INSIDE SLANTSo far this season the Panthers have faced some of the premier running backs in the league: Ahman Green, Priest Holmes, LaDainian Tomlinson, Brian Westbrook and Shaun Alexander.
This week, however, the Panthers face the less dangerous tandem of Tyrone Wheatley and Amos Zereoue when they are home against the Oakland Raiders.
But that hardly matters to a team that has had trouble stopping anyone on the ground. Even Reuben Droughns and Jessie Chatman have turned in big games against the Panthers.
"As soon as we flipped on the tape, the opening play he hit it for 60 yards," said defensive end Mike Rucker of a run earlier this season by Wheatley. "You can't think that just because a guy isn't a Pro Bowl guy or somebody who hasn't rushed for 3,000 yards that he isn't good.
"This is the NFL and everybody is good. You have to be ready and you have to be in your gap or otherwise he is going to gash you."
On the other side of the ball, the Panthers hope to get Pro Bowl running back Stephen Davis back on the field. He practiced on a limited basis Wednesday and is listed as questionable.
Davis has missed five of Carolina's seven games this season, including the last two starts against San Diego and Seattle.
Davis, who ran for 100 yards in seven games last season, has yet to reach the century mark for the season combined. Davis, a Pro Bowl selection in 2003, has 92 yards on 24 carries and has yet to reach the end zone.
If Davis isn't able to go, rookie Joey Harris could get the start for the Panthers. Harris led Carolina with nine carries for 45 yards last week against Seattle.
Even if Davis is able to play, it's unclear how his knee will hold up and just how many carries he'll get against the Raiders. He tried to play against Philadelphia three weeks ago but left the game late in the second half with swelling in his knee.
SERIES HISTORY: Third meeting. Series tied 1-1. The Raiders won the last meeting 52-9 in George Seifert's final game as head coach in 2001. It stands as the most lopsided loss in franchise history.
NOTES, QUOTES--It will be a family reunion of sorts for Rodney Peete this weekend as he'll get to visit with his brother, Skip, who is the Oakland Raiders' running backs coach.
Skip Peete, who is three years older than Rodney, played one season in the NFL for the New York Jets. He's spent the last seven seasons as the Raiders' running backs coach.
Rodney says big brother was a huge influence in his life growing up.
"We had that brotherly competition thing going on and he used to let me tag along as a little kid with all his friends," Rodney Peete said. "I played with the older kids and that helped me out. I was playing against better competition. And he taught me a lot of things."
The Peetes worked together from 1999-2001 when they both worked for the Raiders. Rodney Peete said several other members of his immediate family are planning to make the trip to Charlotte this week as well.
--The Panthers are 0-3 at home this season but eager to turn around that trend.
"It's obviously frustrating," Fox said. "It's been a frustrating season for us. I can understand our fans being frustrated with us, especially at home.
"Our one win came on the road. They are all important, and I understand the frustrations of our fans at home. Our guys are working at it, and we are doing everything in our power to do the things we need to do to prepare to win."
--The NFL admitted the penalty against Carolina cornerback Ricky Manning for an "unnatural football move" on a punt return last Sunday was a bad call. Although Fox wouldn't comment on specific penalties, he did admit last week's officiating crew had made some errors.
"We turned them in to the league," Fox said. "Some of them were probably wrong calls. You just continue forward. Each (officiating) crew is different. You stress to play the game right and limit the penalties as much as possible."
BY THE NUMBERS: 8 -- Number of Panthers on injured reserve after Rod Smart was placed there on Wednesday.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Not really. We've got a routine. Preparation is very critical. We feel like our routine is good for that preparation. We've just got to get better. We've only put all three phases together in one game, and that happened to be the game we won. We've just got to be operating on all cylinders. That's our focus and that's what our routine is scheduled to do."
-- Head coach John Fox on whether the Panthers are doing anything different in practice following a five-game losing streak.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNELThe Panthers have placed running back Rod Smart on injured reserve and claimed safety Curtis Fuller off waivers from the Green Bay Packers, the team announced Wednesday.
Fuller (5-10, 188 pounds) has played in 36 games with two starts in four NFL seasons and has totaled 52 tackles, one interception and five passes defensed. In 2003, he appeared in nine contests for Green Bay, posting five tackles and one pass defensed after being claimed off waivers from Seattle before the start of the regular season. Fuller saw action in one game with the Packers this year before being waived on November 2.
Originally selected by the Seahawks in the fourth round (127th overall) of the 2001 NFL draft from Texas Christian, Fuller appeared in 10 contests with one start as a rookie. He played in all 16 games with one start in 2002 and recorded a career-high 33 tackles in addition to notching his first career interception.
Smart suffered a hyperextended knee in Carolina's contest vs. Atlanta on October 3. In three games, he averaged 21.1 yards on eight kickoff returns for 169 yards and contributed four yards rushing on three carries and one reception for five yards.
--The Panthers made yet another change to the practice squad when they released running back Sultan McCullough and replaced him with running back Ed Canonico, formerly of the Arena League's Dallas Desperados.
--RB Stephen Davis returned to practice on Wednesday, and there's a chance he will play this week.
--RB Rod Smart was added to the IR this week.
--OG Tutan Reyes is ready to play but might not be back in the starting lineup this week.
--FS Travares Tillman is listed as questionable with a forearm injury. He is expected to split time with Colin Branch if he plays this week. He did not play last week.
--LB Dan Morgan did not participate in contact drills after suffering a mild concussion on Sunday. He might play Sunday.
GAME PLAN: The Panthers hope to get Stephen Davis back this week, so it's no mystery they'll want to keep the ball on the ground against a Raiders team that is allowing 103.6 yards per game on the ground. The good news for the Panthers is the Raiders offense can't run the ball, averaging just 80.8 yards per game on the ground. That has been Carolina's weakness this season. Carolina's secondary has played well but will be tested Sunday by former Panthers Kerry Collins.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: Panthers LDE Julius Peppers vs. Raiders RT Robert Gallery. Peppers, Carolina's highly touted defensive end, faces off against Gallery, the Raiders' rookie tackle. This should be a pretty good matchup between two up-and-coming players.
INJURY IMPACT: The Panthers listed five other players as questionable for this week: rookie cornerback Chris Gamble (knee), defensive tackle Kindal Moorehead (shoulder), linebacker Dan Morgan (concussion), safety Travares Tillman (forearm) and running back Rod Smart (knee).
Of those, only Smart did not practice on Wednesday.
Gamble was added to the injury report after injuring his knee while trying to block a field goal last week against the Seahawks. However, Gamble said the knee feels fine and he expects to start on Sunday.
As for Morgan, coming off what team doctors described as a "mild concussion," he did practice but not participate in contact drills.
The team will take every caution with Morgan, who had a similar reoccurring problem with a concussion last season.
"All I can do is put it in the medical people's hands. If they clear him, he'll play. If they don't, he won't," Panthers head coach John Fox said.