Inside slant: Carolina Week 15 preview

Here's the "Inside Slant," your twice-weekly source for news about the Bucs' NFC South rivals. Today's edition previews Week 15's games, including personnel news, analysis and insider matchups for the Carolina Panthers and this weekend's game. It's a premium service from Bucsblitz.com.

All but eliminated from playoff contention, the 5-8 Carolina Panthers are struggling to find a new goal.

"Pride's definitely got to be a big factor," said guard Mike Wahle. "That's kind of what we're stressing right now. Playoff picture, I don't know what it is technically, but I think we're pretty much out of it.

"You've got to play for the names on the back of the jerseys. That's the most important thing when it comes right down to it. Play for yourself. Play for each other and go out and play hard and represent yourself well."

It won't be easy.

The Panthers, who have generated no consistency on offense since quarterback Jake Delhomme went down in Week 3, face a Seahawks team that is red hot. After starting 4-4, Seattle has won five straight to take the NFC West title.

"They're solid. They're putting up a lot of points," Wahle said. "Their defense is playing well. They're up in a lot of games so they're kind of letting their guys run loose up front. They're doing a good job. Their front seven is solid.

"The important thing this week that we haven't been able to do is stay on the field longer. Try to help our defense out. They've got a great offense. Getting first downs is going to be big this game."

As is normally the case following back-to-back non-winning seasons, the hot seat is heating up under coach John Fox and general manager Marty Hurney. There is plenty of speculation about Fox's future, especially now that Bobby Petrino has left Atlanta.

The Panthers have long been rumored to have interest in Bill Cowher and they now have time to pursue him, giving them an advantage over other teams. If the Panthers really do want to make a change and pursue Cowher, that could happen sooner rather than later.

"I don't really look into that," safety Chris Harris said of Fox's future. "I just go out there and try to make every play I can possibly make. I think coach Fox is a great coach and I would love for him to be back next year. Not that I've heard anything, but if there is any speculation like that."

Harris believes Fox is well-liked among players and doesn't know of anyone who would be happy to see him go.

"He's a people's coach," Harris said. "He's a player's coach. He gets his point across. He's hard-nosed coach. He's old school a little bit, and I like it. I just like him. I liked him from the first day I got here."

SERIES HISTORY

Fourth meeting. Seahawks lead series 2-1. In the NFC championship game two years ago, the Panthers were routed 34-14 at Qwest Field.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Cornerback Richard Marshall said Wednesday that his comments following Sunday's loss to Jacksonville were misinterpreted by reporters.

After Carolina's 37-6 loss to Jacksonville, safety Chris Harris stood at his locker answering questions from the media about the defense spending so much time on the field -- nearly 39 minutes -- while the offense struggled once again. At that point Marshall, who was getting dressed a few lockers down, shouted at Harris, "Tell them the truth, Chris. Tell them the truth."

That was all that was written about the incident by three local media outlets, but Marshall felt like his comments were incorrectly construed as though he had something negative to say about the team's offense.

"I know I said what I said, but what I meant by that was, 'Tell them the truth -- we're not playing a good team game,'" Marshall said Wednesday. "We're losing. We're not playing good on offense or defense or special teams -- and that's contributing to us losing.

"But the way whoever wrote it in the paper was like I was trying to bad-talk the team, and it wasn't like that. I was just saying, 'Tell them the truth, we're not playing a good team game right now.' But they're trying to put it out there as if I was saying it in a bad way. I don't know who wrote it in the paper, but whoever did, next time come to me and ask me what I meant by that, don't go write something in the paper that I didn't say."

Of course, a couple of reporters did attempt to talk to Marshall moments after he made the comments on Sunday but a public-relations assistant said Marshall wouldn't be talking.

So why did he make the comments to begin with?

"(Because) we're not playing good on offense, we're not playing good on defense, we're not playing good on special teams," Marshall said. "And that's contributing to us losing. It's not one side of the ball, it's not coaches, it's our players on the team and the players on the field. We're not doing what we've got to do to win."

--Here's what center Justin Hartwig had to say about the offense's woes: "The defense is out there playing hard. We're out there playing hard, too. We're just not getting it done, unfortunately. They're keeping us in games at halftime. But when we can't put the points up, they can only hold them so long."

