Game Plan and Matchups v. Panthers

Check out the Denver Broncos Game Plan and the key matchups against the Carolina Panthers.

SERIES HISTORY: 3rd regular-season meeting. Broncos lead series, 2-0, with both games coming in Denver. The Broncos have never played at Carolina in the regular season, but played two preseason games there. One was at Clemson, S.C., during the Panthers' 1995 expansion season and the other was in Charlotte in 1997.

GAME PLAN: This game will feature two offenses with distinctly opposite approaches. The Broncos are very thin at tailback and will rely on the passing game. Tampa Bay moved the ball well passing against the Panthers in Carolina's last game, and the Broncos could use plenty of three-receiver sets or move tight end Tony Scheffler around to create mismatches.

Carolina might be more balanced than the Broncos, but their goal will be to run the ball with their talented tailbacks. The Panthers' offensive line is playing well and the Broncos' front line will have to be physical with them. Denver will also have to beware of Steve Smith, Carolina's biggest playmaker when they do pass the ball.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Panthers WR Steve Smith vs. Broncos CB Dre Bly. Bly matched up against Kansas City's Dwayne Bowe last week and could do the same with Smith this week. A lot will depend on cornerback Champ Bailey's health. If he plays, the Broncos might avoid moving Bailey around to match up with the dangerous Smith. Bailey hasn't played since Oct. 20. Bly has played well in the last month as the top cornerback in Bailey's absence but will have his hands full with Smith, who is coming off a big game against the Buccaneers.

Broncos OT Ryan Clady vs. Panthers DE Julius Peppers. Clady hasn't become a popular name as a rookie like Cleveland's Joe Thomas was last year, but he has been just as good. Clady hasn't allowed a full sack all season. He has gone up against top rushers like Miami's Joey Porter and Atlanta's John Abraham and shut them out. Peppers has 12.5 sacks this season.

INJURY IMPACT: --CB Champ Bailey was limited in practice for a third straight day Friday. His injured groin will be tested before Denver's game on Sunday. The Broncos have been cautious with him since he hurt his groin on Oct. 20, and will be careful once again this week.

--FB Spencer Larsen missed practices on Wednesday and Thursday with a groin injury and might miss Sunday's game against Carolina. If he can't play, Andrew Pinnock could be active for the first time since the Broncos signed him to play fullback.

--RB Selvin Young went through his second straight full practice on Thursday and could be ready to return from a groin injury. His role might be limited as he works his way back into football shape.

--WR Brandon Stokley practiced on Thursday, after missing Wednesday with a heel injury. He was limited in Thursday's practice, but has a chance to play Sunday at Carolina.

--LB D.J. Williams went through a full practice Wednesday and could return from a knee injury if he doesn't have a setback.

--S Marlon McCree appears set to return from an ankle injury, but he has missed more than a month and the Broncos are unsure how big of a role he'll have in his first game back.

--TE Chad Mustard was limited Wednesday because of a knee injury. The Broncos signed Jeb Putzier for tight end depth.

--LB Mario Haggan was limited in practice Wednesday, but there have been no indications his knee injury is serious enough to keep him out of this week's game.

--CB Karl Paymah has a groin injury and was limited Wednesday, but should be able to play this week.

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