Coming this Sunday, the Las Vegas Raiders will kick off their 2020 campaign in Carolina, where they will take on the new-look Panthers.
First, we’re gonna take a look at a brief summary of the Panthers’ 2020 offseason.
- Matt Rhule (Head Coach)
- QB Teddy Bridgewater
- S Juston Burris
- QB Cam Newton
- DL Gerald McCoy
- CB James Bradberry
- DL Vernon Butler
While the offense looks very different from last year, one thing still rings true: Their offense will run through Christian McCaffrey. Even though new head coach Matt Rhule may not be directly involved with calling the plays, his favorite offensive strategy throughout his career has been to control the game, primarily with the rushing attack. His offense bodes well for this too. Christian McCaffrey is arguably the best running back in the game, so the Panthers won’t struggle too much running the ball. Teddy Bridgewater is excellent at managing games, and if he plays anything like his stint with the Saints last year he’ll be more than what this offense needs. D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson are perfectly capable wideouts, especially down the field.
The Panthers’ offense should look very similar to Jon Gruden’s offense. However, Rhule has always been an aggressive coach, and the same can’t be said for Gruden. Rhule doesn’t shy away from going for it on fourth down. I would expect to see two very similar offensive game plans come Sunday, with the only difference being the risk-taking of the two head coaches.
The Raiders’ defense is going to have to contain McCaffrey as well as possible if the Raiders want to win on Sunday. ‘C-mac’ is easily one of the best play-makers in the league and we can expect him to be the focal point of this Carolina’s offense. If the Raiders are able to stop the run efficiently and keep Moore or Anderson from breaking loose down the field, they should leave Carolina 1-0.
The Panthers defense lost some key pieces this offseason, and it’s fair to say they may field one of the worst defenses in the NFL in 2020. Their two main stars on defense; James Bradberry and Luke Kuechly both left, and they will be starting three rookies.
Brian Burns showed a lot of promise last year, but aside from him, there isn’t much of a threat on the Panthers defensive line. Two rookies will be starting, with Derrick Brown at defensive tackle, and Yetur Gross-Matos at right end. Both these players should be fun to watch, but the Raiders’ veteran offensive line shouldn’t have trouble winning this battle.
Remember fan-favorite Tahir Whitehead? He’ll get the nod at middle linebacker this week. While he didn’t play well for Oakland last year, he brings a veteran presence to this young defense, which is important for a middle linebacker. Shaq Thompson, arguably the Panthers best player on defense, will start at outside linebacker while Jermaine Carter and Jeremy Chinn will start opposite of him. This is a very decent linebacker core, but if it weren’t for Thompson this would be a weak unit.
The secondary for the Panthers will be an interesting unit. Donte Jackson is their No. 1 cornerback, and he’s a player I’m very fond of. Jackson is one of the more underrated corners in the league, and he’ll be matched up against Henry Ruggs this week. This will be a VERY interesting matchup, and in my opinion, it’s one of the more intriguing matchups around the league this week. Another rookie, Troy Pride Jr, will be starting opposite Jackson. He’s gonna be matched up against Bryan Edwards, so this rookie-on-rookie matchup will be interesting to watch as well. I’d expect the Raiders to target Edwards often in this matchup.
Raiders 3 Keys to win
As I mentioned earlier, the Raiders must do their best to contain Christian McCaffrey. He is undoubtedly the face of the Panthers’ franchise at this point, and if they contain him they should easily win this game. If they let him run rampant, the Panthers will put up a fight and possibly upset the Raiders.
Second, the Raiders need to get Darren Waller involved early and often. Ruggs and Edwards are both going to see their first NFL action this week, and the Alabama standout is facing a very solid cornerback. The Panthers don’t seem to have a great option when it comes to covering Waller, so this will be a mismatch. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the rookie wideouts struggle a bit this week, so the tight end should be relied on.
Finally, Jon Gruden needs to control the pace of the game through Josh Jacobs. Carolina won’t have a good run defense this year, and the Raiders will field one of the best offensive lines in the league. There is no doubt in my mind Jacobs will have a big day, and the Raiders can control the tempo and clock by controlling the run game.
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*Top Photo: D. Ross Cameron/Associated Press