There are lots of things I am looking forward to for the Carolina Panthers’ home opener Sunday, from Steph Curry banging the “Keep Pounding” drum in the pregame to how well Cam Newton throws the ball early to what sort of game Josh Norman has against a trio of good Houston receivers.
But the player I really can’t wait to see is J.J. Watt.
Given that the Panthers have played Houston fewer times than any other NFL team, we haven’t seen Watt play in Charlotte since he became what he is – the best defensive player in the NFL (yes, Luke Kuechly is close, but Watt is ridiculous).
Watt’s helmet-free sack against Kansas City last week was only the latest example. Watt drew a penalty on Kansas City for illegal hands to the face, got his helmet knocked off and just kept coming until he sacked Alex Smith.
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“It’s like if a glove falls off or if a shoe falls off,” Watt shrugged later. “You’re not going to stop in the middle of a play, you’re going to go make a play.”
Watt had an amazing game in Houston’s Week 1 loss. Of his nine solo tackles, six – six! – were behind the line of scrimmage.
If I am the Panthers Sunday, I double-team Watt on every pass play. He should never be blocked with one man. He’s just too disruptive. Mike Remmers, get ready.
▪ Speaking of disruption, that’s exactly what the Panthers want Houston starting quarterback Ryan Mallett to experience on Sunday. Mallett is as big as Cam Newton and was in the same draft class, but he is nowhere near as mobile and has had nowhere near the same career. This will only be his third career start – he won the job for this week after playing well in relief of Brian Hoyer in Week 1. Carolina had five sacks against Jacksonville and will try to tee off on Mallett Sunday. Don’t be surprised if Hoyer comes on at some point. Houston coach Bill O’Brien has a quick hook.
▪ Tight end Richie Brockel scored on the greatest trick play in Panthers’ history the last time these two teams played, in 2011. In five years with the Panthers, the 7-yard running play remains the only NFL TD Brockel has ever scored.
▪ Prediction time: I did pretty well in Week 1 against Jacksonville, picking the Panthers to win by 11 in a game they won by 11. This one will be closer, but I foresee Carolina getting to 2-0. My pick: Carolina 20, Houston 14.
Fowler: 704-358-5140; Twitter: @scott_fowler