably can’t go wrong. The Panthers secondary is very suspect, particularly at nickel back where safety Charles Godfrey is getting work. Lost in the all of the Newton hype is the fact the Panthers allowed Kevin Kolb to throw for 309 yards and two scores last week, twice giving up long TDs on blown assignments.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Packers WR Greg Jennings vs. Panthers CB Chris Gamble – The Panthers had Gamble shadow Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald everywhere he went on the field last Sunday and it’s reasonable to suspect the Panthers will put him on Jennings this week. All things considered, Gamble did a solid job on Fitzgerald, holding him to three catches for 62 yards while drawing praise from coach Ron Rivera.
Panthers offensive line vs. Packers blitz package – Although the Panthers gave up four sacks last week, they actually did pretty well in pass protection. Some of those were coverage sacks or Cam Newton holding on to the ball too long and not wanting to make a play. The Cardinals did throw everything imaginable at the Panthers and you can expect the Packers will do the same in an attempt to rattle Newton and force him to make mistakes.
FANTASY WATCH: When it comes to the Packers, start everyone. It’s as simple as that. Rodgers, Jennings, Mason Crosby and their defense/special teams are must-plays and Nelson isn’t a bad option either. But the start of the week at tight end might be Finley, who should exploit Carolina’s defense. At running back the Packers have a platoon system in place, but John Starks is the better option here even though Ryan Grant is the starter.
For the Panthers, TE Greg Olsen should be a particularly good option this week as the Packers are likely to try to take Steve Smith away and give up the underneath stuff. You have to figure Newton will put up decent numbers since the Panthers will likely be playing from behind and will throw a bunch. I’d be hesitant to start Smith this week even after a huge game last Sunday.
NOTABLE: DE Charles Johnson has a sack in his last eight straight games for the Panthers dating back to last season. Johnson had a sack on Kevin Kolb in the first series of Sunday’s loss to Arizona.
PREDICTION: I just don’t see how the Panthers win this game unless Rodgers has an outer body experience or gets hurt. Even then, the Packers simply have too much talent. That said, I think Carolina scores some points and keeps it fairly competitive. Score: Green Bay 35, Carolina 24. (Steve’s record: 1-0; last week’s pick: Arizona 27, Carolina 24).