Panthers vs. Texans: Who to Watch on Defense

The Carolina Panthers' defense hopes to replicate their strong performance last week this Sunday against the Houston Texans. These are three players fans should be watching during Week 2.

Kony Ealy

Even though he played over half of the snaps in Week 1 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, fans wouldn’t know it just by looking at the stat sheet. The reason was because Kony Ealy didn’t register a single stat for the Carolina Panthers.

Now this isn’t necessarily a bad thing and Ron Rivera actually praised Ealy for doing the “dirty work” as ESPN’s David Newton wrote. Rivera mentioned that Ealy was regularly taking on double teams and securing the edge to allow his teammates to make the plays.

Well, this would be a great week for Ealy to fill up the stat sheet with what should be a winnable matchup for him. According to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle, the Texans are likely to be without three-time Pro Bowler left tackle Duane Brown.

This loss plus the fact the Texans will be going with an inexperienced quarterback in Ryan Mallet could spell a big week for the Panthers’ defensive end. He had three sacks over the final three regular season games last year and two sacks during the preseason. If Ealy is able to provide steady pressure by beating the left tackle, it’s going to help the defense at all levels.

 

Star Lotulelei

There is still a question of whether or not the Panthers’ defensive tackle will be able to go. However, if Star Lotulelei is able to play, even in a limited capacity, he should be a big boost for the Panthers defensive line.

Lotulelei suffered a broken foot prior to the playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks and then re-aggravated it during training camp. The practice Wednesday was the first time since the beginning of training camp that he was able to get on the field. He was able to practice again on Thursday which is a good sign that he was able to practice on consecutive days, seemingly with no setbacks.

The combination of Lotulelei and Kawann Short is going to be tough for any offensive line to handle. It is going to be important for these two to get pressure up the middle to try and collapse the pocket on Mallett. The less time the young quarterback has, the likely hood of him making mistakes rises significantly.

 

Whoever is playing Middle Linebacker

The past three seasons this has never had to be a question. Luke Kuechly has been as reliable as they come and if he is forced to sit out due to a concussion, it will be the first game he has ever missed in the NFL. The star linebacker is currently working through the concussion protocol and has yet to practice this week.

If he is not able to go, the Panthers luckily have a suitable replacement in A.J. Klein. He stepped in at middle linebacker in the second half against the Jaguars and finished the game with six tackles. The third year player is very good against the run and should be up to the task manning the middle position in this defense.

The Panthers would obviously love for Kuechly to be out there on Sunday against the Texans. He is one of the best in the game right now but if he can’t go, this will be a great opportunity for Klein to showcase what he can bring to this defense.

Follow me on Twitter @BrandonCroce.

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