--Offensive tackle Frank Omiyale, who began the season with the Atlanta Falcons, said he was surprised coach Bobby Petrino up and quit the Falcons with three games to go to take a job at the University of Arkansas.

Omiyale said he sensed a separation between Petrino and his players.

"He wasn't really open to where you could just walk up to him," Omiyale said. "He just wanted to keep things business-oriented."

--In what has become commonplace for the Panthers this year, they again enter the week not knowing who will be their quarterback on Sunday.

"It's just kind of the way it's been every week," said center Justin Hartwig, who has snapped to four different quarterbacks this year. "Most weeks, at the beginning of the week, we're not sure who the starter is going to be. We're rotating guys in and out of there, so we're not always sure. But I feel that we're getting enough reps with everybody that we'll be all right come Sunday."

Vinny Testaverde did not practice on Wednesday. He was given a day off to rest.

There's a possibility coach John Fox could turn to rookie Matt Moore, but Fox may be hesitant to throw a rookie out there.

Therefore, Testaverde is likely to start if healthy.

--For Jon and Mark Richardson, luring the ACC Football Championship Game to Charlotte became personal. The two sons of Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, both high-ranking officials within the organization, have strong ties to the ACC.

Jon played at North Carolina, where he was a member of the last Tar Heels' team to win the ACC championship. Mark played at Clemson, a member of the Tigers' 1981 National Championship team.

So when the ACC put the league's championship game up for bidding a second time, the Richardsons pushed hard to hold the game at Bank of America Stadium.

On Wednesday, they got their wish.

A panel of league athletic directors and faculty athletics representatives voted unanimously to move the title game to Charlotte in 2010 and 2011. It might have been sooner than that, but conflicts with another city-wide convention in Charlotte in 2008 -- quite simply, there wouldn't have been enough hotel rooms available to hold the fans -- forced the league to hold off.

BY THE NUMBERS

29 -- Panthers league rank in total offense.

QUOTE TO NOTE

"We kind of are what we are. We've had that approach for quite some time now. ... We make lineup changes when they're deemed necessary. That's been the case, and won't change moving forward." -- Panthers coach John Fox, on if there will be any lineup changes moving forward.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Panthers continue to use Chris Harris and Deke Cooper at safety. Harris has played well for the Panthers, but look for the team to find a replacement for Cooper in the offseason. He's been beat or caught out of position on far too many plays this season.

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--QB Vinny Testaverde did not practice (team decision, rest) on Wednesday.

--RG Jeremy Bridges is expected to return to the lineup this week after having a wisdom tooth pulled earlier this week. The abscessed tooth, which flared up just hours before last Sunday's game, kept Bridges out against Jacksonville. He did not practice on Wednesday.

--RB DeShaun Foster continues to get the bulk of carries for the Panthers. His chances of reaching the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his career may be slipping away.

--TE Jeff King continues to be a big target for Carolina quarterbacks. He's been the intended target on more than 70 passes this season.

--WR Steve Smith has only one game with more than 64 yards receiving in the past 11 games.

--WR Dwayne Jarrett returned to practice on Wednesday.

--WR Keary Colbert (knee) did not practice on Wednesday.

--C Justin Hartwig has managed to play the entire season for the Panthers after coming back from a groin injury last year.

GAME PLAN

The Panthers need to generate some offense in any way possible, but unfortunately for them, that is easier said than done. Carolina has become one of the worst offensive teams in the league and the defense is spending too much time on the field. The defense has to be getting frustrated with the offense's inability to move the football. The defense tends to shut it down in the second half in part because they've given up hope that the offense is going to help them at all.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck vs. Panthers secondary. Hasselbeck has been putting up huge numbers, especially in the second half of the season. He runs into a Carolina secondary that struggled last week defending Jaguars quarterback David Garrard. The Seahawks, despite the presence of Shaun Alexander, have made it pretty clear they're a passing team.

Seahawks DE Patrick Kerney vs. Panthers RT Jordan Gross. Kerney has nine sacks in the past three games for the Seahawks. That means Gross, who has had a decent but not great season, will have a huge challenge on his hands. Gross, who has played against Kerney several times in the past when Kerney was with Atlanta, said Kerney's style is similar to that of Green Bay's Aaron Kampman.

INJURY IMPACT

Outside of wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett (knee), the Panthers should be healthy entering Sunday's game against Seattle.


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