Whether you're an apprentice of a future-faring football god that predicts playoffs and an undefeated season, or a fan that's observed two games in which the Bengals have been outscored by 31 points combined in the first half, the reality is that Cincinnati is gearing up for their third preseason game of the year Thursday night; historically considered the dress rehearsal before the regular season.
The Bengals Thursday night opponent, the Carolina Panthers, sported a 2010 regular season worse than the Bengals' four-win dormancy. So it's like a certain symmetry that two of last year's worse teams, hoping to rebound with a young quarterback and established running backs, measure against each other. Jaxon from Cat Scratch Reader, SB Nation's Carolina Panthers blog, gives us some knowledge on what to expect Thursday night. [you can read our responses to their questions here]
When you found out that the Carolina Panthers were drafting quarterback Cam Newton, what was your initial reaction? Did you have another favorite or was he the natural choice?
Jaxon: It appears now the Panthers were pretty sold on Newton from the start though they went through their due diligence. I was more on the Blaine Gabbert bandwagon for a good while but once it became apparent Newton was the guy I mostly felt resolute. After training camp and a couple preseason games I don’t question the pick any longer. It’s going to take Newton a couple seasons to really own the playbook but he‘s going to be a good QB. I think we will get a good comparison between he and Dalton (and Clausen for that matter) in this game. In the meantime he’s going to be fun to watch.
How does head coach Ron Rivera intend to improve an offense that ranked 32nd last year and how much and how critical was DeAngelo Williams return during free agency and the Greg Olsen acquisition?
Jaxon: I’m thinking Rivera is leaving it up to offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski to resurrect the offense. Better QB play will be the key but also adding some skill players in the passing game. I expect a closer to 50/50 run-pass balance that includes more passes to the TEs and RBs. Hence, bringing back Williams and trading for Olsen were key moves. Obviously Olsen will be a target but also in this game look for WR Armanti Edwards, who also returns punts, to work from the slot as well maybe execute a couple gimmick plays. We also would love to see WR Brandon LaFell step up and claim the #2WR spot opposite Steve Smith.
What was your reaction to Charles Johnson six-year contract worth $76 million and $32 million guaranteed? Is he worth it or could the money have been used elsewhere, even considering the Panthers cap number?
Jaxon: I think it was and will remain worth the price paid. Most of that money will count towards year one so though it’s a large amount it will only weigh down the cap one season. More surprising to me regarding the Johnson signing was the fact the entire coaching staff and GM Marty Hurney flew to South Florida to make the offer. Talk about overwhelming force…they knew he felt slighted when the Panthers franchised C Ryan Kalil instead him. Throw in the $30M check in hand and Johnson is a happy camper. Oh and we call him ‘Big Money’ now.
Game situation: Panthers are down by four points at the Bengals three-yard line with two seconds left in the game. Next play determines the winner. Unfortunately DeAngelo Williams is hurt. Who gets the ball?
Jaxon: If it was the one yard line I would say RB Jonathan Stewart. Three yards and I say run play action with a roll out and hit Shockey across the middle, Smith in the corner or just have Newton run it in. In preseason game one Giants DE Alex Hall jumped on Newton’s back and Newton carried him for a couple steps. I’ll take him on the edge to get 3 yards…but not what I would prefer really.
Game situation: Panthers are up by four points with Bengals on Carolina’s three-yard line with two seconds left in the game. Bengals score wins them the game. Which Panthers defender should we anticipate making the play to prevent the touchdown?
Jaxon: In this game given back-ups are most likely in the game, one of our LB’s makes the play. My guess is Omar Gaither or Thomas Williams if the Bengals run the ball. If it’s a pass S Jordan Pugh or CB Kendrick Burney break up the pass.
If this were a regular season game I’m looking for Johnson or LBs Jon Beason or Thomas Davis to make a play. We pretty high on our safeties too and their ability to make plays on the ball in the air, Charles Godfrey & Sherrod Martin.