Sunday, December 9th, 2007- 1:00 P.M.
Kickoff Temperature: 72 degrees, 10% chance of precipitation
Records: Carolina- 5-7, tied for second place in the NFC South, Jacksonville- 8-4, second place in the AFC South
Line: Jaguars by 10.5
Panthers offense- 27th overall (14th rushing, 28th passing); Scoring- 26th- 17.0 ppg. Vs. Jaguars defense- 22nd overall (8th rushing, 27th passing); Scoring- 7th- 18.6 ppg.
The Panthers offense has struggled mightily for most of the season due to the inconsistent play at quarterback. Opening day starter Jake Delhomme went down for the season after week three and it's been a revolving door at the position ever since. Former first overall pick David Carr was signed as a free agent prior to the season and he's battled injuries and poor play this year. Carr enters this week's contest with a quarterback rating of just 58.3, one of the very worst in the NFL. Splitting time with Carr has been free agent veteran quarterback Vinny Testaverde. The 44-year old Testaverde was signed prior to week six and has done a mediocre job, completing 56.3% of his passes with five touchdowns and five interceptions with a quarterback rating of 71.2. Testaverde has won two of the five games that he's played in this season. At this point it is unclear which quarterback will start on Sunday.
Testaverde or Carr's primary target will be Pro Bowl receiver Steve Smith. Smith is a very speedy, complete wide receiver who can go over the middle or catch the deep ball. Smith has caught 59 passes for 701 yards and six touchdowns, and is the most explosive weapon that the Panthers have. Other receivers that will be targeted are Keary Colbert, (31 rec., 324 yds.), Drew Carter (28 rec., 4 TD's), and Dwayne Jarrett (6 rec.). The Panthers love to use their tight ends in the passing game, and starter Jeff King has 41 catches for 369 yards and two touchdowns.
On the ground, the Panthers use a running back tandem of DeShaun Foster and DeAngelo Williams. Foster has received the bulk of the carries and has 728 yards on 203 attempts. Williams has chipped in with 468 yards on just 96 attempts. Both backs can catch the ball out of the backfield as they've combined for 40 receptions for 313 yards and two touchdowns. Paving the way for Foster and Williams is veteran fullback Brad Hoover. Hoover is in his eighth season from Western Carolina and is one of the game's best blockers at his position.
A match-up that the Panthers can certainly exploit is wide receiver Steve Smith against Jaguars cornerback Rashean Mathis. Smith is one the best receivers in the game, and Mathis is having a nightmarish season. Mathis, the former All-Pro corner (2006) was picked on repeatedly against the Colts last week and until he proves that he can stop opposing receivers, offenses will continue to throw in his direction. The Jaguars defense should be able to contain the Panthers running game.
The Jaguars offense has really been clicking of late, and David Garrard is playing the best football of his life as he enters the game as the NFL's third-ranked passer with a 104.7 rating. Despite the newfound success in the Jacksonville passing game, the Jaguars offense is predicated upon running the football with Fred Taylor, who has gained over 100 yards in two consecutive weeks, and Maurice Jones-Drew, who leads the team with eight touchdowns. Trying to stop the Jaguars powerful rushing attack will be the Carolina front four made up of Julius Peppers, Ma'ake Kemoeatu, Kris Jenkins, and Mike Rucker. Peppers is one of the most physically gifted defensive ends in the game who can rush the passer and be effective against the run. Peppers is having a down year, mainly because of the lackluster play of his line mates. Jenkins is supremely talented, but sometimes lacks motivation, and Rucker is seemingly always battling injuries.
The Panthers linebacking corps is made up of veteran Na'il Diggs, rookie Jon Beason, and Thomas Davis. Beason and Davis are young, active linebackers who are very fast to the football. Diggs is a solid pass rusher from the outside linebacker spot, and is known as a playmaker. The Carolina secondary features cornerbacks Chris Gamble and Ken Lucas, and safeties Chris Harris and Deke Cooper. Gamble and Lucas are solid cover guys, but Harris and Cooper, a former Jaguar, can be picked on in the passing game. Richard Marshall is talented corner that plays nickel. The Panthers have struggled against the run this season and the Jaguars will likely give the team from Charlotte a heavy dose of the Taylor/Jones-Drew/Jones attack. Marcedes Lewis should be a good target against either of the Panthers linebackers.
Panthers kickoff return- 32nd (18.2 ypr.); punt return- 28th (7.3 ypr.); punting- 15th (43.3 gross); net punting- 25th (37.2 avg.); kickoff coverage- 28th (25.6 ypr. allowed); punt coverage- 22nd (10.5 ypr allowed)
Jaguars kickoff return- 6th (24.3 ypr.); punt return- T14th (9.1 ypr.); punting- T23rd (42.0 gross); net punting- 23rd (38.1 avg.); kickoff coverage- 1st (17.0 ypr. allowed); punt coverage- 8th (7.3 ypr. allowed)
Panthers: PK John Kasay, P Jason Baker, LS Jason Kyle, KR/PR Ryne Robinson.
Kasey is 17/20 on field goals with a long of 52 yards. Robinson is averaging 20.0 yards per return on kickoffs, and 7.6 yards per punt return.
Scobee is 8/9 on field goals with a long of 48 yards. Jones-Drew is averaging 27.2 yards per kickoff return. Northcutt is averaging 10.3 yards per punt return.
The Jaguars have a clear and distinct advantage in each of the return and coverage units. Panthers kicker John Kasey is having another fantastic season, and punter Jason Baker is one of the game's best. The Jaguars should be able to dominate special teams on Sunday.
Charlie Bernstein is the Editor-in-Chief of Jagnation.com, and a regular syndicated contributor to FoxSports.com, Sirius NFL Radio, and Sportsillustated.com. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and is a columnist for the New Smyrna Observer.