The Panthers offense is simply loaded with talent everywhere you look but success is defined by the play of their offensive line. This group has been plagued with injuries but they are beginning to show signs of coming together as a unit. They are establishing the running game while the passing attack is compressed into a short dink and duck quick strike scheme. The line simply is not able to protect the quarterback long enough to allow the deep vertical strike that the Panthers used so well in the past.
Delhomme's passer rating and completion percentage has skyrocketed in the last 2 weeks, thanks to the return of receiver Steve Smith as well as mastering the short game. Jake is known for challenging teams deep but with Smith recovering from a nagging hamstring injury and suspect pass protection, Jake has been forced to adapt.
Receivers Keyshawn Johnson and Steve Smith are an extremely potent 1-2 combination. Keyshawn owns the middle of the field with fearless play. He is one of those rare receivers that are willing to do whatever it takes to move the chains. He will take on anyone in order to help the running game. He is willing to sacrifice his body by going over the middle and making those tough catches in traffic.
Steve Smith is the most dangerous receiver in the game. He has that break away speed which can beat teams deep or take the 5 yard slant the distance as he is difficult to catch once he gets his hands on the ball. The key to stopping Smith is to punish the small receiver anytime he catches the ball but if you miss on the big hit, he is off to the races.
The Panthers rushing attack is based upon running back by committee with oft-injured DeShaun Foster and rookie sensation DeAngelo Williams. When healthy, Foster is a powerful running back with break away speed but he has simply never shown the durability to make him a true #1 back.
DeAngelo Williams was my top ranked running back in the draft. He has that rare ability to pick up positive yards even when nothing is there, by getting low and burrowing his way through the pile without taking the big hits. He has tremendous vision - especially when he breaks through the line. He is also a major threat as a receiving option. This young man is going to be something special for years to come and may be the steal of this year's draft.
The Panthers have one of the most physically dominating defensive lines in football and that is the entire philosophy of this defense. The Panthers seldom blitz. They rarely put 8 in the box. They rely on the front 4 to stop the run and also provide the pass rush.
Most teams use their best pass rusher on the right in order to come at the quarterbacks blindside. The Panthers however, use sack artist Julius Peppers on the left in order to match up against the slower footed right tackles. Julius Peppers versus Ryan Tucker could very well decide the outcome of Sunday's contest.
Maake Kemoeatu and Kris Jenkins are space eaters that can clog the middle with pure size and power. This helps Damione Lewis as he enters the game facing an interior that has been worn down with that size and power which allows him to use his speed to disrupt the pocket.
The dominant play of the front four allows the secondary to play a deep cover 2 zone, with man coverage underneath. This scheme forces the quarterback to become a patient precision passer.
The Panthers corners allow the front four time to get to the quarterback. Chris Gamble is a big physical corner that uses his size and strength to take receivers out of their routes. When he controls the receiver an interception is sure to follow.
Rookie Richard Marshall looked like a Pro Bowler in his first start last week. Marshall is a small corner but he has amazing speed in reacting to the ball. He is also a sure tackler and if he continues to perform at this level, it is just a matter of time before he is a permanent fixture in the Panthers secondary.
The loss of safety Marlon McCree in free agency had a tremendous impact on this defense. Marlon was the intimidator over the middle and without his head hunting, teams are now looking to challenge the safeties.
The Browns offense remains a work in progress. The talent is there to produce a big play with every snap but the youth and inexperience is capable of producing a turnover as well. This brings me to offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon.
Some of the play calling is questionable, but has there ever been a game in which the play calling wasn't questionable? Carthon is allowing these young players the opportunity to learn how to win. There are times when he could have taken the ball out of Charlie Frye's hands and the Browns may have added another win but Charlie would not be learning.
Every mistake is experience gained. For a young quarterback, it is not so much about learning "what to do" in critical situations but learning "what not to do" is what will make him an elite quarterback in the future.
Charlie Frye is emerging as one of those talented young quarterbacks that have the propensity to will his team to victory. This week will be a true test of patience and accuracy. Charlie will be working the short game by design, just to move the chains and keep the defense off the field. If Charlie can move the ball without becoming greedy, the big play opportunity will develop as the defense tightens up.
