Bryan Strickland Senior Writer
Charlotte, NC August 15, 2013 – Practices early in the preseason are focused on getting the Panthers prepared for how they’re going to play come the regular season, leaving little time to game-plan for preseason opponents.
But the Philadelphia Eagles, who will host the Panthers on Thursday night at 7:30, forced the Panthers to spend some extra time preparing this week.
“The hard thing about this game is that you have to prepare for a completely different style of offense. It took a little bit of time away from our preparations for more conventional football,” head coach Ron Rivera said. “On defense, we’ve had to do a little more game-planning than you want to in the preseason.
“Offensively, we’ll be facing a 3-4. We obviously see the 4-3 every day in practice, so this might help us because we’ll see a little bit of that from Seattle.”
The preseason is geared toward having the Panthers ready when the Seahawks visit Bank of America Stadium on September 8 for the regular season opener. To that end, here are some areas of focus for the Eagles game.
GETTING UP TO SPEED: The Panthers are anxious to find out what their new-look defense looks like.
They should get plenty of chances against the Eagles’ fast-break offense.
“We have to play very fast because I know they are going to come out no-huddle and try to catch us on our heels,” cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. “It’s going to be a great test for us.”
The Eagles’ breakneck pace under first-year head coach Chip Kelly should give the Panthers defense ample opportunity to work on communication. They prepared for it in practice by having defensive players turn their backs to the offense while it was in the huddle before turning around just a couple of seconds before the offense snapped the ball.
The Panthers have greatly improved their depth on defense. They should get a good gauge on the quality of their depth against the Eagles in addition to getting to see the benefit of having enough depth to keep individuals fresh.
LINE ITEMS: The Panthers want to establish themselves as a potent running team, an identity that must begin up front.
Carolina did a remarkable job running the ball behind a makeshift line late last season, so the Panthers certainly can get the job done with Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil back from injury. He’s joined by tackles Jordan Gross and Byron Bell and quickly developing left guard Amini Silatolu, the trio that anchored the offensive line down the stretch in 2012.
Questions must be answered at right guard and with the second unit. The team had enough confidence in Garry Williams at right guard to part ways with veteran Geoff Hangartner early in training camp, but the second unit is in flux. Jeff Byers is a dependable backup at center, but the top healthy tackle on the depth chart behind Gross and Bell is recently converted defensive lineman Nate Chandler. Hayworth Hicks and recently acquired Chris Scott are being counted on to provide depth at guard as rookie Edmund Kugbila (hamstring) heals.
The Eagles, who allowed 248 rushing yards in their preseason opener against New England, look like a good opponent to try to build confidence against.
TURNOVER TALE: The defense spent much of the offseason focused of finding ways to force turnovers. Mission accomplished in the preseason opener against the Chicago Bears, with four takeaways.
On the other hand, the offense gave it away four times.
Quarterback Cam Newton had a solid debut save for one play, an interception on his final snap that had him lobbying for one more series to make amends. He’ll get his chance against the Eagles.
High turnover numbers are never particularly surprising early in the preseason, but it’s still encouraging to see the defense force the issue. On offense, Newton doesn’t want to force the issue, striving to get back to consistently making good decisions like he did late last season.