Carolina Panthers (6-4) at Washington Redskins (3-7)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
TV: FOX, Sam Rosen, Tim Ryan, Jay Glazer
SERIES: 8th meeting. The Panthers lost the first six meetings with the Redskins before finally breaking through with a win in 2003. Of the seven meetings, five have been decided by four points or less.
2006 RANKINGS: Panthers: offense 21st (18th rush, 19th pass); defense 9th (14th rush, 10th pass). Redskins: offense 19th (12th rush, 22nd pass); defense 30th (19th rush, 30th pass)
KEYS TO THE GAME
One of the reasons the Redskins like QB Jason Campbell is his mobility, which will need to be on display with the Panthers registering seven sacks last Sunday -- without any from DE Julius Peppers. But for Campbell to be effective in his first career start, he needs help from RB Ladell Betts. The ground game was shut down in Tampa Bay, and the prospects for a rebound aren't great with the Panthers allowing an average of just 83.3 rushing yards the past eight games. The Panthers aren't sure if RB DeShaun Foster will be ready to go, but rookie DeAngelo Williams is equally effective. And with WRs Steve Smith and Keyshawn Johnson attacking Washington's 30th-ranked pass defense, Carolina might not need much help from its ground game.
Panthers: Peppers and DE Mike Rucker have a combined 88 sacks since 2002, the most by any tandem in the NFL. ... Are 0-4 on the road against Washington, with each loss by three points or less. Redskins: RB Ladell Betts has set career-highs with 381 rushing yards, 279 receiving yards and a team-leading 35 receptions. ... TE Chris Cooley has a touchdown reception in four of his past five games.
--WR Steve Smith leads the NFL in receiving yards per game with an average of 108.75. His 870 receiving yards lead the NFC and rank him second in the league even though he missed the first two games of the season with a hamstring injury.
--C Justin Hartwig (groin) is out again this week.
--P Jason Baker leads the NFC with a 39.2-yard net average. His team record, set last season, was a 38.93 net average.
--DT Kris Jenkins and the Panthers are ninth in total defense and sixth in scoring defense, yielding 299.5 yards and 17.3 points per game, respectively. The defense is second in the NFL in third-down percentage (28.1 percent) and first in yards allowed per play on first down (4.23).
--DE Julius Peppers leads the NFL with 11 sacks. He has six three-sack games since entering the league in 2002, the most in the NFL in that span.
--CB Richard Marshall shares the league lead with four fumble recoveries.
--SS Troy Vincent didn't practice for a second consecutive day after leaving Sunday's game at Tampa Bay with a strained hamstring. He's questionable for Carolina. Vernon Fox would start if Vincent can't play.
--WR Santana Moss increased his workload from Wednesday but remains questionable with a strained left hamstring that kept him out of two of the past three games.
--DE Phillip Daniels didn't practice for a second consecutive day after spraining his right ankle against the Bucs. However, the Redskins expect Daniels to practice Friday and start on Sunday. If Daniels can't go, former starter Renaldo Wynn likely would get the nod.
--C Casey Rabach returned Thursday after not practicing Wednesday with the strained shoulder he suffered at Tampa. Rabach is expected to start against the Panthers.
--OT Chris Samuels returned Thursday after being held out Wednesday with a gimpy knee. Samuels is expected to start Sunday.
--OT Jon Jansen returned Thursday after being held out Wednesday with an ailing calf. Jansen is expected to start Sunday.
--WR David Patten, who missed the past six games with calf and hamstring injuries, didn't practice for a second consecutive day and is doubtful for the Panthers.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
The Panthers are getting very little return on their investment in special teams.
Carolina is averaging 24.1 yards per kickoff return, which ranks ahead of only three other teams in the NFL. The Panthers are almost as bad on punt returns, as Chris Gamble ranks 28th in the league with a 5.4-yard average.
Carolina's longest kickoff return is 39 yards, and its longest punt return is 24 yards.
"We've got to clean that up," Panthers coach John Fox said. "We've just got to execute better. We're getting closer. Part of that continuity carries over into the special teams groups, too. Whenever you have changes in personnel, that affects the personnel on special teams."
The Panthers are hoping now that rookie DeAngelo Williams is back on kickoff returns they'll get a few more big plays. But last week when Williams broke a 79-yard return, it was called back on a penalty.
It was Carolina's fifth penalty in two weeks on a return.
"It's an area we need to improve, and we're going to continue to work at it," Fox said. "I saw glimpses (Sunday) like (Williams') kickoff return, which would have been big. We've just got to clean that up."
The Panthers entered the season hoping that Steve Smith and Gamble would share punt return duty.
But Smith suffered a hamstring injury that kept him out of the first two games, and the team wanted to limit his reps. Over the past three games he's been in on five returns. He's returned four of them but for only 3.5 yards a pop.
After a botched punt against Dallas, Smith vowed not to return punts anymore.
But he's returned three since.
"If we need him, we'll use him," Fox said. "If we don't, we won't. But we've got to clean up some other areas. Whether we've gotten poor calls or we've had poor execution, I think some of the penalties have been as big a factor as anything in our return games."
Jason Campbell has shaken off some of the rust from being the clipboard holder for 27 games. The second-year quarterback also has gotten his feet wet in a hostile environment, having made his NFL debut last Sunday at Tampa Bay. On Sunday, Campbell starts a home game for the first time in two years when the Redskins take on the Panthers.
"We get great support here with our fan base," Campbell said of FedEx Field, which has a capacity of 91,704, the NFL's largest. "It makes it better playing at home. If we can get the crowd into it, that'll flow down to the players."
Campbell, who is notably laid-back, said he doesn't feel compelled to have an especially big game in front of the fans who had been chanting for him to play in recent home games instead of faltering veteran Mark Brunell.
"Last week it felt kind of different because it's your first time in there with the offense as a starter and you're still kind of excited so you're trying to get your emotions to slow down," Campbell said. "I don't feel any extra pressure (playing at home)."
Campbell also knows that the Redskins, who are 3-7 overall and have lost five of their past six games, were thinking long-term when they benched Brunell, 36, for him. Campbell turns 25 on New Year's Eve.
"I got an opportunity to get a game under my belt, to get used to the guys, to build some chemistry," Campbell said. "I felt like I grew a lot from (the Bucs) game. It's important to get into a rhythm, get used to playing four quarters again. We're trying to build a house with chemistry and whatever it takes."
Campbell was remarkably steady in his debut against a depleted Bucs defense, but running back Ladell Betts knows that the Redskins -- who ran for a season-low 64 yards -- have to do much better on the ground to take the heat off Campbell against a Carolina defense that sacked St. Louis quarterback Marc Bulger seven times last week.
"It's on my shoulders to pick up the slack in the running game," said Betts, who's starting in place of the injured Clinton Portis. "I'm sure it would take some of the pressure off Jason if we're able to run the ball more effectively."
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Panthers DE Julius Peppers vs. Redskins QB Jason Campbell -- If Peppers can hit Campbell a few times early he could give the young quarterback some happy feet in the pocket. Peppers usually dominates the most early in the game, so look for him to make some noise early in the game against Washington RT Jon Jansen.
Redskins TE Chris Cooley vs. Panthers LB Thomas Davis -- The Panthers have struggled covering pass-catching tight ends and Cooley is one of the better pass-catching tight ends in the league. The good news for Carolina is Davis appears to be seeing the field much better and isn't out of position as much as he was earlier in the year.