DT Tommy Kelly wraps up the ball carrier when the Raiders faced the Panthers in 2008. Photo by Tony Gonzales
The Oakland Raiders travel to Charlotte, N.C., to face the Panthers for only the fifth time in history. The two teams first met in 1997 and have only played four times, each winning two match ups. "It's an added dimension and added challenge because this team hasn't played Carolina," said Head Coach Dennis Allen. "The biggest issue is understanding the personnel and really what guys can do and really that'll be the biggest thing we have to look at throughout the week."
The Silver and Black will be facing a Panthers team coming off a 31-7 win over the Chargers in San Diego. They will also have to contend with QB Cam Newton, who has thrown for 3,451 yards and 18 touchdowns and added another seven rushing touchdowns. "Cam can do everything well," said defensive coordinator Jason Tarver. "He's a great athlete. He feels the game. He does a good job on both run and pass game of seeing the guys that are open and he's tall enough to look at it and find them. He's big enough to move around things. He does a nice job."
The defense will need to be prepared for Newton to not only throw, but also use his legs. "He creates a lot of other issues that you have to worry about," said Coach Allen. "You have to worry about him in the passing game just scrambling around and keeping the play alive. Obviously, they use him in a lot of different ways in the running game also. He presents some unique challenges."
Newton's skill set has been studied closely by the Raiders defense this week and the defensive line wants to disrupt him as much as possible. "As a pass rusher, the first thing you've got to be able to do is stop the run, make them one dimensional, make it to where you know they're going to pass and then you'll be able to pass rush better," said DT Desmond Bryant, who had a sack against Kansas City last week.
Bryant and his teammates are aware of the talented athlete they will be facing. "I expect to see an amazing quarterback do some amazing things," said Bryant. "Hopefully we'll be able to limit the amount that he's able to do, but at the same time you know he's a great athlete, he's a great quarterback, you know he's going to be able to make some plays out there. You just want to try to prevent him from being able to run and get him to where he's throwing the ball and hopefully we'll be able to stop him."
LB Philip Wheeler, who also recorded a sack against Kansas City, believes the defense can get to Newton if they win their one-on-one battles. "Really by just trying to defeat the man you line up against, just like we always do," said Wheeler. "It starts at practice, paying attention to the protections and schemes that they do on the offensive line and just beating the man that you line up against."
The defense understands that Newton will be a challenge. "It's definitely tough with that run-pass element," said DB Michael Huff. "You can have great coverage and then all of a sudden he scrambles, breaks out, and you've got to find your coverage all over again so it's definitely tough on us but hopefully [we can] get a great pass rush and contain him."
Newton is not the only offensive threat; the Panthers have Steve Smith at wide receiver, DeAngelo Williams at running back, Mike Tolbert at fullback and Greg Olsen at tight end. "They have a lot of other players too that are tough," said Coach Allen. "Their running backs do a nice job. The tight ends are a nice receiving threat, speed threat down the field, and then they have some explosive weapons on the outside too. This is a challenging offense that we're facing."
Part of the challenge with the Panthers offense is their ability to go from a traditional pro-style offense to a read-option offense. "It's real difficult because they've got two different styles of running game," explained Coach Allen. "They've got their quarterback-read schemes that they run and then they've got their conventional pro-style offense runs that they do, so that's what makes them even more difficult. And then the fact that when they drop back to throw the ball, Cam can create with his legs. They present a lot of challenges in what they can do offensively because they have a lot of talented offensive football players. We've got a lot of weapons that we've got to take into account for."
On the other side of the ball, the Raiders offense looks to come out and put points on the board early. "Coming out fast," said QB Carson Palmer on how they need to end their East Coast trip struggles. "They're a team that scores fast and has struggled late, so we need to match their intensity early and come out of the gates firing. We need to find a way to score early slow them down early because that's something they've been really good at."
Coming out with extra energy will be RB Mike Goodson, who spent his first three years with Carolina before being traded to the Raiders in the off-season. "It's going to feel weird," said Goodson. "It's going to feel good though. Hopefully we get a win and it will feel real good."
The most notable Panthers defenders have been their defensive ends, Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson, and LB Luke Kuechly. "It's a group that doesn't need to bring a lot of exotic pressures," said Palmer. "This is the third week in a row we've played a really good defensive end combo. These two guys on the edge, they're both double digit sack guys. It doesn't matter, they can switch sides, it doesn't matter, that guy is going to be a good pass rusher. It's a team that doesn't need to bring a ton of pressure to get pressure. Like I said, between two guys they have 20-plus sacks."
Offensive coordinator Greg Knapp has been impressed with what the two edge rushers have brought this season. "Hardy has really gotten a lot better in pass rush," said Coach Knapp. "He's an impressive pass rusher. The fact that he can play inside as well as outside and still generate a lot of push in the pocket is impressive. [Charles Johnson] 95 on the other side also a couple elite moves for pass rushers, so it has been a challenge for us from a game planning standpoint to help protect."
T Jared Veldheer, who has already had to face the Broncos and Chiefs pass rushers the last two weeks, will be working against Hardy and Johnson this week. "They're a very solid front," said Veldheer. "They can really attack the pass. It's very evident the past two games, just turning on tape, especially when they had those leads early at Atlanta and San Diego. Great pass rushers and a really good front seven. They're good against the run too. It will be a good challenge and we're going to have to go in and execute."
The runners and receivers for the Raiders will also have to be wary of Kuechly, a rookie selected in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft. "He's all over the place," said Coach Allen. "He made every play in college and he's making a ton of them here in the National Football League. I think he's a really good football player. He's instinctive; he's fast; he's athletic. He plays extremely hard."
"I've been impressed with that 'Mike' linebacker," Coach Knapp said on Kuechly. "He was, I think, the ninth pick of the draft last year, 59, [Luke] Kuechly. He's really been impressive. He's got over 130 tackles. He's very active. He's taken charge as far as a leader goes for their defense. Done a nice job."
Palmer and his offense will have to overcome Kuechly's presence in the middle of the field. "He's played middle linebacker; he's played the strong side and the weak side. For a rookie to do that, it's pretty unorthodox," said Palmer. "There's not a lot of rookies that come in and play multiple positions. I think he's second or third in the league in tackles. To have those kind of statistics as a rookie is something you don't see. He has the stats, but you turn on the film, he just shows up. He's all over the place, harassing guys running routes, he's always around the ball making tackles and assisting on tackles, so he's a very good pick for them."
The Raiders want to string two victories together and overcome their struggles winning games on the East Coast. Sunday, the Raiders will have their final East Coast opportunity of 2012. The Raiders will face the Panthers at 10:00 a.m. PT at Bank of America Stadium on CBS (KPIX-5 local). Follow along on the Raiders official Facebook page, Twitter and Raiders.com for full coverage of Sunday's matchup.