Behind Enemy Lines: Carolina

It's Bucsblitz.com's "Behind Enemy Lines," where we take you inside the Buccaneers' upcoming opponent, the Carolina Panthers. Read about David Carr's preparations for a possible start, Julius Peppers' struggles and the big matches and strategy decisions entering Sunday's game.

David Carr is preparing as if he'll make his first start for the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.

The Panthers haven't ruled out Jake Delhomme starting against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but Carr ran the first-team offense at Wednesday's practice while Delhomme rested his strained right elbow.

"I've had enough experience, not necessarily with this team, but it's going to be fun," Carr said of the chance to start. "We've got some talent and I've said that since I got here."

Delhomme did not suit up for practice.

He watched a portion of Wednesday's practice from the sidelines before returning to the locker room with trainer Ryan Vermillion for treatment.

Delhomme said his elbow feels better than it did on Monday, but wasn't ready to speculate on whether or not he'll play.

"I'm hopeful. I'm always hopeful," Delhomme said. "I am feeling better, but I'm preparing like it's going to be OK. It's not like I can take a week off. I did watch film yesterday, so it wasn't like I've already thrown in the towel."

Obviously, the Panthers love to have Delhomme for this game because he's owned the Bucs since coming to Carolina, going 7-1 as a starter with a solid 93.5 quarterback rating.

But he's not tried to throw a football since Sunday.

"I can sign something, write something, and whatnot," Delhomme said, "But the position we put our arms in when we throw, and all that, the force, the torque or whatever you want to call it you put on your shoulder and elbow. I won't know until I get out there and try. So we'll go from there."

Coach John Fox said he wouldn't make a decision on who'll start until later this week, perhaps even Sunday.

Fox said he wouldn't scale back the offense if Carr were to start.

"Not at all. We'll have our game plan," Fox said. "He's been with us for some time now through all of the offseason. He's played in the league before as a starter, so we wouldn't hold back anything."

Carr admitted that subconsciously he might be paying a little closer attention to the game plan this week.

"If you're going into a situation where you think you've got a good chance of being on the field, and starting, you probably do look at it a little harder, to tell you the truth," Carr said. "I've found myself the last two days, looking at it at home and looking at it here, you start looking at different situations, different scenarios, seeing how you can get the ball to different guys."

Carr said if he plays, he won't try to do anything fancy, just follow the game plan.

"Honestly in this position, you've got so much talent, just run the offense," Carr said. "Look at the wristband. Get the play on the wristband. Get your team on the right play. Pre-snap penalties, get rid of all that nonsense, the false starts, the delay of games. You eliminate that stuff and we're going to be in good position."

SERIES HISTORY

14th meeting. Panthers lead series, 8-5. Since the Bucs won the Super Bowl in 2002, the Panthers have dominated the series, going 7-1 against Jon Gruden's club. Carolina has scored at least 21 points in seven of its last eight games against the Bucs. Last November, the Panthers defeated the Bucs 24-10 following a bye week as Steve Smith caught eight passes for 149 yards with a touchdown.

NOTES

Tampa Bay cornerback Ronde Barber said he has no plans to make Steve Smith angry.

"I've played against Steve a lot and I know one thing, that making him mad is not the right thing to do," Barber said with a laugh. "I have a lot of respect for that guy. The way he approaches the game, the way he approaches himself. I like ... his demeanor. When he is playing angry, he is very hard to deal with. So, you won't see me or any of my DBs approaching him in that manner."

Smith played angry last week and although he caught only one pass for 10 yards, he was partly responsible for turning the momentum of the game when he drew three flags worth 67 penalty yards against Atlanta's DeAngelo Hall.

"DeAngelo definitely wears his emotions on his sleeve," Barber said. "He always has, there is no doubt about that. That is part of what makes him who he is to tell you the truth.

"It surprised me that it went that far. Also, it didn't exactly surprise because he is that kind of player. He is very talented and the emotions of the game get to you sometime. I can't fault him for it, although it's probably a little unnecessary."

Still, Barber will have to do something different this week as Smith has torched the Bucs with four straight 100-yard receiving games.

COVERAGE ISSUES: There is a growing sense of desperation regarding the Panthers pass defense.

This has now elevated into a serious problem with opposing teams dinking and dunking the Panthers with short throws over the middle, basically blowing up Carolina's Cover 2 scheme. The Panthers allowed Joey Harrington to throw for 361 yards and two touchdowns last Sunday.

