Carolina Panthers vs. Houston Texans Preview: What to Watch For
The Carolina Panthers return to the football field on Saturday to take on the Houston Texans. Just like the Texans jumped from an average unit to a playoff team lats year, the Carolina Panthers hope to make major strides and even reach the playoffs. In fact, some Panthers already have Super Bowl on the brain.
We’ve already seen great improvement on offense, and if Brandon LaFell can take the next step, we’ll likely see even more in 2012. The same could go for a defense that was simply awful in 2011, as they’ve added rookie stud linebacker, Luke Kuechly.
Here are the top things to watch for when the Panthers go to battle with the Texans on Saturday:
1. Luke Kuechly’s Debut
Kuechly racked up an inane 500+ tackles in three years at Boston College, and is coming in to start right away on the weak-side of Carolina’s base 4-3 defense. He’s an underrated athlete with excellent instincts and sound fundamentals. We know the kid can play, but we don’t know how big of an impact he’ll have on this defense as a rookie. Don’t be shocked if the Panthers keep the rook out on the field longer than some of the other starters.
2. Derek Anderson vs. Jimmy Clausen
Everyone will be watching Cam Newton’s progress, but we won’t see much of him in the first game. Maybe 1-2 series, at best. That means we’ll see a heck of a lot of the big-armed Anderson and second-round bust, Clausen. The battle is on for the top backup job behind Newton, and while the more experienced Anderson is clearly the front-runner, nothing is set in stone. It will be interesting to see if Clausen can close the gap and start to show the potential that got him drafted as Carolina’s franchise passer in the first place.
3. Brandon LaFell and the Wide Receivers
LaFell’s development as the team’s number two wide receiver will be a story-line to follow leading into week one, but we probably won’t see a whole lot of him in the first game. He’ll be worth monitoring, though, and then we also should get heavy doses of other guys like Joe Adams, Armanti Edwards, Louis Murphy and Seyi Ajirotutu. Those guys are long shots to challenge LaFell, but could still be in the mix for the number two or number three gig.
4. Panthers Special Teams
As I pointed out in a recent article, the Panthers will have Olindo Mare be pushed by Justin Medlock, so we should get a look at both of them kicking field goals and extra points. We should also get to see Joe Adams and likely some other bodies taking their crack at fielding punts.
5. Houston’s Wide Receivers
The big thing over in Houston will be their young wide receivers. Andre Johnson was back at practice (hamstring) this week, but he’s no lock to see the field in their first preseason game. However, we should get a long look at rookie DeVier Posey, as well as Lestar Jean and Keshawn Martin. Posey has been coming along slowely, but both Jean and Martin have drawn rave reviews at times over the summer.
6. Whitney Mercilus
Mario Williams is gone, so it’ll be fun to see just how the rookie outside linebacker adjusts to life in the NFL. The Texans hope he can slide into their pass-rush rotation and make an impact.
7. Frank Alexander
The Panthers struggled against both the run and the pass in 2011, so I’m excited to see what defensive end Alexander can bring to the table. He looks to have enough versatility to help against both the run and put pressure on the quarterback, but it really remains to be seen. He’ll be a guy I keep my eye on for as long as he’s in on Saturday.
Enjoy the game and be sure to come back for a recap, as well as next week’s preseason game!