CHARLOTTE, N.C.- The Panthers return home to Charlotte this week to play host to the Arizona Cardinals. Carolina will be looking to rebound from a loss to the Green Bay Packers, on a missed last minute field goal that would have sent the game to overtime. The game is now officially a sellout and will not be blacked out locally. Following is a breakdown of the offensive and defensive match ups.
Rodney Peete suffered his first loss as a Carolina Panther last week to the Packers, and will be looking to rebound this week. Look for Peete to have a good day passing to new star receiver Steve Smith as Duane Starks will be on the sidelines.
Jake Plummer has enjoyed a typical Plummer season to this point, not fully living up to his potential. He has a good offensive line to protect him and he may be able to pick the Carolina secondary apart if he is given too much time and comfort in the pocket.
Smith was enjoying another typical day last week against Green Bay before giving way to Dee Brown after suffering from cramps. Arizona's run stopping defense could pose problems for Carolina's planned ball control offense, unless Rodney Peete is able to open up the passing game early and create some room for Lamar.
Thomas Jones has had less than stellar year so far, and look for this trend to continue as he will face Carolina's #1 in the NFL ranked defense. Look for Arizona to abandon the run game after Carolina goes up by a couple of touchdowns in the first half.
For the second straight week, Carolina will be missing Pro Bowler Muhsin Muhammad, but in his place is 2nd year standout Steve Smith. Smith had a career day receiving against the Packers in Green Bay, and will look for a repeat performance. Also look or Isaac Byrd to get more involved in the offense on key 3rd and long situations.
David Boston has had a sub par year so far this season, and will be looking for a breakout game against the Panthers. He is a dominating sized receiver and will tower over the Carolina secondary. The key to his game is going to be how much time Arizona's offensive line is able to give Plummer in the pocket.
A lot of this match up is going to depend on the health of Pro Bowler Wesley Walls. If he is able to go, look for him to be a bigger part of the offense this week as he was shut down in Green Bay. If he is unable to go, Kris Mangum will be in as his backup, and has yet to prove he can make a crucial catch on 3rd down situations.
Freddie Jones will be starting for the Cardinals and should be a key part of their offense if Plummer is forced out of the pocket and needs a dump off receiver. Look for the tight ends to play a key role in the result of this game.
Carolina's offensive line is coming off their worst performance of this season, allowing a season high 4 sacks on Peete. They did manage to open significant holes for the running game and look for them to do the same against Arizona's front four, or at least provide Peete enough time to find an open receiver.
Arizona's line is one of the more heralded so far this year in the NFL, and have only given up 7 sacks so far in 4 games. Thomas Jones has been able to gain 310 yards behind this line, but look for this line to have some trouble against Carolina's front four on defense.
Carolina's special teams have been average at best so far this season, with the exception of the punting of Todd Sauerbrun. With Shayne Graham again kicking this week, there will be a lot of Panther fans hoping he can either prove himself early, or not be involved in the latter stages of the game.
Carolina's coverage team will face their stiffest test of the season when the ball is kicked to return man MarTay Jenkins. Arizona also has one of the leagues more reliable kicker in Bill Gramatica. A key special teams blunder in this game could prove to be the difference.