It looks to be a defensive clash as the Panthers open the preseason hosting Buffalo Friday night. The Panthers finished last season ranked 2nd in the NFL in total defense, while the Bills ranked 10th overall and 4th against the pass. The Bills already have a game under their belt this preseason, they lost to the Giants 17-13 in the Hall of Fame game Sunday. Head coach Ron Rivera is looking forward to the matchup. “You know, we’ve got three positions that we really have to find out about. So I’m hoping that we get a good dose of their good pass rushers, their wide receivers and their defensive backs. “
The Panthers will have their work cut out for them against a young but explosive Bills offense. The Bills boast one of the best running attacks in the league, averaging 144 yards a game last season that was 2nd in the NFLF. Former Clemson standout C-J Spiller and veteran Fred Jackson combined for over 1800 yards and 13 touchdowns. They’ll face a challenge from this Panthers defense which ranked 2nd in the league against the run, giving up just under 87 yards a contest. 2nd year quarterback E-J Manuel directs the offense, but we’ll likely see a great deal of Jeff Tuel and former Duke standout Thad Lewis as they battle for the backup job. I’ll be watching for Bills rookie Sammy Watkins, who was a record setting receiver at Clemson. He didn’t have a catch against the Giants, so the Bills will no doubt try to get him involved early tonight. This is a preseason game, though, so we’ll see lots of 2nd and 3rd string guys just trying to make the team, including former Wolfpacker T-J Graham. The Panthers revamped secondary will be missing safety Roman Harper, who’s out with a toe injury, while former safety Charles Godfrey makes his debut at cornerback. Godfrey is also returning from an Achilles injury, and says he can’t wait for game time. “I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I am just to run out on the field.”
The Bills have a new defensive coordinator in former Lions Head Coach Jim Schwartz, and he’s got plenty of talent on his side of the ball. The Bills defensive line is outstanding, featuring three Pro Bowlers in Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus and Mario Williams, who posted 13 sacks last season, 4-1/2 of those coming against Cam Newton and the Panthers. They’ll no doubt pose a huge challenge for the Panthers new-look offensive line. The Bills secondary has been dinged up this preseason and superstar safety Jairus Byrd left for New Orleans, so look for a lot of young players to be in the mix tonight, including former Tar Heel Da-Norris Searcy and former Duke standout Russ Cockrell. Of course the Panthers have a new cast of receivers, so it will be interesting to see how they do tonight, especially rookie Kelvin Benjamin – he’s been outstanding in training camp.
These two teams met in game two last season, with the Bills getting the last minute 24-23 win. Does that give the Panthers a little extra incentive tonight? Probably not, but they’re no doubt ready for the matchup. After two weeks of training camp, defensive tackle Dwan Edwards says they’re ready to hit someone else! It’s always good to go up against someone else, gets a little monotonous going against your teammates and the same people every day. They’re a good team, obviously they ended up beating us last year in Buffalo. So it will be a good test for us.”