CHARLOTTE, N.C.-It's the 2nd game of the season for the Carolina Panthers, who are looking to double their win total from last season, and start off 2-0. The Lions come into Charlotte hungry for a win, as they were humiliated last Sunday in Miami. The Panthers look to create their first two game winning streak in over a year.
Carolina's Rodney Peete vs Detroit's Mike McMahon
Rodney Peete has been named the starter for another week in Carolina, due in large part to his error free, efficient play in the season opener. With head coach John Fox's run first, pass second offensive philosophy, Peete fits into the offense very nicely. Look for him to have another quiet day, doing just enough to keep the Panthers in the football game.
Mike McMahon had a similar start on Sunday, stat wise. The only real exception is that he did manage to throw one interception on Sunday against the Dolphins. If Carolina's corners are playing more bump-and-run coverage, look for McMahon to have a difficult day. Also, if Detroit falls behind early, look for him to be replaced at halftime by rookie Joey Harrington.
Carolina's Lamar Smith and Brad Hoover vs Detroit's James Stewart and Cory Schlesinger
Lamar Smith and Brad Hoover teamed up to do an excellent job of helping Carolina control the clock against the Ravens. While neither was very flashy, they both held onto the ball and kept Carolina's defense off the field. Look for this trend to continue, with Hoover possibly getting more touches this week, as he was able to show his ability to break tackles several times against the Ravens.
It is still up in the air if James Stewart will start for Detroit on Sunday. If he does, this will be the second consecutive week that the Carolina defense will be going up against a back making his first start after an injury. The Carolina run defense was very effective against Jamal Lewis last week, and look for a repeat performance this Sunday. Schlesinger was only given 8 carries against Miami, but did manage to score a touchdown. Look for him to get the ball more often this week, if Detroit doesn't fall behind early.
Carolina's Muhsin Muhammad and Steve Smith vs Detroit's Az-zahir Hakim and Bill Schroeder
Muhsin and Steve had a relatively quiet day against the Ravens, but were effective when called on. Steve made a couple of nice catches and had a couple of good returns to set up Carolina's field position. Moose had a key play on two of the Panther's drives, one reception from a flea flicker that set up Carolina's first TD of the season, and the other on a WR reverse that gave the Panthers a much needed first down when trying to burn the clock. If Smith is lined up against former Panther Eric Davis, look for him to have a big receiving day as most Panther fans can remember Davis' nickname, TOAST. Moose should once again play the role of possession receiver on crucial third down plays.
Hakim and Schroeder are both new to Detroit this season, with Hakim coming over from St Louis, and Schroeder joining from Green Bay. Neither really showed the ability to be a big play threat against Miami, but they were also going up against one of the better secondaries in the NFL. This Sunday, that won't be the case, but Carolina's DBs did show some signs of promise against the Ravens. Look for Hakim to be the big play threat if Detroit should be forced to go to the air, after he caught over 50% of the passes Detroit threw this past Sunday.
Carolina's Wesley Walls vs Detroit's Mikhael Ricks
Wesley Walls played a pivotal role in Carolina's offense against the Ravens, which has come to be the norm. He caught the Panthers lone touchdown pass on Sunday, and also made several key 3rd down receptions for 1st downs. Walls should again have a big day, as Detroit's linebackers who would be responsible for covering him are not quite as formidable as the Raven's linebacking corps.
Mikhael Ricks only made three receptions against the Dolphins, but he also averaged 22.7 yds/reception. Based off of what the Carolina defense was able to do against Todd Heap in week 1, look for Ricks to only see action if McMahon or Harrington is forced out of the pocket and have to dump the ball off to avoid a sack. He may make a few other catches, but they shouldn't be significant with the speed of Carolina's linebackers.
Carolina's Front Five vs Detroit's Front Five
A lot has been made of whether or not Carolina's offensive line would be able to effectively block for the run, something they were not accustomed to last season. They answered that question against the Ravens, opening holes for Smith, Hoover, and Goings en route to a 147 yd overall rushing performance. They did give up two sacks in the passing game, but both seemed to be coverage sacks, when Peete couldn't find an open receiver in the time the line gave him. One sore spot was the penalties of RT Chris Terry. He had several penalties that cost the Panthers key first downs. Look for that to settle down, as Terry knows he will be riding the pine beside Chris Weinke if he doesn't produce. The offensive line should be in for another good day against Detroit.
Detroit's line didn't have quite as good of a day against the Dolphins. Their rushing game produced only 51 yards, and they allowed 3 sacks on quarterback Mike McMahon. With the Panthers new style of pressuring defense, and multiple blitz packages, look for Detroit's starting five to have a rough day on Sunday, and Julius Peppers to possibly get his first official NFL sack. (Or 2nd or 3rd)
Carolina's Special teams unit vs Detroit's Special teams unit
Carolina's special teams had a relatively quiet day against Baltimore, but an effective one. Kasay hit on one of two field goal attempts, and Todd Sauerbrun kept the Ravens in bad field position for the most part of the afternoon. Steve Smith had a decent day returning kicks and punts, but never anything very significant. If the game is a low scoring affair, the Panthers are hoping that Kasay's groin injury doesn't hamper him any.
Detroit has Desmond Howard returning kicks and punts, but this isn't the Howard of Green Bay. This will be his first game back after injury, and Carolina has a smothering kick/punt coverage team. The Lions have an average punter, and K Jason Hanson is reliable, but nothing outstanding.
Look for a special teams play from Carolina to be the turning point in the game, pretty early on.