Receiving corps licking their chops

Although he'd never admit it, Carolina Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme must be privately drooling at the prospect of playing against a banged-up Cleveland Browns secondary on Sunday.

The Browns come into the game ranked 12th in pass defense, but starting cornerbacks Leigh Bodden and Gary Baxter are both listed as questionable for this week's game, along with starting free safety Brian Russell and his primary backup, Justin Hamilton.

With the Panthers 2-0 since the return of All-Pro receiver Steve Smith and with Delhomme already working on the same page with Keyshawn Johnson, the Browns could be in for a long afternoon.

"Whether the secondary is banged up or not, (Smith) still presents those same problems because he's going to catch the ball," said Browns coach Romeo Crennel. "He's going to run very well after the catch so you're going to have to cover him. Whether you can cover him with one, sometimes maybe two, and sometimes that's not enough. You're going to have to try to slow him down.

"The problem there is that when you take him away you throw the ball to Keyshawn, who catches the ball very well. Then you've got those running backs that you can give the ball to so there are some weapons there that you have to try to defend. It makes it difficult to defend everybody because you can't double everybody."

No. 3 receiver Drew Carter also got into the act last week, catching a touchdown pass when the Panthers went to a four-receiver set, something they could use more of this week given Cleveland's injury problems in the secondary.

"You can see us coming together. We're still all working hard and just trying to get better every day," Carter said. "But you can just tell how much more potent our offense is with Steve there. You can feel it."

As expected, Johnson seems to have benefited from the return of Smith.

In the first two games he caught nine passes for 146 yards with no touchdowns; as opposed to 13 catches for 160 yards and two touchdowns in the last two games.

"Obviously he's had some impact on what we do in the passing game because of his ability to make plays," Johnson said. "I don't think a defense is going to play me any different with or without Steve. The one thing that I do know that he brings is, if he gets the football, he's going to scare the living (heck) out of somebody. I am going to beat you if you double me or not. If you double me, I'm going to still eat you. If you leave me, I'm going to kill you even more. And if he gets the opportunity, he's going to kill you, too.

"We don't want nine catches for 250 yards. That's a great day -- for fantasy football. But what we did last week was a great day for us. We threw the ball 24 times, we had 16 catches out of 24, that's a great day for us. We moved the ball, we moved the chains. They say Steve is a possession receiver. No, he's not, he's a chain mover. He's going to move the chains. Every time he touches the ball, we know we are going to get a first down. That's the way we operate. Some guys think if we aren't the Arizona Cardinals, if we both don't have 130 yards and 12 catches a game, that that's not production. That's not true. You can be misled to think you have to have fantasy football numbers to be productive and good. You don't have to be Antonio Gates to be productive. You can still get two or three balls and kill somebody, cut them up."

Meanwhile, the Panthers would like to find a way to jumpstart their defense this week.

They've been fairly disappointing from a takeaway/giveaway standpoint, recording just four takeaways in four games.

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