WHEN THE CHIEFS PASS
The Chiefs now have stability with Damon Huard back under center, but can they protect him this week? The Panthers aren't exactly the '85 Bears, but are more than a match for Kansas City's offensive line. The key battle here is Julius Peppers against KC backup left tackle Herb Taylor, who will start for the injured Branden Albert.
Peppers was moved from left defensive to right end this offseason, but still lines up almost anywhere along Carolina's defensive front, even as a standup pass rusher in the 3-4. That means he'll rush against Taylor and Chiefs' right tackle Damion McIntosh, who has allowed three sacks already this year.
Occasionally, the Panthers will even put Peppers at defensive tackle, with backup end Charles Johnson taking Peppers' place at end. Johnson usually enters the game in Carolina's nickel package as a pass-rush threat. The Panthers will also bring the blitz on occasion, especially with a defensive back off the edge or speedy linebacker Thomas Davis up the middle.
As if blocking all of this won't be hard enough, the Panthers present one of the league's finest cornerback tandems with Chris Gamble and Ken Lucas. Both are big defensive backs who match up well with Dwayne Bowe. It will be interesting to see if Bowe can get open, as well as KC tight end Tony Gonzalez, who will surely be covered by Davis, who can run with just about any tight end in the league.
WHEN THE PANTHERS PASS
The good news for the Chiefs is that Carolina's starting left tackle, Jordan Gross, will not play Sunday because of a concussion. The bad news is that his backup, Travelle Wharton, has plenty of experience playing left tackle and handled Atlanta's John Abraham well last week in Carolina's win. The Panthers have not announced their starting left tackle against the Chiefs, but it's a good bet Wharton will get the nod again.
That's unfortunate for Tamba Hali, who has yet to record a sack this season. In fact, Carolina's entire offensive line is terrific at pass blocking, and they give quarterback Jake Delhomme plenty of time in the pocket (when they're not facing the Vikings, anyway, who sacked Delhomme five times). Rookie right tackle Jeff Otah, however, is doubtful for the game after suffering an ankle injury last week.
The Panthers re-signed an old friend in the passing game this offseason – wide receiver Mushin Muhammad, who is 35, but can still play. He gave Atlanta's young cornerback, Brent Grimes, all he could handle a week ago, and in fact really dominated Grimes, racking up 147 yards and a touchdown. Expect the Chiefs to put rookie Brandon Carr on Muhammad due to his size, though veteran corner Patrick Surtain is listed as probable this week.
Brandon Flowers, of course, has his own challenge to meet on the other side of the field with Steve Smith to cover. The Panthers run an extremely efficient passing offense, with big-play capability when you least expect it. Did we mention Carolina's secondary targets in the passing game – receiver DJ Hackett and second-year tight end Dante Rosario – are also big play threats? Kansas City's secondary faces a huge challenge this week.
WHEN THE CHIEFS RUN
For two weeks now, the Chiefs have run the football extremely well – 397 yards and six yards per carry. Is the dominant ground game we witnessed during Herm Edwards' first season as head coach back? If so, it will show against the Panthers.
Carolina's ranking against the run isn't spectacular, but they haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher this season, and last week shut down NFL rushing leader Michael Turner. Sitting in the middle of the Panthers' defensive line is the key to their run defense – tackle Maake Kemoeatu, a massive man at 6-foot-5 and 345 pounds.
Kemoeatu against Chiefs' right guard Adrian Jones is a big-time mismatch. Jones will need help from KC center Rudy Niswanger. If the Chiefs can run on Carolina tomorrow, they'll be able to run on just about anyone, but this is another tall task, especially because the Panthers tackle extremely well (as they showed a week ago against Michael Turner, the quintessential "bowling ball with butcher knives") and have plenty of speed at linebacker.
WHEN THE PANTHERS RUN
The Panthers have one of the biggest offensive lines in football and two great talents at running back in DeAngelo Williams and rookie power back Jonathan Stewart. Fortunately for the Chiefs, who have struggled to stop the run this year, the pieces don't quite add up to the dominant ground game John Fox would surely love to have.
Carolina's offense is averaging only 3.6 yards per carry so far. Part of the problem may be their schedule – so far the Panthers have faced San Diego, Chicago, Minnesota and Atlanta, three of which have either good or great run defenses.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs stopped the run for the first time all season last week against the Denver Broncos. Are they good enough to stuff a struggling Carolina rushing attack?
Don't count on great field position for the Chiefs this week. Carolina's kickoff specialist, Rhys Lloyd, has an enormous leg and routinely places the ball five yards deep in the end zone. Veteran punter Jason Baker, a former Chief, is also kicking well. The Panthers use rookie back Jonathan Stewart as a kickoff returner. The ancient John Kasay is still as reliable as ever (perfect on field goals this year).
Carolina is clearly one of the better teams in the NFC, but will they take the Chiefs lightly with a huge AFC South matchup looming next week against Tampa Bay? Panthers Head Coach John Fox is 1-0 lifetime against Herm Edwards.
The Chiefs are a better football team than we previously thought, but still don't have enough ammo to go into Carolina and beat an NFC powerhouse.
Panthers 27, Chiefs 16
The Matchups – Chiefs vs Panthers
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