Panthers scouting report

New York Jets VS Carolina Panthers Date: Sunday, Oct. 28 Time: 1:00 p.m. Eastern Site: Ericsson Stadium Surface: Grass TV: CBS Series: Tied,1-1 Streak: Jets, one game

Last Time: Jets 48, Panthers 21, Nov. 29, 1998 at The Meadowlands.

The Jets recorded their highest point total in 12 years in all sorts of interesting ways, including a safety on a Bryan Cox sack and a touchdown on a 35-yard Keyshawn Johnson end around. Curtis Martin electrified Jets fans with a 60-yard TD run, still his longest as a Jet. Through the air, Vinny Testaverde and Wayne Chrebet hooked up twice for touchdowns. The victory was the Jets' sixth in seven games and kept them tied for the lead in the AFC East with the 8-4 Dolphins.

Overview: After going 8-8 in the 1999, the Panthers and 61-year-old head coach George Seifert took a quick-fix approach to reach the next level in 2000. They added defensive linemen Reggie White, Eric Swann and Chuck Smith who responded by ranking 26th in the NFL vs. the rush and 27th in sacks. None of that trio remains, and once again Carolina spent the off-season trying to rebuild the defensive, this time with youth.

Linebacker Dan Morgan was drafted in the first round and defensive lineman Kris Jenkins in the second, and both have become starters. The team signed also signed free-agent DLs Brentson Buckner and Larry Chester. So far the run defense is slighty improved, but the Panthers still can't get to the quarterback. Carolina picked up their starting quarterback in the fourth round of this year's draft. Seasoned rookie Chris Weinke has shown an ability to move the team in the passing game, but the Panthers' perennial problems moving the ball on the ground remain.

Panthers on offense: Carolina has moved the ball through the air, ranking 10th after five games. That despite a rookie quarterback in Chris Weinke — though he happens to be 29 and poised. He's also more mobile than people expected. Receiver Muhsin Muhammad has size and speed and represents a better than average challenge for the Jets corners. Muhammad is capable of a big play every time he touches the ball. But this season, he's dropped too many passes. Tight end Wesley Walls will be trouble. Strong safety Victor Green must step up, but he'll receive plenty of help. Otherwise, Walls will dominate. Donald Hayes is a decent No. 2 wideout — he's good for four catches every week.

Also, look for the Panthers to throw to their backs and tight ends, placing linebacker Mo Lewis more in coverage. Panthers fullbacks caught 15 passes the first five games. Even with the Jets well known troubles stopping the run (only the Redskins were worse after five weeks), they should have better luck against the Panthers, whose rushing offense was dead last in the NFL. It's a case of the movable object vs. the resistable force. Tshimanga Biakabutuka is too inconsistent. He's capable of big plays but fumbles led to his benching. Undrafted rookie backup Nick Goings hasn't fared much better. It's not as if the Panthers' line hasn't opened holes. And the Jets weak front four likely will start to wear down at some point.

Carolina center Jeff Mitchell is considered one of the game's best and left tackle Todd Steussie is their anchor, though he's penalized too often.

Key Matchup: Jets safeties Victor Green and Damien Robinson vs. Panthers TE Wesley Walls.

Covering Walls is not a one-man assignment, especially not for the Jets and not with Robinson, who hasn't yet taken the lead in a defense he supposedly knows well. The safeties will receive help from the linebackers, too. The Jets must chuck the tight ends with frequency in this game to neutralize one of the Panthers' biggest weapons.

How to Beat Panthers offense: Carolina can't win with its running game and will try to attack New York in the air. The Jets likely will be forced to use their safeties to help against the fullback and tight end. That means the corners must handle the wideouts, often alone. If they can't, Carolina will exploit both areas. New York must blitz Weinke often. He's poised and mobile, but he's also a rookie.

Offensive player to watch: WR Muhsin Muhammad 6-2, 217

Why has this player led the NFC in receptions in back-to-back seasons? Size, power and good playing speed. Muhammad is great in traffic and makes his living on smaller cornerbacks. He is the kind of wideout who doesn't have to be wide open to make the play. His only weak spot is inconsistent hands, and he has had some drops in clutch moments this season. Muhammad was slowed earlier in the year with a calf injury but is now back at 100 percent. Look for Carolina to try get him the ball near the goal line, his one touchdown is well under expectations

Panthers on defense: The Panthers' line generated no pass rush last season, which is why Carolina focused heavily on defense this past off-season. Defensive end Chris Slade was brought in to be a featured pass rusher. He featured no sacks in the first five games. Youngsters Kris Jenkins (DT) and Mike Rucker (DE) are showing potential on the right side of the line, but not enough to keep the Panthers from having the second-worst sack total in the NFL after Week Five. Jets QB Vinny Testaverde should have plenty of time to choose his options.

Carolina drafted linebacker Dan Morgan, stuck him on the weakside, and he quickly became one of their top defenders. Unfortunately Morgan broke his left tibia and won't see action until late in the season. Morgan's replacement, Dean Wells, does not cover as well. Don't be surprised if the Jets pick on him in the running game. Linebacker Kory Minor sprained a knee in Week 5 and the Panthers also may be without strongside linebacker Hannibal Navies, another fast player, who is suffering from dislocated ribs. Carolina has signed two linebackers in recent weeks in an effort to plug the holes.

The weak pass rush has led to problems for the Panthers' young secondary. With more time to cover, they're allowing more big plays, especially corner Rashard Anderson and safety Deon Grant. But cornerback Doug Evans is playing better than he has in four years, and strong safety Mike Minter has provided stability. They need it. Their problems at linebacker have left the middle open for seam routes or deep crossing patterns off play-action fakes. Middle linebacker Lester Towns has been especially susceptible to play-fakes. Towns plays well against the run and, with the line ineffective in this department, he might fly up too fast. This could mean a big game for receivers Laveranues Coles and Wayne Chrebet.

Key Matchup: Panthers linebackers vs. Jets RB Curtis Martin.

This area of the defense has been hard hit by injury and the inexperience of the replacements may be exploited by the Jets and their veteran ball carrier. On paper there seems to be little reason why the NFL's leading rusher after five weeks won't pad his stats further.

How to Beat Panthers defense: The Jets standard formula for success should be even more successful in this game. Attack Carolina's weakness by running the ball, then pick up big chunks of yardage with the play-action.

Defensive player to watch: LB Lester Towns 6-1, 252 With Carolina linebackers Dan Morgan and Hannibal Navies battling injury, Towns, a seventh-round draft pick in 2000, has become the de facto leader of the corps in just his second year. Towns is the biggest hitter on the Panthers, but his inexperience in playing the pass has kept him from becoming a sensation. In setting the Panthers rookie record for tackles last season, Towns also showed he has an opportunistic knack for jarring the ball loose. The Jets must do two things vs. Towns: protect the ball and run numerous passing routes in his area of responsibility.

Special teams: Carolina's Steve Smith is explosive on kickoff returns. He's already returned one kick 93 yards for a touchdown. But he's also prone to fumbling, having dropped the ball twice in a game against Green Bay. John Kasay was perfect on his first six field-goal attempts including a 52-yarder. Punter Todd Sauerbrun has kicked well, averaging 44.0 yards on his first 26 punts, placing eight inside the 20 versus just three touchbacks. The Panthers punt coverage unit has room to improve, allowing eight yards per return.


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