Opening night on Monday Night Football. Going up against one of the best teams in the league in the Carolina Panthers. I can't think of a better way to get everyone excited for Green Bay Packers football right out of the starting gate.
Carolina is becoming a tough place to play on the road. This week, the guys will have to deal with a lot of noise when the offense is on the field.
On defense, you're going to see a lot of different formations that you didn't see in the preseason. I think Bob Slowik's defense has shown that they are going to be very aggressive.
Carolina brings two capable wide receivers in Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad. Muhammad is a big, physical receiver that likes to get matched up on smaller cornerbacks in the red zone. Smith is a big-time receiver that they try to get a lot of one-on-one matchups with. The quarterback, Jake Delhomme, can throw the ball down the field and see if he can outrun the cornerback.
This Panthers offense is a tough offense that loves to run the ball. They run lots of play-action. I think the Packers can exploit their offensive line, which haven't been playing well of late. It's going to be up to the defensive linemen to penetrate and stop some of the perimeter runs of Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster. I think Foster could be a starter in the NFL, so he's an excellent second option for Coach John Fox.
The Panthers' offense is set up by their defense. The defense is very opportunistic and they will try to get turnovers on their side of the field to put their offense in a position where they can already be in range to get a field goal by one of the best field goal kickers in the game, John Kasay.
Kasay is very consistent. He has a strong leg, and he is a true veteran.
Defensively, Carolina is a very exciting team. They've got two good young corners. They will be playing with two new starters in the secondary, safety Colin Branch and rookie cornerback Chris Gamble, since Deon Grant left in free agency. The Panthers will be getting one of their top leaders back in Mark Fields, who missed 2003 while he was battling cancer. That should give their defense a boost.
Their front four may be the best in football. They penetrate well and they are hard to fool on perimeter runs and counter plays. What the Packers will have to do is run a lot of quarterback keeps away from Julius Peppers to keep him on the run, keep him guessing. The good thing about Green Bay's offensive line is that this will be a good match-up for them. If the Panthers start to penetrate, they can always trap. The Packers can always block back - they are very versatile on the offensive line. They can pull their center - Mike Flanagan is one of the best centers in the league - and the rest of the guys are very good up front, so this will be a good test for the offensive line.
I believe that Ahman Green will be able to establish the running game, which will open up the passing game for Brett Favre and the talented receiving corps.
Overall, I think the Panthers' defense is susceptible to play-action. You have to get up on this defense. You've got to score, and you've got to score in a hurry. Typically, when you go on the road, you can take the crowd out of the game by scoring on a long drive - a 15-play drive. The Packers have got to take care of the ball and not turn the ball over. That's the one thing they haven't done in the last two preseason games. They have turned the ball over, and when you combine that with penalties, you're in trouble. If that doesn't happen, I think the Packers have a good chance of winning the game.
I think on offense, the Packers have got to be able to do what they have done so well in the preseason, and that's throw the ball down the field. For example, in each of the last two weeks, Favre has hit Robert Ferguson on touchdown passes of over 50 yards. You've got to let people know that if they are going to come up and press and play the run, you have a quarterback and receivers that are capable of going deep down the field.
I think Tom Rossley's offense will run a lot of very aggressive plays. The Packers are going to try to get up in a hurry. That will hurt any team at home, if you can hit them with a big play early.
Green Bay has got to win the turnover ratio. For the last three years, no one has caused more turnovers more than the Packers' defense. They have got to keep that going along.
With Slowik's new aggressive style, you'll see a lot of combination coverages, and they will be very aggressive up front. They will show some fronts that the Panthers haven't seen and hopefully they can get a lot of plays out of the front four. Hopefully Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila can get a lot of one-on-one match-ups, and that will prove good for Nick Barnett who can run from sideline to sideline.
I think the guys are looking forward to the challenge of facing the defending NFC Champions on Monday Night Football. I think they're eager to get in there and show them that the handcuffs are coming off the game plans as the real bullets begin to fly.