First Look: The Carolina Panthers

Now that it's been determined that the Carolina Panthers will head to Seattle to face the Seahawks in the NFC Championship game, Seahawks.Net decided to take a quick look at who the Panthers are and what Hawk fans can expect to see come Sunday afternoon at 3:30 p.m.

On paper, the Panthers look a lot like the Washington Redskins. Ball-control offense with one dynamic playmaker at wide receiver with a veteran quarterback who can lead the team with his arm if need be. They like to play a field-position game, hoping to let their opponents make a mistake while they take advantage of it.

RB DeShaun Foster led the team in rushing with 879 yards and the team likes to use him on stretch plays where they can use his speed on the edge. The problem? Foster is out with a broken bone in his ankle. Nick Goings is Foster's replacement and while he might not be the breakaway threat that Foster is, he has the ability to move the chains and he's a better receiver out of the backfield. He's better between the tackles and catching the ball out of the backfield and he's also a good blocker on passing downs.

QB Jake Delhomme is an underrated passer and one of the better leaders in the league. He isn't very mobile, but he is effective when he slides to avoid the rush and hitting an outlet receiver. He has a good, not great, arm and he's accurate. Where he runs into trouble is when he tries to do too much. This year he hasn't done that and the results have been wins.

As far as Smith is concerned, he is a dynamic player who runs precise routes and is excellent when he has the ball in his hands. The Panthers like to use him on quick hitting plays that get him out in space allowing him to use his excellent open-field skills. He is super-quick, has good speed and excellent hands. He is the one true downfield threat on this offense.

Smith finished tied for first in league with 1,563 receiving yards and was tied for the league lead with 103 receptions and 12 touchdowns. In two postseason contests he's contributed 22 catches for 302 yards (including 212 on Sunday against Chicago) and three touchdowns.

The other receiving threats are Ricky Proehl (25 receptions), Foster (34) and Keary Colbert (25). TE Kris Mangum is another option for Delhomme, but he is used primarily as a blocker to seal the end of the line for stretch plays to the running back.

Defensively, this team is solid, using an active front-four to control the line of scrimmage allowing the linebackers to flow to the ball and make plays.

The standout up front is DE Julius Peppers. He led the team with 10.5 sacks this past season and he has really improved against the run. No longer can teams just run at him, hoping to catch him in an up-field rush and then running inside of it. He is an unbelievable athlete, who never gives up on a play and his ability to close the backside cut will help immensely against the Hawks.

Mike Rucker provides good pressure from the other defensive end position (7.5 sacks) and the middle is clogged by big Brentson Buckner and underrated Jordan Carstens. Buckner's battle with Steve Hutchinson will be fun to watch as the two behemoths battle for 60 minutes.

The linebackers are led by Dan Morgan from the middle and Will Witherspoon from the outside. Witherspoon is one of the more underrated players in the league. He runs well, is an effective blitzer and a sure tackler when he gets his hands on the ball-carrier. Morgan has lost a little bit of his speed, but he makes up for that with good instincts and is a great leader for the defense.

On the outside, Seahawks fans will recognize the name of Ken Lucas at one cornerback position. For the first four years of his career he played on the outside for the Hawks, starting as a rookie and never relinquishing his spot. He changed teams this past offseason when the Seahawks allowed him to leave as a free agent and he's been a nice fit in his new digs.

He's strong, reads routes well and, because he was a former wide receiver in college, he has excellent hands. He finished the season with six interceptions and has two in the postseason. He also tackles well, coming up strong against the run.

The other corner is super-physical Chris Gamble, now in his second season. Gamble also used to play wideout in college and showed off his hands by leading the Panthers with seven interceptions. He and Lucas both finished with 70 tackles and both are strong at the point of attack.

Marlon McCree and Mike Minter are the safeties. Minter is the physical hitter that the team likes to use as a rover type in the secondary. McCree led the team in the regular season with 88 tackles and is excellent at stopping the run, but not quite as adept in space.

John Kasay is the placekicker and he finished with 121 points, good for 5th in the league. He hit on 26 of 34 attempts and 14 of 17 between 30 and 50 yards. His problems came from outside of 50 yards where he only hit on 3 of 8.

P Jason Baker has been excellent this season dropping almost 32% of his kicks inside the 20 for touchbacks. He averaged 43.3 yards on 72 punts and had a net of 40, meaning he had good hang-time allowing his coverage units to get down the field and make a play.

This will be a good battle between two teams who most didn't expect much from before the season began. The Hawks and Panthers match up well against each other. Seattle's underrated defense, seemingly coming into it's own toward the end of the season, and Carolina's offense will be a fun matchup to watch.

Lucas knows the Hawks personnel well, but the Hawks know his tendencies just as well. Look for the Hawks to work Shaun Alexander, who is expected to play next week, into the running game after stretching the Panthers defense with the passing game. Darrell Jackson will be manned up by Lucas all day and it will be interesting to see how many times the Hawks are able to get him the ball.

Buckle up Hawk fans – the Super Bowl awaits the winner of next week's contest. It's going to be fun.

Scott Eklund writes and reports for Seahawks.NET and Feel free to contact him at Top Stories