It's week three of the preseason, the traditional "dress rehearsal" game for first teamers. Starters can expect to play at least a half, maybe more, as they get in their last action before the final week in which the focus is on not getting injured. For both the Cincinnati Bengals and the Carolina Panthers, this game represents an opportunity for both coaching staffs to get a better understanding of the relative strengths of their football teams heading into the season.
Rookie quarterback leading a new offense. No, this isn't Andy Dalton and the Bengals, it's Cam Newton and the Panthers. After last season's 2-14 debacle, the Panthers jettisoned John Fox who had guided them to the Super Bowl and hired former Bears and Chargers defensive coordinator Ron Rivera. Their record also gave them the first overall pick in the NFL draft, which they spent on Auburn's Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, Cam Newton. Like Andy Dalton, Newton faces the tough task of entering the NFL with a team in transition and being asked to be the starter from day one.
Thursday's game will be Newton's first start, however. Jimmy Clausen has started the first two contests, but hasn't done anything to keep Newton holding a clipboard. Newton is expected to play three quarters with the first offense on Thursday with Clausen finishing up.
The Panthers are young, but explosive at the skill positions. Newton's accuracy is still a question mark, but he has a rocket arm and can run like a tailback. His main target, Steve Smith, is still among the elite wide receivers in the NFL. Leon Hall and Nate Clements will be challenged to cover him, especially if Newton is able to get out of the pocket. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart remain the dual threat in the Panther backfield, giving them a potent running attack. Either can break a run at any time. The Panthers added two Pro Bowl caliber tight ends in former Bear Greg Olsen and former Giant and Saint Jeremy Shockey. The Bengals have struggled covering the tight end (Dustin Keller made some key plays for the Jets last week), so this matchup will be a challenge for the defense.
On defense, Rivera has a young, but aggressive unit, much like Cincinnati. They'll be looking to put pressure on Andy Dalton led by DE Charles Johnson and OLB Thomas Davis. Former Ohio State Buckeye Chris Gamble anchors a secondary that has had its problems defending the pass.
Preseason games rarely show any reliable predictors for the regular season. The Detroit Lions are one of the most successful preseason teams over the past five years while the Indianapolis Colts have been among the league's worst. We all know how that's turned out in the regular season. Game three, however, gives the first indication of how the starters hold up over multiple quarters of action. Bengals coaches and fans will be anxious to see the results on Thursday.
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