Inside slant: Carolina Panther Week 7 review

Here's the "Inside Slant," your twice-weekly source for news about the Bucs' NFC South rivals. Today's edition wraps up Week 7's games, including personnel news and exclusive unit grades for the Carolina Panthers. It's a premium service from Bucsblitz.com.

Few around the country would give the uninspiring Carolina Panthers much of a chance to upset the defending Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts this Sunday at Charlotte's Bank of America Stadium.

But wait just a second.

The Panthers may not have looked particularly good for any sustained period this season, but they have more going for them than you might think.

Such as:

--The Colts are coming off a road game Monday night in Jacksonville, Fla., and then must travel back to Indianapolis early Tuesday, regroup, practice and watch film, and head to Charlotte this weekend. Conventional wisdom might suggest the Colts could be a little tired after a short week and plenty of travel.

--The Panthers, meanwhile, should be well rested having had two weeks off to prepare for the Colts following a bye last weekend.

--The Panthers should be able to learn quite a bit about what works -- and what doesn't -- against the Colts offense just from watching Monday night's game against the Jaguars. Keep in mind that Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio was once Carolina's defensive coordinator, and the Panthers and Jaguars have very similar defensive schemes.

--And, the Panthers are home.

OK, scratch that last one.

But the first three set of circumstances should play to Carolina's favor.

"Everything is happening for us in the right way where we can compete against these guys," Panthers cornerback Ken Lucas said. "We know they're no slouch. They're not invincible, and they can be beat just like anybody else in this league. We have to go out and perform and not make many mistakes against a team like the Colts."

Still, with all of that going for the Panthers, you can forgive their fans if they don't have much faith in the home team.

They've been burned before.

It seems every time the Panthers have control of their own destiny in the NFC South over the past three years, they've blown a chance to take a major step forward and secure momentum by losing a big game at home.

So will Sunday simply add to the list of missed opportunities? The Panthers enter Sunday's game at 4-2, owning sole possession of first place in the NFC South after Tampa Bay (4-3) lost to Detroit on Sunday. But the Panthers might be better served if this game were on the road, where they're 4-0 this season.

Carolina has been outscored 118-44 in its last four games at Bank of America Stadium dating back to last year.

"Coaches, players and everybody have been trying to figure out what it takes to play with that same intensity, that same fire that we play with on the road," Lucas said. "It's an embarrassment for us to go out and perform that way at home and not give the crowd something to cheer about. We've been trying to come up with answers."

Lucas said this will be a good measuring stick for Carolina's defense, which has improved immensely in its last two games.

But the Colts are not the New Orleans Saints nor the Arizona Cardinals.

Obviously, quarterback Peyton Manning needs no introduction, nor do his receivers, Reggie Wayne, Marvin Harrison and Dallas Clark.

Lucas is well aware that most fans around the country -- and even in the Carolinas -- probably aren't giving the Panthers much of a chance on Sunday. But he seems unfazed by the daunting task of playing the Colts, who have been an offensive juggernaut for the past five years.

"We can only go by what they are doing this year," Lucas said. "They haven't been putting up points or blowing people out like they have in the past.

"It's about having confidence that you can go out and win against anybody. When you doubt yourself, that is when you don't perform well. You have to believe that you can go out and compete against these guys or else we won't even be playing. We do feel like we have a good chance to go out there and play and maybe win this game."

NOTES, QUOTES

--QB Vinny Testaverde said he expects David Carr to start this week against Indianapolis, even though Testaverde led the team to a win against Arizona before the bye week.

"I guess that's how I'm looking at it, but I don't know how the coaching staff looks at it," Testaverde said. "Because, like I said, to me it doesn't matter because I'm preparing like I'm going to start the game anyway. That's how I've always done it."

--One of the concerns with Testaverde is whether he can hold up for the rest of the season if he were to start.

He doesn't think that would be a problem, even at 43.

"Throughout the years when you're young and you have that energy and you're healthy, you still get injured," he said. "You still miss a game here or there. So I don't really look at the age factor thinking I'm going to miss a game here or there due to my age. I did catch some of the sports shows and they're talking about, 'How does Vinny feel? Is he sore today?' Really, I wasn't any more sore Monday than I was when I was 25 on a Monday. That's the God's honest truth -- and probably because the O-line played so good. They kept the guys off of me for the most part."

--OT Jordan Gross was troubled to see Jake Delhomme go down with an elbow injury a few weeks back. Delhomme had surgery last Thursday.

"That's kind of your trophy back there that you're trying to protect all the time," Gross said. "When they get hit and hurt, you take that personally, different than if a receiver gets hit by a safety. That's going to happen. You'd like your quarterback to not have one grass stain on his uniform when the game's over, and you definitely take pride in that part of the game."

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--RB DeAngelo Williams remains Carolina's No. 2 back behind DeShaun Foster despite rushing for a career-high 121 yards against the Cardinals.

--QB David Carr said he should be 100 percent for the Colts game. Carr has faced the Colts several times during his career.

--MLB Dan Morgan's status remains up in the air for Sunday. He has missed the last three games with a partially torn Achilles.

--CB Chris Gamble is quietly putting together a good season for the Panthers. The fact that there hasn't been much written about Gamble is probably a good thing.

--DE Julius Peppers will surely be looking for a good game against the Colts, especially since he would like to surpass Dwight Freeney as the highest-paid defensive player in the league at some point down the road.

REPORT CARD AFTER 6 GAMES

PASSING OFFENSE: C -- The Panthers had looked sharp early on with Jake Delhomme at the helm. He had thrown eight touchdown passes and only one pick in the first three games. Since then, the Panthers have been through David Carr, Matt Moore and Vinny Testaverde. Carolina ranks 26th in the league in passing, but while the yards may not have been there, the production has been. Overall, the Panthers have scored 11 touchdowns through the air in six games. Obviously, the challenge for offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson is to continue to get receiver Steve Smith the football. Smith has put up fairly mundane numbers by his standards after a fast start. He could benefit from Keary Colbert, Drew Carter and Dwayne Jarrett stepping up.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- The Panthers have not been terrible running the football. They rank ninth in the league with an average of 132.5 yards per game on the ground. But then, they haven't faced any great run defenses. DeShaun Foster entered the bye week sixth in the NFC in rushing, and DeAngelo Williams was 11th. Foster is averaging 4.2 yards per carry and Williams 5.5 a pop. However, they have only two rushing touchdowns between them and none from inside the 10-yard line.

PASS DEFENSE: C -- Early in the season, this area would have received the lowest grade possible, but the Panthers pass defense has improved dramatically the last two weeks and is the main reason the team is 4-2 instead of 2-4. Carolina is starting to come up with some interceptions and turnovers, and in that aspect the bye week came at a bad time. You can attribute the increased production to the improved play of safeties Chris Harris and Deke Cooper, as well as rookie Jon Beason stepping in and playing well at the middle linebacker while filling in for Dan Morgan. The Panthers are 2-0 with Beason in the middle.

RUSH DEFENSE: C-plus -- The Panthers haven't been killed on the ground this year, limiting opponents to 110.3 yards per game and five touchdowns. They can be a little more stout, but all in all, not too bad. Outside of a poor performance against Tampa Bay, the Panthers have done well defending the run.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- John Kasay and Jason Baker have been solid in the kicking game, but Carolina's return game lacks any explosiveness, and that has more to do with the blocking than the return men. Carolina's coverage teams have come dangerously close to giving up some big plays.

COACHING: B-plus -- Anytime you can go through four quarterbacks and still be 4-2, you've done a nice job. That's a feather in the cap for coach John Fox and his staff.


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