Inside slant: Carolina Week 10 preview

Need the inside scoop on the Buccaneers' NFC South rivals? Look no further than the "Inside Slant." Every Thursday Bucsblitz.com offers a preview of the weekend's games for the rest of the division. Go inside Carolina's preparations for Sunday's game, including key matchups, game analysis and injuries.

DeShaun Foster has been a decent running back over the years for the Carolina Panthers.

But when he plays the Atlanta Falcons, he becomes a superstar.

Since 2005, Foster has run for 1,681 yards in 31 games, averaging just 3.8 yards per carry and 54.2 yards per game against everyone not wearing a Falcon on their helmet. In the five games against Atlanta, however, Foster has run for 574 yards (114.8 yards per game) and is averaging an impressive 5.5 yards per carry.

He has as many rushing touchdowns in those five games against Atlanta (three) as he does the other 31 games combined.

So while the Panthers are having trouble keeping a quarterback on the field, that doesn't seem to be the main concern of the Falcons.

"Our big thing with Carolina the last few times we've played them has not been the quarterback, it's been the running back," said Falcons defensive end John Abraham. "Honestly speaking, Foster has pretty much killed us the last few times he's played us. That's our main thing, not letting them get going on the ground. We feel like if we can hold No. 89 (Steve Smith) down and hold Foster down, we can win this game."

So why has Foster run well against Atlanta?

"I think it's personal confidence," Abraham said. "It's kind of like when I play against certain teams, you know you're going to play. He probably figures when he plays us, he's going to play well."

In the Week 3 meeting with the Falcons, Foster carried 20 times for 122 yards, the fourth time in the last five games he's eclipsed 100 yards against the Falcons.

This week, the Panthers are expected to rely even more on Foster given their uncertainty at the quarterback position. It's unclear if either Vinny Testaverde or David Carr will play this week, which means the Panthers might be forced to go with rookie Matt Moore on Sunday. It would be Moore's first career start.

The going might prove tougher this time around for Foster.

Carolina hasn't been real consistent in the running game as teams have figured out that you can double Smith on the outside, single cover everyone else and use an extra defensive back to stuff the run.

It all comes back to inconsistency at the quarterback position and Carolina's lack of a solid second receiver.

What's so confusing is the Panthers released Keyshawn Johnson in the offseason thinking second-round draft pick Dwayne Jarrett would be a solid replacement. But Jarrett has played in just one game this season and caught one pass for six yards.

SERIES HISTORY

26th meeting. Falcons lead the series, 15-10. Carolina defeated Atlanta in Week 3 in a game that ended Jake Delhomme's season. The Panthers have lost five of their last eight against the Falcons at Bank of America Stadium, including the 2006 regular-season opener.

NOTES, QUOTES

--The Panthers got some good news Wednesday as veteran quarterback Vinny Testaverde returned to practice.

Testaverde, who turns 44 later this month, was not limited in practice. However, coach John Fox would not say if Testaverde will start this week against the Atlanta Falcons.

"I am optimistic," Testaverde said. "I feel great right now and just moving forward tomorrow and pushing a little harder and hopefully there are no setbacks, which I don't anticipate. I'm excited about it. I think we made the right decision in not pushing it last week."

David Carr, who suffered a concussion last week against Tennessee, was one of seven players -- including six starters -- that did not practice.

Among them were wide receivers Steve Smith (team decision) and Keary Colbert (foot), center Justin Hartwig and left tackle Jordan Gross, linebacker Thomas Davis (personal issue) and defensive end Otis Grigsby (thigh). Smith and Davis are likely to play this week.

Testaverde and Matt Moore took reps during practice.

--When the Panthers step on the field Sunday, it will be 51 weeks since they last won a home game at Bank of America Stadium.

--Defensive end Mike Rucker was visibly upset when asked about linebacker Dan Morgan being lost for the season to a partially torn Achilles tendon.

Morgan has been a talented player, but he's never been able to remain on the field.

"It stinks. It really does," Rucker said. "My heart really goes out to him because he's a guy that you know where his heart's at. And you know what kind of team player he is and how he prepares for the game. To just have some bad luck, it just stinks. You would think with a guy of that stature and how he carries himself to be able to catch a break. It just stinks to see that he had to go down again. I'm definitely praying for him to keep his spirits up because I know it's tough to have those back-to-back years. It stinks."

--Panthers offensive lineman Mike Wahle, who played two seasons at Navy, was thrilled with the Midshipmen's win over Notre Dame this past weekend.

