Despite completely changing their identity, the Carolina Panthers of 2020 feature Christian McCaffrey, Teddy Bridgewater, and wide receivers like D.J. Moore, Curtis Samuel, and Robby Anderson. The Las Vegas Raiders will need to account for them if they want to win their Week 1 matchup.
The Raiders will face a revamped Panthers team
Gone are the days of Ron Rivera, Cam Newton, and Luke Kuechkly. Head Coach Matt Rhule and offensive coordinator Joe Brady are overseeing a roster that’s been rehauled but could be surprisingly sufficient. Expect the offense to focus around McCaffrey like in 2019, but the wide receivers corps could help spread the field much like the Los Angeles Rams of 2018, and more recently, the San Francisco 49ers, did. With the season opener this Sunday, a big mystery remains of how the offense will look under Brady’s domain. Here are three key Panthers players to watch on Sunday.
No.1 Running back
In 2019, McCaffrey averaged slightly over 25 touches per game, which saw him amass 1,187 rushing yards and 1,005 receiving yards. While Rhule may want to distribute the ball around, McCaffrey should remain a focal point of the offense.
Last season, 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh detailed why McCaffrey is such a talented player to Grant Cohn of the Associated Press.
“He’s not your typical scatback that you can blow on and he’ll fall,” Saleh said. ”He runs through arm tackles. He’ll make you miss, he’ll run right through you. He’ll outrun you. He’s tremendous with the ball in his hands.”
While the Panthers offensive line is questionable, McCaffrey’s talent is not. He’s versatile as a runner and a pass-catcher that has excellent balance to break through tackles. This will be a big test for the Raiders’ improved defensive line and newly acquired linebackers.
2. Wide receiver
D.J. Moore had a successful 2019 season and gained over 1,000 yards and four touchdowns last season. At 6’0″ and 209 lbs, he has decent size and strength, but Rhule expects even more of him this season.
”D.J. has to take another step this year and be that dominant, physical go-to receiver on third-and-5 that you’re going to, and in the red zone that you’re going to,” Rhule said. ”Take the best matchup of the other team’s best corner and just dominate it. That’s the step that he has to take.”
According to Jonathan M. Alexander of the Charlotte Observer, Moore has been impressive in training camp. He has stood out in one-on-one battles with good separation and crisp route running.
Not sure if the #Eagles can pull it off, but DJ Moore would be astounding.
Went to high school at Imhotep Institute Charter School in Philadelphia. pic.twitter.com/EZDMcAOs3h
— Victor Williams (@ThePhillyPod) March 24, 2020
Moore is fast and is more than capable to run go-routes. He’s spent significant time working on his route running this offseason, on top of his ability to gain yards after the catch. Raiders cornerbacks Trayvon Mullen and Damon Arnette will need to jam him up at the line of scrimmage and blanket him to limit his big-play potential.
No. 3 Quarterback
Teddy Bridgewater flourishes with short and accurate passes and is a good game manager. In five starts, he averaged slightly over seven yards per pass attempt in 2019, which bodes well for McCaffrey, who is one of the best pass-catching running backs, and Moore, who excels in slant routes.
So many new faces in Carolina… Here's Teddy Bridgewater hitting Robby Anderson for a TD at training camp.
— Ari Meirov (@MySportsUpdate) August 16, 2020
However, Bridgewater is capable of throwing the deep ball. According to Alexander, Bridgewater successfully linked up with Robby Anderson on multiple 40-yard passes throughout training camp.
We know who Bridgewater is, the wild card that remains is Brady, and how the offense will perform under his watch. Brady spent a year with Bridgewater and the New Orleans Saints before he moved onto Louisiana State University, where he helped make LSU and Joe Burrow an offensive powerhouse. Can he do the same with the Panthers at the NFL level?
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Top Photo: Grant Halverson/Getty Images