The Rams game showed the Panthers to be able to efficiently put together drives. Like last week, look for the Panthers to put up exotic looks to disguise more basic convention
Despite all the hype on Mario Williams, Demeco Ryans was the better pick last year for value and the better player out of the gate. That still stands, and hopefully the Panthers will not buy into the hype. If they put too many resources onto Williams, they'll be doing so for no reason. Last week's AFC Defensive Player of the Week simply isn't as good as the hype, but did make some nice plays last week. Ryans isn't an elite rusher, but does everything else well. He's undoubtedly the defensive leader, leading tackler, and a very good cover man as well.
From the Texans' standpoint, they'll be using Ryans to try to stop Jeff King; the young TE wasn't elite and won't be, but is a good route runner and the Panthers use him on 2nd down and long first downs to shorten the conversion distance. The Texans will be looking to keep blockers off Ryans, and have enough size on the DL to make it happen, and have enough talent on paper to challenge the zone blocking scheme. Nonetheless, space eating aside, the Texans aren't that active up front, and last year's unit fared 22nd in the league against the run.
Three high first round picks sit on the DL, with good size amongst all four. Amobi Okoye is 302, a top ten last year; fellow DT Travis Johnson, at 305, was a 16 overall in 2005; Williams, 290, was a first overall. Anthony Weaver, a 2nd rounder from Baltimore, is 280. The depth declines from there; ND Kalu, a situational rusher, is barely 260 and declining from his situational days; Jeff Zgonina, a Panther back in 1995-1996, is quickly aging depth at DT. One key to watch will involve passing while in Williams' area of the field; Jake Delhomme had a lot of batted passes at the line and Williams is 6'7.
The Chiefs ran for 4.2 yards/carry last week, and that's including being down by two scores. The Texans aren't impossible to run against, by any means, and only Ryans is an elite defender against the run. Williams is above average, and will be a task for Travelle Wharton in that regard; Wharton need only stay wide and open against Williams to keep him at bay against the pass. Mike Wahle takes on Johnson, Ryan Kalil takes on the raw Okoye, and Gross will draw Weaver, but will probably see some of Williams as well.
These matchups aren't unfavorable for Carolina, and this defensive unit can be moved. The key will be combo blocks, including on strongside runs trying to get Hartwig into Okoye and Kalil to combo onto Ryans. Morlon Greenwood, a 7 year veteran, can be pushed around on the backside and Deangelo Williams had a lot of success turning the corner on backside runs last week. Danny Clark was a very productive player for the Raiders a few years ago, but is limited athletically and hasn't done much since.
The Texans only had 28 sacks last year, part of the reason they picked manchild Okoye to add to the defensive line. Spending four consecutive first round picks on defensive linemen hasn't paid off nearly as well as you'd expect. Departed (and ill-fitting) former first rounder Jason Babin was their sack leader with 5; Williams and Ryans were the only others above 2. The Texans don't bring much pressure, and didn't make many plays on the ball last year (32nd in the league defended passes, 23rd with 13 INT).
Corners Dunta Robinson and Demarcus Faggins (whose high school career, despite the football background, must've been hell with that name) had 2 INT apiece, with 7 others chipping in one. Robinson has average size and is solid in man technique, but isn't a good matchup for them against Steve Smith. Faggins isn't a standout in any area and seems to struggle in all. The Texans brought in Jamar Fletcher to compete for the job, but failed to win it. The Panthers may be best to spread the Texans defense, simply giving more looks for Delhomme against questionable corners, especially matching Drew Carter against the smallish corners deeper. The Texans' corners don't jump routes, they don't contest passes, and while they generally stay in the vicinity of their man, they're not going to make you pay with punishing hits.
Underneath, Ryans is good in coverage; Greenwood is average, Clark well below. If the Panthers screen underneath, Ryans or Williams could be threats to the screen; both are relatively active defenders. Clark has the size to match to King, but is stiff and relatively unable to cover. Deep, safety is in flux; Will Demps, just signed, may start at FS, and Michael Boulware may or may not be starting at SS after being a preseason acquisition. Both are, on paper, very solid, but neither have been there long enough to take root and the Texans will be going simple on calls if they're both playing.
Overall, the Panthers need to establish the run and take some shots deep when the mood strikes. The Texans are susceptible and the Panthers would like to put them away early.