"Yeah, 43 years -- isn't that great?" he said "But 43 years and all I won was $20."

Wahle joked that classes at the Naval Academy should have been cancelled. When a reporter told them they had, he said, "No, I mean for the rest of the year!"

QUOTE TO NOTE

"I didn't force things to Steve, but (in the Arizona game), they allowed me to have some opportunities to get the ball to Steve that game. Some had to do with the play-calling and some had to do with the defense that they played. And anytime you have a player like Steve, you want to get the ball to him. But you have to do it in a smart way. You can't force the ball and you can't press. When you start doing that, bad things happen. So we have to continue to work at the things we've been working at and it will happen. We have other guys in this offense that are capable as well. The key is consistency. If we can start getting it, we will do well." -- Panthers QB Vinny Testaverde, on his success getting the ball to WR Steve Smith, something Carolina's other QB, David Carr, has struggled with this season.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Jon Beason can get comfortable at middle linebacker.

He's staying there, probably for a long time.

Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said Tuesday the team has placed talented, but oft-injured linebacker Dan Morgan on injured reserve with a partially torn Achilles tendon. Hurney said Morgan will have surgery in the next couple of weeks.

Morgan, who has never finished a 16-game season since joining the Panthers as a first-round draft pick out of Miami in 2001, played in just three games this season. In seven years, Morgan has played in 59 games and, by the time this season ends, will have missed 53 due to injury.

"It's obviously very disappointing for us and for Dan," Hurney said. "He has been trying to rehab for the last six weeks and it just didn't get any better."

The team replaced Morgan on the active roster with fullback Billy Latsko.

Morgan's long-term future with the Panthers looks tenuous at best.

Not only is he facing surgery to repair his Achilles, but he's also suffered five career concussions. However, Hurney would not discuss Morgan's future on Tuesday.

"As with everyone, we will evaluate that after the season," Hurney said.

If there's a positive, the Panthers seem to have found their middle linebacker of the future in Beason, a fellow Miami Hurricane who has played well in Morgan's absence.

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--QB David Carr was held out of Wednesday's practice because of a concussion he suffered against the Tennessee Titans. He was to have some baseline cognitive tests on Wednesday night to determine if he's ready to play this week. Even if he is, don't be surprised to see Vinny Testaverde get the start.

--QB Vinny Testaverde returned to practice on Wednesday and said he's optimistic about playing this week. Coach John Fox would not say who will start this week.

--WR Steve Smith was held out of Wednesday's practice because of a team decision. Earlier in the week, it was said that he has a hip contusion.

--C Justin Hartwig could miss Sunday's game with a broken right thumb. That should make it hard for him to snap. Looks like Ryan Kalil will get the start on Sunday.

--C Ryan Kalil could start for the Panthers on Sunday in place of the injured Hartwig.

--WR Keary Colbert did not practice because of a foot injury. His status will be reevaluated later in the week.

--DE Otis Grigsby sat out Wednesday's practice, which means Stanley McClover could be active this week. McClover was inactive last week.

GAME PLAN

The Panthers will rely heavily on DeShaun Foster, who has run for at least 100 yards in four of the last five games against the Falcons. Steve Smith could have trouble.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

Panthers WR Steve Smith vs. Falcons CB DeAngelo Hall. Hall's three penalties for 67 yards -- all on the same drive -- cost the Falcons the game in Week 3 and earned Hall a fine. Still, Hall really shut down Smith in that game, holding him to one catch for 10 yards. Simply put, there is a lot of bad blood between these two guys and this could be another fiery matchup.

Falcons DE John Abraham vs. Panthers LT Travelle Wharton. Wharton has really struggled with Abraham over the past couple of years. He had a monster game against Carolina in the 2006 season opener and he injured Jake Delhomme on a sack earlier this year, ending the quarterback's season.

INJURY IMPACT

Carr, who suffered a concussion last week against Tennessee, was one of seven players -- including six starters -- who did not practice on Wednesday.

Among the others were wide receivers Smith (team decision) and Colbert (foot), center Hartwig and left tackle Jordan Gross, linebacker Thomas Davis (personal issue) and defensive end Grigsby (thigh). Smith and Davis are likely to play this week.

Testaverde and Matt Moore took reps during practice.

Hartwig missed practice with a broken right thumb. It's going to be hard for him to grip the ball, so don't be surprised if Kalil gets the start at center.


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