Inside slant: Carolina Week 10 review

Here's the "Inside Slant," your twice-weekly source for news about the Bucs' NFC South rivals. Today's edition wraps up Week 10's games, including personnel news and exclusive unit grades for the Carolina Panthers, who lost to Atlanta. It's a premium service from Bucsblitz.com.

The Panthers secondary was one of the more maligned units the first month of the season.

But now, the defensive backfield has become one of the strengths of a team that is clearly lacking strength in most areas.

However, the secondary will be tested this week when the Panthers face Brett Favre and the high-flying Green Bay Packers (8-1) at Lambeau Field.

"It's tough regardless if Green Bay is doing well or not," cornerback Ken Lucas said of playing in Green Bay. "They just have that mystique.

"They use the weather to their advantage whenever they play at home, especially this time of year. It's going to be another great challenge for the secondary to go there and compete against those guys. They are doing very well, and Brett Favre is doing a great job of putting the ball in the air and giving his wide receivers chances to make plays."

Lucas and Chris Gamble are playing extremely well, and the Panthers have received strong play from safeties Chris Harris and Deke Cooper, although Cooper left Sunday's game with a shoulder injury.

The secondary has played pretty well, especially considering the lack of a pass rush. The Panthers have just nine sacks through nine games.

Defensive end Julius Peppers, once one of the more dominant players in the league, has been very average this season with 1.5 sacks, all coming against the Arizona Cardinals. Mike Rucker, who has battled back from knee surgery, finally got his first sack Sunday.

The difficulty for the defense this year has been playing with almost no margin for error.

Because of the team's struggles to keep a healthy quarterback on the field, the offense has been brutal. In four of the team's five losses this season, the offense has failed to score more than one touchdown.

"That is what is happening with the losses -- our defense is doing a nice job, but we have to figure out a way to score points," offensive tackle Jordan Gross said. "You're never going to win in the league scoring less than 10 points. This game (a 20-13 loss to the Falcons) was a pretty good example of that."

NOTES, QUOTES

--While running out of the tunnel for pregame introductions, rookie MLB Jon Beason held up a Dan Morgan jersey about his head in show of support for his injured friend.

The oft-injured Morgan went on injured reserve last week after his partially torn Achilles tendon failed to improve.

"I wanted everybody to know that Dan wants to be out here, probably more so than a lot of other guys," Beason said. "People who really don't know him don't know how much the game means to him. He's been a big part of my success here. I try to watch him and be like him, and I look up to him. The jersey thing was kind of like I was bringing him out here with me and this game is for him."

--If there were a bright spot for the Panthers on Sunday, it was the improved play of rookie returner Ryne Robinson.

Although he struggled the first half of the season, Robinson stepped it up against the Falcons, averaging 25.7 yards per kickoff return and 10.8 yards per punt return.

That's a significant improvement over his season averages -- 19 yards per kickoff return and 7.3 yards per punt return.

--With Keary Colbert down with a foot injury, rookie Dwayne Jarrett saw his most significant action of the season at wide receiver.

Vinny Testaverde threw Jarrett's way five times on Sunday, and the rookie caught two passes for 28 yards.

"I felt like I did good," Jarrett said. "It's unfortunate that we didn't come out with the win. You live and you learn. But we'll go back to the drawing board and hope to do better next week."

--The Panthers came in thinking they were going to have success on the ground. And why not? After all, RB DeShaun Foster had eclipsed 100 yards in four of the last five games against the Falcons.

But he was held to just 59 yards Sunday.

"I thought that we were going to be able to run the ball at will," said offensive tackle Jordan Gross. "(The Falcons) had good pursuit and were making plays on the backside of the run. I will have to look at the film, but we just have to do better. It's a team effort, and everybody took their turn messing up."

--Carolina's lone injury was to S Deke Cooper, who left the game in the third quarter with what appeared to be a fairly significant shoulder injury. Expect an update on Wednesday.

--It took nine games, but veteran DE Mike Rucker finally got in the sack column Sunday with a takedown of Joey Harrington.

Rucker has shown remarkable toughness coming back just eight months after surgery to repair a torn ACL in his knee, but clearly he's struggled to regain his former Pro Bowl form.