Coverage and poor tackling are just part of the problem.

The Panthers are also having problems generating a pass rush. The Falcons came in having surrendered 13 sacks in the first two weeks. Carolina had just one sack, by Kris Jenkins, as Julius Peppers was shut out for a third straight game.

"It all concerns me," Fox admitted. "We've got a lot of areas to improve at. I think our pass rush is one of them. It's something we'll work very hard on this week -- and that's not just the D-line. There's ways to bring people, bring other people than just the D-line. Like every week, we're going to be looking hard at everything, and we need to get more productive in our pass rush. And that's not just singling out our D-line, I want to make that clear."

Fox correctly pointed out that the Panthers defense did play better in the second half.

And the red-zone defense wasn't bad. In four trips inside the Carolina 20, the Falcons came away with just one touchdown. On the flip side, Carolina's offense converted all three opportunities into touchdowns.

"We played good in the red area," Fox said. "To me, that's the difference in the game."

But if linebacker Dan Morgan is out for any significant period of time the Panthers pass defense could be in even bigger trouble. This week they go against a very efficient passer in Jeff Garcia. He comes into this game having completed 66 percent of his passes and he knows how to work the middle of the field. And you can bet that will be Tampa Bay's game plan.

GOOD MOVE: The move to acquire David Carr is looking like a great one by GM Marty Hurney.

The Panthers needed to upgrade at that position in the offseason and few figured they would have a chance to land Carr, a former No. 1 pick. At $3 million per season, the Panthers might have overpaid for a so-called "backup," but it will be worth every penny if Delhomme (strained elbow) is out any significant period of time.

"I thought he did good. We didn't change what we were doing, because, 'Oh no we're putting in our backup quarterback.' He went out there and managed the game well. I think we had one little miscue on a change of play, and we do some of that. That's no mystery to anybody, and he executed that well. He played well enough for us to win."

MANUEL DISAPPOINTMENT: The Panthers may be realizing what the Green Bay Packers realized last month -- that Marquand Manuel has slowed a step or two in the last year. Manuel started on Sunday against Atlanta, but the Panthers went back to Deke Cooper in the second half.

GOOD GLOVE: Carr has taken to wearing gloves on both hands in practice and on game day.

It's something he picked up from watching former Chicago Bears quarterback and golfing buddy Jim McMahon. He only tried it in a game one time with the Houston Texans.

"Jim is where I saw it first. And we talked about it a couple times. I don't know if he's the greatest role model, but he's a cool dude and we get along great. I love him," Carr said. "We play golf at Lake Tahoe. He talked to me about it two or three years ago and I threw them on at practice. It worked out pretty good. And I came here and I was just like, 'I'm going to start wearing them.' (Equipment manager) Jackie Miles had an endless supply of them and I was like, well, 'I don't have to buy them. Let's throw them on.' "

Carr's teammates have begun calling him Michael Jackson because he wears two white gloves with the team's white uniforms.

BAD PEPPERS?: Julius Peppers doesn't seem quite right.

It's not that he's playing bad, but he's not as dominant as he has been.

Peppers didn't show the same burst he has in the past last Sunday and he was handled pretty well one-on-one by Falcons right tackle Todd Weiner. Some are wondering if the sickness that sidelined Peppers twice during training camp has affected his play in some way.

"He did lose some weight during that time, but that's what I know," Fox said. "He's gained some of it back, yeah. He hasn't lost an amount of weight that I think would affect his performance."

It's going to be hard for the Panthers to justify making Peppers the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL if he continues to put up numbers like he did on Sunday -- no tackles, no sacks and one tipped pass.

LAY OFF NORWOOD: Maybe Dan Morgan ought to stop trying to tackle Falcons running back Jerious Norwood.

Morgan injured his shoulder last Sunday in the first half while making a tackle on Norwood and left the game to get a new harness.

Morgan eventually returned and then injured his hamstring and heel while dragging down Norwood after a 26-yard gain in the second half. This time Morgan didn't return.

Now think back to last year -- it Morgan's tackle on Norwood in the season opener that put him out for the year with a fifth career concussion. James Anderson played about 25 snaps for Morgan last Sunday.

