The NFL is back. So much has happened in the world since the Raiders last took to the field at the end of 2019. However, today it’s a look ahead to week one of the 2020 NFL season. The now Las Vegas Raiders will travel to Charlotte to face a much-changed Carolina Panthers team. The Panthers have a new head coach, former Baylor and Temple University head coach, Matt Rhule. Jon Gruden enters his third season with the Raiders since his return. It’ll be exciting to see what this team can do after large improvements year on year. Que, the Raiders vs Panthers.
The Carolina Panthers
The Bank of America Stadium will host the Raiders for the first time since 2012. The Panthers made defense a priority during the 2020 NFL draft. They became the first team in recent NFL history to use all of their picks on defensive players. While this bodes well for the future, questions have to be asked about if these rookies can make an impact early in the season, playing in a new system. Even with these picks, the Panthers are still weak at cornerback. Donte Jackson had a solid rookie season but slumped in his second year. His overall PFF grade dropped from 65.0 down to 55.6. He also only managed half of his solo tackles made (69 down to 38).
Along with a new head coach, the Panthers also have a new starting quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater has a tough job on his hands. The Panthers have a weak interior offensive line, centered around Matt Paradis. After signing with the Panthers from the Broncos in 2019, he went on to have a disappointing campaign. He allowed 47 total pressures, 13 more than any other center in the league, earning himself a lowly 43 .8 pass-blocking grade by PFF. The strong point of the offensive line is at tackle. Recently acquired veteran Russell Okung paired with Taylor Moton, the Panthers lone bright spot on the line last year, bring some stability to a weak position.
The Panthers’ strengths are in their skill position players. Rated as one of the best players over the last few seasons, elite running back Christian McCaffrey is looking to build on a record-breaking 2019 campaign. The All-Pro finished the season with 1387 rushing yards and 1005 receiving yards along with a total of 19 touchdowns. DJ Moore had a strong second season for Carolina at wide receiver, finishing with 1175 yards and 4 touchdowns. Both of these players have elite ability to carry the ball after the catch. Moore finishing his rookie campaign in 2019 leading all receivers in yards after the catch. This is helpful to Teddy B as he finished last season with the shortest average intended air yards in the NFL (6.2 yards per attempt).
2020 New Head Coach Concerns
2020 has not been kind on new head coaches. While these coaches would usually get a decent amount of contact time to install their philosophies, this year has been different. The rookies missed a week of contact time compared to usual. The 17th July was the earliest rookie camp in 2019, whereas in 2020 it was the 23rd July. However, full contact was not allowed until the 17th August – a whole month after it would usually be acceptable. It will be difficult to see if this will have an immediate impact, but could mean the Panthers start out slow.
A test for the Raiders defensive front
As highlighted above, the Raiders will have to target the Panthers’ weaknesses to win this game. They have an explosive offense that can make big plays but also keep the ball. The Raiders defensive line and linebacking core will be under high pressure all game from shorter passes and runs. Rhule likes to control the game by running the ball and McCaffrey will be overloaded with touches.
While a test, this will allow the Raiders to utilize new signing Maliek Collins and 3-year veteran Mo Hurst. They should be able to bring extreme pressure up the middle from an inexperienced Panthers interior line. With Clelin Ferrell bulking up, and Maxx Crosby looking to build on an impressive rookie season, this will be a great first challenge for their second season in silver and black. While playing for the Rams, new signing Cory Littleton logged almost 1200 coverage snaps. During these snaps, he amassed an impressive PFF coverage grade of 87.3. This will be crucial to stopping the Panthers’ short passing game, and it will be a great test for this new look linebacking core.
Read about the Raiders most underrated players going in to 2020 HERE
A high scoring Raiders offense?
On the offensive side of the ball, the Raiders should look to target the Panthers secondary. Tyrell Williams looks like he’ll be starting the season on the sideline after picking up a recurring labrum injury. While last season, this would have been a problem for the Raiders, they now have options to replace him. Rookies Henry Ruggs III and Bryan Edwards will take some snaps outside, splitting time with new signing Nelson Agholor and second-year wideout Zay Jones. Hunter Renfrow will still be featured predominantly out of the slot. Out of all of his snaps, Renfrow had 96% starting in the slot. However, expect some in-game changes from the other wide-outs who are flexible, shifting between outside and the slot. With the return of Foster Moreau, and Darren Waller looking sharp, the Raiders’ tight end talent will be utilized. Derek Carr should have a big game.
The Raiders have one of the better offensive lines in the league and should dominate this game. Carolina has struggled against the run over the last season and has been rated as the 4th worst defensive line in the league by PFF. Jon Gruden will be looking to dominate the ball by utilizing the impressive second year running back Josh Jacobs. Jacobs finished as the most elusive back in the NFL last season and the Raiders will look to take full advantage of this against an inexperienced defense.
How will the Las Vegas Raiders rookies be used in 2020? Find out HERE
Fans will be limited at 20,000 capacity in the Bank of America stadium. This should remove the home-field advantage and give the Raiders a good opportunity to win away from home.
Tyrell Williams has a torn labrum, something that bothered him throughout his college career. While he is looking to play week 1, don’t be surprised if Williams left on the sideline for his own benefit.
After coming close to signing for the Raiders in 2020 free agency, Eli Apple has a hamstring problem and is questionable for week 1 vs the Raiders.
Las Vegas Raiders 35 – 24 Carolina Panthers
The Raiders are looking to start the season 1-0 for the second season running. The Panthers have talent but inexperience, along with a new head coach who’s had little time to implement his system. This should give the Raiders the advantage in Charlotte and a positive start for the new era in Las Vegas.