Still, he's played hard, earning the respect of his teammates, and hasn't taken any plays off. Rucker actually had a hand in the team's other sack, but it was given to LB Na'il Diggs instead.

--Carolina's starting quarterback remained a mystery right up until Vinny Testaverde ran onto the field for the first offensive snap.

Testaverde said his foot felt fine after the game.

"I'm good," Testaverde said. "The Achilles was good enough to get me through the game. Being smart this week, hopefully we'll just keep moving forward in a positive direction, no setbacks like I had last week. We'll go from there."

--With his team 4-5, Fox was asked Monday whom he considers his starting quarterback as the team moves forward. However, he wouldn't bite, saying that is something the team will look at later this week.

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--FS Deke Cooper injured his shoulder in the third quarter of Sunday's loss to Atlanta and did not return. Coach John Fox would not discuss the extent of Cooper's injury on Monday. If Cooper can't go this week, the Panthers may have to turn to rookie Quinton Teal or veteran Marquand Manuel.

--FS Quinton Teal could start this week if Deke Cooper isn't able to return. Teal filled in when Cooper went down with a shoulder injury in the third quarter Sunday.

--QB David Carr will be re-evaluated Wednesday after missing Sunday's game with a concussion. At this point, it's unclear who will start at quarterback against Green Bay.

--WR Steve Smith was held to 61 yards Sunday and had a fumble at the 2-yard line that resulted in a touchback.

--DT Damione Lewis left Sunday's game with a shoulder injury, but he did return.

--WR Dwayne Jarrett saw his most extensive action of the season and caught a couple of passes from Vinny Testaverde.

--RB DeShaun Foster injured his toe Sunday. He will be re-evaluated Wednesday.

REPORT CARD VS. FALCONS

PASSING OFFENSE: F -- QB Vinny Testaverde returned to the starting lineup, but he made little difference. Granted, he wasn't as timid in the pocket as David Carr, but he managed just 153 yards on 13-of-28 passing. He was sacked only twice, both in the final minutes of the game. WR Steve Smith had 61 yards, but a fumble on 2-yard line that cost the Panthers a touchdown. WR Drew Carter, who started in place of the injured WR Keary Colbert, had 28 yards, but he also was flagged for offensive pass interference and dropped a pass.

RUSHING OFFENSE: D -- RB DeShaun Foster, who had four 100-yard games in the past five outings against the Falcons, was held to 59 yards on 20 carries. His longest run of the day went for 9 yards, and the Panthers were held to 90 yards rushing on 28 carries, a mere 3.2-yard average. It's hard to put all of the blame on Foster when the passing game is simply atrocious. Teams are able to key on Carolina's running game.

PASS DEFENSE: B-minus -- Up until the final touchdown pass from QB Joey Harrington to TE Alge Crumpler, the Panthers had played exceptionally well against the pass. They even turned a fumble into their first defensive touchdown of the season by CB Ken Lucas. Lucas had a great game, as did CB Chris Gamble. The Panthers had two sacks -- one by DE Mike Rucker and the other by LB Na'il Diggs -- and they are fast approaching double digits for the season. They have nine in nine games.

RUSH DEFENSE: B-minus -- The Panthers allowed RB Warrick Dunn to race 30 yards for a touchdown on a draw play on the game's first drive. But after that, the Panthers pretty much shut down the run game, holding the Falcons to 88 yards on 28 carries, a 3.1-yard average. Dunn finished with 140 total yards.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- P Jason Baker was terrible Sunday, with a number of short punts, none more costly than a line drive punt late in the game that was returned 23 yards to set up the winning touchdown. K John Kasay converted on both field-goal attempts from 29 and 31 yards, and PR/KR Ryne Robinson really stepped up his game. Carolina's coverage teams improved.

COACHING: C -- It's hard not to be discouraged by the play-calling on offense, but you have to factor into the equation that the Panthers are on their third quarterback of the season. But the Panthers do have talent. They just aren't using it very well. You can understand the decision on most of the draw plays on third-and-long, but you have to question the fade route to Smith on fourth-and-1. That's a low-percentage play. Take your chances and run the ball against the league's 24th-ranked defense.


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