Panthers vs. Jaguars: Who to Watch on Defense

The strength of the Carolina Panthers has been on the defensive side of the ball the past few years, finishing in the Top 10 each of the past three seasons. They will be looking to continue that trend against the Jacksonville Jaguars. These are three players fans should be watching closely as they could be the deciding factor in this game.

Kyle Love

The fifth-year veteran will have some big shoes to fill for this Carolina Panthers’ defense when he starts in place of Star Lotulelei, who has been ruled out due to a foot injury. This won’t be Love’s first start with the Panthers though as he replaced Lotulelei in the NFC Divisional Playoff game last year against the Seattle Seahawks.

There is certainly a little extra motivation for Love in this game as he will face the team that cut him prior to last season, the Jacksonville Jaguars. As ESPN’s David Newton wrote, Love certainly has a chip on his shoulder in this game. He wants to go out and prove the Jaguars made a mistake cutting him last year.

The Panthers are going to need him to anchor the middle of that line, along with Kawann Short, as the Jaguars will most likely lean heavily on their run game with backs like T.J. Yeldon, Denard Robinson and Toby Gerhart.

The depth at the defensive tackle was always considered a strength with Colin Cole and Dwan Edwards backing up Short and Lotulelei but if Love has a strong game, this position will be that much stronger going forward in 2015.

 

Josh Norman

One great battle to watch of two players on the cusp of breaking out will be between Jaguars wide receiver Allen Robinson and Panthers’ cornerback Josh Norman. There was a small question about whether or not Norman would play due to a concussion suffered in the final preseason game. He cleared the concussion protocol on Thursday and will be ready to go Sunday.

He will have his hands full going up against second year wide receiver Allen Robinson. The former second round pick from Penn State had a solid rookie season with 48 receptions, 548 yards and two touchdowns before it was cut short in November with a stress fracture in his foot.

He looks like that injury is behind him as he caught seven receptions for 103 yards in three preseason games this year. It won’t be easy though as Josh Norman was one of the best cornerbacks the second half of last year.

He only allowed one touchdown catch against him, opponents to catch 46.6 of the targets thrown his way and opposing NFL quarterbacks had a rating of 53.2 when throwing in his direction, according to Pro Football Focus.

This will be a fun battle to watch on Sunday between these two players.

 

Kurt Coleman

The former Eagles and Chiefs safety joined the Panthers this offseason as a free agent and quickly made his presence known. His experience playing for Sean McDermott while both were in Philadelphia had to help speed up the process of getting acclimated to this defense.

The veteran safety will have the greatest impact helping to stop the Jaguars run game. Even though he is a bit smaller than the typical safety (5’11”, 200 pounds), he is not one to shy away from contact.

This type of physicality was missing last year from the safety position with Roman Harper and Thomas Decoud, who was eventually replaced by Tre Boston. The addition of Coleman should be a huge boost to a team that will be trying to improve on their ranking of 16th in the NFL against the run last year.

Follow me on Twitter @BrandonCroce.

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