Charlotte NC- The undefeated Carolina Panthers roll into Green Bay this week to take on the high powered Green Bay Packers. Carolina comes in riding the high of a three-game winning streak, and are looking to get off to the best start in franchise history. A win this week for the Panthers would put them at 4-0 for the season and heighten their chances of going from the worst team in the NFL last season, to a potential playoff contender this year. Following is a breakdown of the offensive matchups for this week's game.
Carolina's Rodney Peete vs Green Bay's Brett Favre
Rodney's consistent play has guided the Panthers to their current undefeated mark, but he did show signs of vulnerability against the Vikings this past Sunday. Peete threw his first two interceptions of the year, with one that resulted in great field position for the Vikings and resulted in the games first touchdown. Don't look for Peete to have a big day against the Packers, as Carolina will look to continue it's ground and clock dominance to keep the Packers offense off the field. If Green Bay decides to key on Lamar Smith, look for Peete to go to Wesley Walls early and often.
Brett Favre is having another typical "Brett Favre" season so far. He has already thrown for nearly 1000 yards, 7 touchdowns, versus just 2 interceptions in only 3 games. The key to this matchup is going to be how much pressure Carolina's front four on defense can get to him and pressure him out of the pocket. Favre is one of the NFL's best at throwing the ball on the run though and could use his maneuverability to exploit Carolina's less than stellar secondary. Culpepper had a hard time against the Panthers' secondary, but he also lacked the receivers who were willing to catch a ball over the middle. Favre has those kind of receivers, and will use that to his advantage.
Edge: Green Bay
Carolina's Lamar Smith and Brad Hoover vs Green Bay's Whoever is not hurt
Lamar Smith showed against the Minnesota Vikings exactly why the Panthers picked him up in the off-season. He rushed for the second highest total in Panther's history with 154 yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground. Hoover had a relatively quiet day, but did pick up a few hard yards here and there. Expect more of the same from this duo this week against a Green Bay defense that is ranked 31st in the NFL against the run. If the Packers attempt to stack the line of scrimmage to prevent the run, watch for more screen passes to Lamar and for Hoover to turn into an extra blocker in the backfield.
Green Bay's rushing attack is really going to be a matter of who they have in the backfield. As of the time this article is being written, it appears that rookie Najeh Davenport will be starting for Green Bay if starter Ahman Green is unable to go. FB William Henderson missed practice on Thursday and is listed as questionable, so expect to see him in the game at some point. Obviously Green Bay's running game is going to be dependent on how well the offensive line is able to neutralize Carolina's potent defensive front. So far this season, the Panthers have not allowed a team to go over the 100-yard mark rushing.
Carolina's Steve Smith and Isaac Byrd vs Green Bay's Donald Driver and Terry Glenn
This is probably the area where Carolina is hurting the worst this week, with the loss of leading WR Muhsin Muhammad to a hamstring injury. Taking his spot as the #1 receiver will be second year man Steve Smith. Smith caught his first touchdown of the season against the Vikings, and appeared to be able to get open for Peete. Byrd has always been a possession receiver since arriving in Carolina, and will be called upon to do the same this week. Anthony Bright will be activated for this game, and if he can show up the way he did in the pre-season, he could turn some heads. If Carolina is forced to go to the air in this game, they may be in trouble with the inexperience of this group.
Green Bay benefits from the addition of Pro Bowler Terry Glenn who is listed as probable for Sunday's game after suffering from an illness this week. If he isn't 100% look for 2nd year man Donald Driver to step up for Favre. He already leads the team in receiving with 16 receptions for 223 yards and 2 touchdowns and his size could be a big factor against Carolina's secondary. This group is going to be the key to the game. If they have a big day, Carolina could be in for their first loss of the season.
Edge: Green Bay
Carolina's Wesley Walls vs Green Bay's Bubba Franks
As was stated in the RB matchups, Wesley Walls could be a key factor in this game, if Carolina is forced to abandon their rushing attack. Walls probably will be used as the go to guy this week on third down conversions, since Moose is on the sidelines. Kris Mangum will have to step it up and make catches when the ball hits him in the numbers, as Walls will likely be matched against Darren Sharper when Green Bay decides to stack the line of scrimmage.
Bubba Franks has gotten off to a slow year so far, and still has less than 100 yards receiving and only 1 touchdown. That could be in part to the effectiveness of Ahman Green and Bubba being used as more of a blocker, but its still a far cry from his production of last season. Franks is a lot like Walls with his ability to seem to find the open hole in the defense when inside the redzone. Carolina's defense is aware of this as they matchup with Walls everyday in practice, and should be able to neutralize him.
Carolina's Front Five vs Green Bay's Front Five
Carolina's offensive line is going to benefit greatly this week with the absence of the Packers' DE's Vonnie Holliday and Gbaja-Biamila, their two starters. The line should be able to open up ample holes for Smith to run through, and should allow the Carolina offense to work as designed. Their biggest threat will be picking up blitzes from Green Bay's linebackers. If they neutralize this, Peete should also enjoy a comfortable day in the pocket with sufficient time to pass.
Green Bay's offensive line will have to contend with Carolina's defensive front four, who have compiled 13 sacks in just three games so far. Rookie Julius Peppers will face up with veteran Earl Dotson, and may not be as effective this week. Mike Rucker will be lining up against LT Chad Clifton, who is not that solid on the line. Look for some holes to open up for blitzes from the Carolina secondary, and for Favre to get flushed out of the pocket often. Now, it's just a question of "Does Carolina want Favre outside the pocket?" Carolina's rush defense should not have too hard a time stopping the run against this line.
Carolina's ST unit vs Green Bay's ST unit
Carolina's special teams may take a hit this week, with Steve Smith probably expected to take more of a role as WR. It will be interesting to see how Fox goes about this, but my bet is on a "return by committee" this week, with Byrd also sharing in the duties. Carolina's punting remains the same, with Sauerbrun booming kicks high into the Wisconsin sky. Jon Hilbert could end up being the difference in this game if it's a low scoring affair, and based off what Panthers' fans saw last week in Minnesota, that may not be a good thing.
Darien Gordon and Javon Walker share the return duties for Green Bay. Carolina still has one of the best kick and punt coverage units in the NFL, so don't look for anything big from those two. The Packers get the nod in PK with Ryan Longwell who isn't outstanding, but is more reliable that his Carolina counterpart. Punting for the Packers is Josh Bidwell. Hopefully for Panthers' fans, he is on the field often.