PFW executive editor and resident Packers expert Dan Arkush presents the second of five key matchups this week in advance of the Packers' Week Two game against the Panthers at Carolina Sunday.
Panthers C Ryan Kalil vs. Packers NT B.J. Raji
What happens right up the gut in the matchup between these two highly skilled players could be a real key this Sunday in Carolina. Raji, who continues to develop into one of the league's best, and certainly most athletic, nose tackles, would appear to have an edge in strength and size over the undersized Kalil (6-2½, 295). But Kalil, who is coming off back-to-back Pro Bowl appearances, is also extremely athletic and is considered one of the league's most technically sound centers. A second-round pick in 2007, Kalil is normally very explosive off the ball and has great awareness, which he is going to need matched up against Raji, whose versatility allows him to shift around and, every now and again, be a force in coverage, as was the case on his pivotal 18-yard interception return for a TD against the Bears in the NFC title game.
Raji has picked up where he left off last season in the stamina department, staying on the field for a little more than 90 percent of the Packers' defensive snaps in their Week One victory over the Saints. Exceptionally quick for his size with a very strong lower body, Raji came up big in the goal-line stand that culminated Green Bay's Week One victory over New Orleans, helping to stop Saints rookie RB Mark Ingram just short of the goal line. But he does have a tendency to disappear on occasion and failed to manage a QB hit primarily matched up against excellent Saints OG Carl Nicks in Week One. Raji had only two tackles and one batted down against the Saints and would no doubt like to improve those numbers significantly in Week Two.