Panthers vs. Packers IX – The Low-Down

For the ninth time in 10 years, the Carolina Panthers and the Green Bay Packers will line up against one another. Last time, the Packers got the better of the Panthers in the 2004 season opener, as Green Bay defeated Carolina 24-14 on Monday Night Football.

"Hopefully, we won't draw too much from it, because that was a 24-14 loss," Panthers Head Coach John Fox said on Wednesday. "Hopefully, it's something that we've learned from. Last year was our first opportunity in quite some time. Hopefully, we'll learn from that and understand what's at stake there. The whole world is watching. There's no question all of your peers are watching. It's something that guys should gear up for, and I think we'll learn from that experience last year."

It was last season that the Panthers were the defending NFC Champions, coming off a heartbreaking last minute loss to the New England Patriots. Carolina came into the game against Green Bay in the 2004 season opener with a swagger, and left with a limp after being beaten and bruised.

The Panthers lost WR Steve Smith for the season after Packers LB Hannibal Navies drug him down awkwardly from behind, breaking his lower leg. In his first 3 games back from the injury, Smith is tied for first in the NFL with 23 receptions and is tied for third in the NFL in scoring for non-kickers. With Smith on such an offensive tear, the Packers defense will have to figure out a way to slow him down.

"He's playing great right now," Panthers QB Jake Delhomme said of Smith. "He's doing some good things, but I guess it gets a little overshadowed by our 1-2 start. I know it bothers him that we're 1-2. He's not one to be satisfied just because he's playing well. He knows he can get better and he wants to get better, and he works at it. That's what I love so much about him. He's a competitor."

The Packers defensive unit has given up 7 passing touchdowns so far this season, second to last in the NFL. Only San Francisco has given up more touchdowns through the air than the Packers. Conversely, the Packers have not given up a rushing touchdown yet this season, obviously tied for first in the NFL in that respect. Overall, Green Bay is ranked 17th in the NFL in yards per game given up.

"They fly around to the football," Delhomme said of the Packers defense. "Their two ends are really good. Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila can really rush the passer. Kris Jenkins' little brother (Cullen) is extremely active in there. Nick Barnett. Al Harris has really become a great corner. He gets up and tackles well and plays the pass well. They fly around. Watching the Tampa Bay game last week, they did a great job against the Bucs. Tampa broke off a nice little run late in the game, but other than that, (the Packers) were tough and they were solid. We're going to have our hands full. I'm assuming we'll see a little pressure. But that's the NFL. We just need to have answers for it."

Green Bay comes into Carolina 0-3, and looking to make a statement on Monday Night Football. Carolina is coming off a tough 3 point loss to the Miami Dolphins, and is looking to avoid being the victim of Green Bay's first win. "They (Green Bay) spanked us last year to open the season and lost four in a row and then came back to finish 10-6 and win their division," Coach Fox said. "A lot is made on the outside. The key is keeping your team focused on the inside. They are a team like us. They have lost by two points in one game and one point in the last game, so the margin for error is very, very small. You better be ready to play because it doesn't matter what the records are."

With the combined record of 1-5, both the Packers and Panthers have had inconsistent play from their QB position. Packers QB Brett Favre, whose QB rating is 72.7, has thrown for 738 yards, 5 touchdowns and 7 interceptions in three games.

"I know a lot has been made of his interceptions," Fox said of Favre. "I know last week those were all balls that, in my opinion, were great plays by the other team. He's going to bring his "A" game, and that's what we've got to expect."

"Brett's a great, great competitor, a true pro. He ate us up pretty good last year. He came to play, and we need to expect that this time around."

Carolina's Delhomme hasn't been stellar, either, with a passer rating of 72.3. Delhomme has heaved only 4 interceptions, but has only 4 touchdown passes as well – all to Steve Smith.

"Jake's always fired up, and he prepares hard and conducts himself like a professional," said Fox. "Jake, until that last play (at Miami), had one of his better performances this season. We've got to eliminate those what if's and we're one out of three on that. We need to get more like that one than those other two."

Part of the 2004 drubbing was then-Packer G Mike Wahle, who signed a long term deal with the Panthers in the off-season. Wahle helped pave the way for the Packers running game, who gained 152 yards on 47 attempts. Green Bay converted on 10-of-16 third downs, for a 63% conversion rate. Conversely, the Panthers converted just 3 times on third down the entire game, and possessed the ball a full 16 minutes less than the Packers did. This time around, the Panthers hope to be on the other side of the coin, with an improved offensive line and two healthy running backs in Foster and Davis. "So far, he's (Davis) had no ill effects with that (knee) and has performed well to this point," Fox said. "I think he'll just continue to get better."

If the Panthers hope to win the game, they'll have to control the trenches. The Packers have shown an inability to pass block so far this season, giving up 7 sacks in three games. Add in Favre's seven interceptions, and that indicates that he's been pressured into bad decisions. The key to winning this game is for the Panthers to continue that trend. Of course they'll have to reverse that same trend themselves, as Delhomme has been sacked 6 times and has thrown 4 interceptions. Teams believe that they can pressure Delhomme into mistakes, and they are right. Last week alone, Delhomme had a costly fumble on a jail-break blitz and threw a late interception as he was being pressured.

"That's kind of expected," said Delhomme of the defensive pressure the Dolphins applied. "That's (Miami head coach Nick) Saban's style. That's what they do. The tough thing is, you only have two games with which to study them because with preseason, you don't know how much you can really take from that. They did blitz us, but we did some pretty good things in the passing game. We hit them for some nice plays, but they made one more play than we did."

Earlier in the week, Delhomme was angry; angry mostly at himself. A few days later, a sense of perspective had settled in.

"When I talked to you guys after the game on Sunday, it was just one of those things where, if you've ever played a team sport, you're down," said Delhomme. "Certainly, I was extremely down. But things get put into perspective. When I get home, I have a little girl and get to spend time with her. It doesn't take away the pain, especially when you watch it on film. But that's the NFL. I don't mean to make light of it but I'll probably throw another one before my career is up. That's just part of it. It's going to happen. I've slept well the last couple of nights. You have to move on. I try to put things behind me. I'm not saying it's not a scar or anything, but you have to learn and move on."

Even though both teams are sub-.500, that doesn't mean it won't be a highly-contested game. "If you look at their games, they're like us," Delhomme said of the Packers. "They've lost some extremely tight ballgames. You watch them on film, and teams really aren't scoring a whole lot of points on them. We all know who their quarterback is. They can put up a lot of points at any time. They're 0-3. We're 1-2."

"It's two teams who are going to do anything and everything possible to win."

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