Packers-Panthers: Game plans, matchups

Al Harris vs. Steve Smith; Ryan Grant vs. Jon Beason; Panthers D-line vs. Packers' O-line

As heavy favorites riding high with an 8-1 record, the Packers' toughest opponent Sunday might be themselves. They're catching Carolina wounded at key positions and in a three-game funk since its bye.

Piggybacking a comfortable win on the heels of a 34-0 thrashing of Minnesota has appeal because the Packers could use some conservation with their next game four days later at Detroit on Thanksgiving. A few more sustained touchdown drives, the kind that contributed to a 2-to-1 ratio in time of possession against the Vikings, probably would be enough to knock the Panthers into submission.

Green Bay's 10th-rated defense gets an opponent that has generated just 20 points on offense the last three games and probably will have 44-year-old Vinny Testaverde at quarterback. As unmatched as the Packers have been throwing the football, amassing nearly 300 yards per game, Carolina isn't shabby in coverage. Thus, getting Ryan Grant on track early and often in a league-worst run game that is starting to come alive will be an emphasis.

Packers CB Al Harris vs. Panthers WR Steve Smith

The best hope for offensively challenged Carolina to spring an upset Sunday might be Smith. He has been almost invisible in the Panthers' three-game tailspin, totaling all of 10 catches for 94 yards and no touchdowns with no continuity at quarterback. If someone could ever get him the ball again with regularity, Smith can take over a game.

Harris isn't likely to let that happen with his press coverage that has limited the going rate for the majority of his receivers to two catches. Harris held Smith to two receptions for 12 yards in the teams' last meeting in 2005. Before that, it was six for 60 against Harris in a 2004 encounter.

Packers RB Ryan Grant vs. Panthers MLB Jon Beason
Grant is coming off his second 100-yard rushing performance in three games, going for a 2007 team-best 119 yards (average of 4.8 per carry) against Minnesota's formidable run defense. Grant has proven to be ideal for the stretch plays Mike McCarthy likes to use in the zone-blocking scheme and is decisive and instinctive cutting back to get to the second level in a hurry.

Working to the edge away from Carolina's beefy interior line would seem prudent, but rookie Beason has been flying to the football of late. He's the Panthers' top playmaker and has flourished since moving inside.

All things considered, Carolina's defense has played well in the last month -- although those performances came against struggling offenses like New Orleans, Arizona, Tennessee and Atlanta. But on Sunday they face the league's top-ranked passing offense, which means the secondary will have its work cut out for them.

After registering just four sacks in the first seven games, the Panthers have five in the past two. But that's not enough on Sunday. They will need a big game from Julius Peppers and company to keep Brett Favre out of his rhythm. The secondary is good, but Favre will pick them apart if he has enough time.

RB Ryan Grant vs. Panthers front four

The Packers played to their strengths earlier in the season, throwing the ball much more than they ran it. But now they seemed to have settled on a running back they like in Grant. Since taking over a couple of weeks ago, he's looked very good and even ran for 100 yards last week against Minnesota, the NFL's top-ranked rushing defense.

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