BEAUTIFUL CATCH: The Panthers executed a beautiful touchdown last week against Atlanta as Delhomme tossed a 13-yard strike to DeShaun Foster. It was really a thing of beauty with Delhomme putting it right on the money and Foster making an over-the-shoulder catch on the side of the end zone while keeping both feet in bounds.

"It was a good play call," Delhomme said. "Keary Colbert did a good job of running the post and getting the safety out of there. DeShaun did a great job of going to the flat and wheeling it up. It was a good play call at the right time."

QUOTE TO NOTE

"There have been people through his whole career that tried to push his buttons. I think there's a mistaken impression he's volatile. But passionate and volatile are two very different things. It really doesn't make a lot of sense to me to try to antagonize him, because the way he plays, he plays better with challenges. If that's how you want to do it, let them do it." -- Panthers K John Kasay, on those who try to antagonize Panthers WR Steve Smith.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

It's unclear at this point if middle linebacker Dan Morgan will play this week, leaving the team's linebacking corps in flux.

Obviously, losing Morgan would be a huge loss. If he can't go, the Panthers have three options. The most likely option is keeping rookie Jon Beason on the weak side and giving the start to James Anderson, who played 25 snaps in place of Morgan last week at middle linebacker.

QB DEPTH ON PRACTICE SQUAD: The Panthers signed quarterback Quinton Porter to the team's practice squad on Wednesday to have a warm body to run the scout team with Jake Delhomme out and the team down to two signal-callers.

The 6-5, 228-pound Porter attended training camp with Houston and played for Cologne of NFL Europa during the spring. He did not appear in any of the Texans' first three preseason games before being waived on Aug. 27.

With the Centurions, Porter played in nine games with two starts and completed 23 of 44 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns with three interceptions. Originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by Houston in 2006, Porter, 24, spent the first 11 games on the Texans practice squad prior to being signed to the active roster, where he served as the team's inactive third quarterback for the final five contests. In two preseason appearances, he completed eight of 12 passes for 84 yards.

Porter finished his career at Boston College ranked 10th in school history with 3,203 passing yards on 290 of 484 passing with 23 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

To make room on the practice squad, the Panthers released running back Alex Haynes. He could be re-signed at a later date.

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

WR Dwayne Jarrett has been inactive the past three weeks. The Panthers are still waiting for him to take the next step and really be ready to help them. So far he hasn't shown he's ready.

RG Jeremy Bridges "brought a little something" to the lineup last Sunday, according to quarterback Jake Delhomme. The guys on the team love Bridges' passion and competitiveness. As one teammate put it, "he brings a little bit of bad ass" to the team. However, Bridges suffered a turf toe on Sunday and did not practice on Wednesday.

SS Chris Harris is playing better for the Panthers and has now forced two fumbles this season. Harris hits hard and plays aggressive, always looking for turnover opportunities. Now he needs to make sure he's in the right spot in coverage.

FS Deke Cooper did not start last week, but came in to replace Marquand Manuel in the second half. Coach John Fox said Monday that Cooper "is our starting safety," which leads you to believe if he's healthy he'll be back on the field Sunday against the Bucs.

DE Mike Rucker (turf toe) was limited in practice Wednesday. He should play this week, but may see his snaps reduced with Stanley McClover expected to get back on the field.

OT Travelle Wharton (turf toe) was limited in practice Wednesday.

GAME PLAN

The Panthers are now 21-2 in games that DeShaun Foster carries the football more than 15 times in a game. Foster is averaging 5.2 yards per carry, so he'll be a focal point on Sunday against the Bucs. However, Steve Smith has been huge the last two seasons against Tampa Bay with four 100-yard receiving games and two scores. He's also run six times for 91 yards.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

Panthers WR Steve Smith vs. Bucs CB Ronde Barber. Obviously Smith is going to be jacked up after only catching one pass for 10 yards last week. That has really set him behind on his mission to record 2,000 receiving yards this season. Smith has had his way with Tampa Bay cornerbacks over the years and look for him to do the same again Sunday against the Bucs' Cover 2 scheme.

INJURY IMPACT

Along with Jake Delhomme, Dan Morgan and Adam Seward, starting right guard Jeremy Bridges was held out of practice with a turf toe injury.

The Panthers look as though they might finally get defensive end Stanley McClover back on the field this week. He participated in all of practice after missing the past three games with a groin injury.


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