Charlotte, NC - The Panthers play the Falcons on Sunday here is the offensive preview.
Rodney Peete is out, Chris Weinke is in. TE Wesley Walls is just plain out. WRs Mushin Muhammad, Steve Smith, and Isaac Byrd are hurting. The Panthers are just starting to see the bad luck they've had in recent years. Who is going to turn in the big plays this week?
The news doesn't get any better as Falcons' ace CB Ray Buchanan returns from a four-game suspension. With Weinke making his first start of the year, it will be very difficult for Carolina to put together long scoring drives. The second-year quarterback is going to have to take his chances downfield in an effort to get some points on the board and take some pressure off the defense late in the game. The good news is that pass protection has been a pleasant surprise up to this point, and fared well against another 3-4 defense featuring Pro Bowlers Peter Boulware and Ray Lewis. The Panthers will have their chances, but will have to capitalize.
RB Lamar Smith was a big reason for the 3-0 start, but has slowed down in the last two games. ILB Keith Brooking and the Falcons' front seven will be keying on Smith, gambling that the Panthers will not be able to spread the field with their passing game. Coach Fox is simply going to have to play into the lion's mouth and ram it up the middle early and often, while Smith is simply going to have to get positive yardage on every down to give credibility to play-action.
This is really a game in which Coach Fox wishes he had rookie RB DeShaun Foster, as his game-breaking speed and pass-catching ability would give the Falcons' linebackers fits. Right now, though, they will have to stick with a smash-mouth Marty Schottenheimer-style plan. Look for the possibility of FB Brad Hoover getting his name called as well.
It all comes down to Chris Weinke. If he shows no rust from his… rather prolonged rest, the Panthers will move smoothly. If he looks like a deer in the headlights, this will be an ugly game featuring a lot of two yard runs and a few deep out routes. Coach Fox needs to make sure his troops are focused on taking advantage of whatever opportunities they can get, and on keeping their eye on the ball and not committing silly mistakes otherwise.