Charlie will also need every bit of his mobility this week. He won't be running the ball a great deal but when the defensive ends come high and wide, Charlie will have an opportunity to pick up yards with his feet as the linebackers flow into their zones and the defensive tackles are no match for Charlie in open space.
Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow are off to a tremendous start and they will need another big week receiving the ball. Edwards is a physical mismatch for most defensive backs. He is excelling at using the double move to free himself down the sidelines. This week he will need to draw the defense away from Kellen Winslow by pulling the deep safety.
KW2 should have a free run across the middle of the field for most of the day. The Panthers linebackers are neither quick enough nor strong enough to hold him in check. The safety will be looking to lay the big hit and if Kellen can keep his feet beneath him, it will lead to a huge day receiving the ball.
Wide receiver Joe Jurevicius could make his return to the starting lineup this week. Joe is a difficult match up for the Panthers due to his size and craftiness. Joe is known for being a zone buster due to his knowledge. He simply finds the creases in the defense and exploits it. He will provide opportunities for Kellen and Braylon if he is on the field.
The offensive line is improving but don't expect a great deal from the running game this Sunday. Ryan Tucker will have a difficult day with Julius Peppers and challenging Peppers with runs right at him will buy time for the quarterback although it isn't likely to produce many yards on the ground.
The key will be the use of the screen pass. The Panthers defensive line is simply too much for the Browns line but if you can make use of the running back and full back screens, it can slow their rush and give Charlie more time as the game wears on.
The Browns defense is loaded with young talent but it is also plagued with the injury bug. Starting corners Leigh Bodden and Gary Baxter, starting outside linebacker Willie McGinest, defensive end Orpheus Roye are all listed as questionable for this week. Neither Bodden nor Baxter is likely to play and the Panthers receivers will be looking to exploit the Browns' backups.
The Browns front must pressure the pocket. Jake Delhomme will make mistakes when under fire but given time he will shred a defense. There are two vital keys in getting that pressure. Left tackle Jordan Gross is vulnerable to speed rushers and Kamerion Wimbley is an emerging star coming off the edge. If Kamerion can demand the double team, it should allow the right outside linebacker an opportunity to exploit the play of the right tackle.
The Panthers center position is extremely exposed as the communication on the blitz pickup has not developed. This could lead the way for inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson having a very good day coming from the middle. D'Qwell has a knack for splitting the seam and although he hasn't produced a sack, he has several quarterback pressures which has resulted in opportunities for the defensive backs.
Ralph Brown and Daven Holly will likely be the starting corners this week. They will have their hands full with the Panthers pro bowl receivers but it is their run support that is the greatest concern. Bodden and Baxter are two of the Browns best tacklers and their ability to make the solo tackle on those bounce-out and off-tackle runs is huge for this defense. Last week the Raiders exploited the inability of Brown and Holly to make those plays and the Panthers will test the outside early and often with the run as well as with the quick wide receiver screen.
Safety Sean Jones is becoming the star of this defense. He has a nose for the ball in flight and he is willing to take on any blocker. Last week he put offensive tackle Robert Gallery on the ground with a bone crunching hit and he still managed to make the tackle on the running back. Jones will be critical in stopping the run but he will also be crucial in containing Keyshawn Johnson and Steve Smith.
Brian Russell and Sean Jones must hit and hit hard this week. Any time Smith and Johnson get their hands on the ball, the safeties must look to punish the receiver. A few bone jarring hits will make them think twice about those quick slants across the middle.
With the Panthers looking to use the short slant so often, the Browns linebackers may find themselves hit with the ball. The Browns have been dropping potential interceptions at a phenomenal rate. If they are to walk out of Carolina with a win, they must convert those plays into turnovers.
The Panthers are loaded with talent but this is a game the Browns can win. They must play smart disciplined football. If they can limit their own mistakes and take advantage of the Panthers mistakes, they just might leave Carolina with an upset win.