Panthers Scouting Report

Michael Eisen at Giants.com has a great Panthers Scouting Report:

 

“Home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs will be on the line Sunday night when the Carolina Panthers invade Giants Stadium to play the NFC East champion Giants. Both teams are 11-3. But the Giants have lost their last two games to Philadelphia and Dallas (though, taking the long-term view, they have still won seven of nine), while the Panthers have won three in a row and seven of their last eight games. The Giants are 6-1 at home, while Carolina is 3-3 on the road. The teams last met on Dec. 10, 2006, a 27-13 Giants victory in Charlotte. The Panthers won the other two regular season games between the teams, as well as the NFC Wild Card game on Jan. 8, 2006.

Offense
Carolina ranks 12th in the NFL in offense with an average of 341.0 yards a game. The Panthers are fourth in rushing yardage (146.1 a game) but have a 173.8-yard average in their last eight games, 21st in passing (194.9) and seventh in scoring (25.2 points per game). They have scored at least 28 points in five consecutive games, 30 or more points six times this season and gained more than 400 yards five times, including each of the last two games. Carolina is third in the league with a 64.3 touchdown percentage in the red zone (27 of 42).

The Panthers beefed up their offensive line in the offseason and committed to a more powerful rushing attack. Carolina leads the NFL with 25 rushing touchdowns and has the most productive running tandem in the league in DeAngelo Williams and rookie Jonathan Stewart. They have combined for 1,980 yards, 13 more than Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor – whom the Giants will face next week. Carolina ran for a franchise-record 299 yards two weeks ago vs. Tampa Bay.

Williams was the NFC Offensive Player of the Week after rushing for 186 yards and two touchdowns in the Monday night victory over the Buccaneers. He is fourth in the NFL with 1,229 yards and tied for second with 14 rushing touchdowns. Williams has run for more than 100 yards in five of the last seven games. He is an explosive, undersized (5-9, 217) back with vision and both the power to drive through hits and the quickness to bounce outside. Williams has taken many direct snaps this season in the increasingly-popular Wildcat formation. Stewart, a first-round draft choice, is a big, strong back whose decision-making ability has improved as the season has progressed. He has rushed for 751 yards and nine touchdowns and runs with power and speed off-tackle. Williams picks up many of his yards after the initial contact by the defense.

Fullback Brad Hoover played at the same high school – Ledford, in Thomasville, N.C. – as Giants fullback Madison Hedgecock. Hoover is a blue collar player, a steady and physical blocker who can catch passes when needed. Nick Goings is an experienced backup with nine carries this season.

Jake Delhomme has thrown every one of the Panthers’ 375 passes this season. He has completed 221 for 2,853 yards, 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Delhomme, who returned to action after undergoing Tommy John surgery last year, is a smart veteran leader with a long history of comeback victories. He has a quick release and the ability to escape from pressure. Delhomme said this week he has never played a game in a snowstorm.

Steve Smith is third in the NFL with 1,240 receiving yards – his fourth consecutive 1,000-yard season – and a 17.7-yard average, despite missing the season’s first two games because of a suspension. He has caught 70 passes and scored six touchdowns and was selected to his fourth Pro Bowl. Smith has terrific speed, he works to find voids in the defense, makes acrobatic catches and he has the ability to take over a game.

No. 2 receiver Muhsin Muhammad returned to the Panthers this season after three years in Chicago. He has very strong hands that enable him to make the tough catches inside and the athletic ability and speed to turn up field and gain significant yardage. Muhammad has 54 catches, including 10 of more than 20 yards. His outstanding downfield blocking is a big reason for the run game’s success. Next on Carolina’s receptions list is Williams, with 22. The third wideout spot is split between D.J. Hackett and Dwayne Jarrett, who have combined for 20 catches. Hackett has been injured and inactive for two games, while Jarrett plays all the receiver positions and has picked up first downs on eight of his nine catches.

Tight ends Jeff King and Dante Rosario both line up all over the formation and have good receiving skills. King is particularly adept at adjusting his routes when Delhomme starts to scramble and Rosario is a feisty blocker who is strong enough to take on linebackers. Gary Barnidge plays in three-tight end sets and backup lineman Geoff Hangartner is used as an extra blocker on the goal line.

Carolina has used five different starting offensive line combinations this season, but the starters are all healthy now. The Panthers traded up on draft day so they could acquire another first-round selection to take right tackle Jeff Otah. The 6-6, 330-pounder has good range, movement and strength and has been a vital cog clearing holes for Williams and Stewart. Right guard Keydrick Vincent suffered a groin injury late in last week’s victory over Denver and didn’t practice on Wednesday. If he doesn’t play, Jeremy Bridges, a mauler in the run game, will. Center Ryan Kalil uses his quickness and leverage to get the best of defensive linemen. Left guard Travelle Wharton moved over from tackle in the offseason and has started 12 games. Tackle Jordan Gross has started 93 of 94 games since being chosen with the eight overall pick of the 2003 draft. An astute pro, Gross varies his blocking approach depending on the opponent. He was selected this week to his first Pro Bowl.

Defense

The Panthers are ranked 10th in the NFL in defense, allowing 315.9 yards a game. They are 18th against the run (111.5) and 12th vs. the pass (204.4). Carolina is sixth in scoring defense, giving up 18.8 points a game. But that number has steadily risen; the Panthers allowed 14.8 points through the first nine games and 26.2 in their most recent five contests. That included a 45-point outburst by Atlanta that was the most points allowed in John Fox’s seven years as head coach. Carolina’s turnover differential is plus-four. The Panthers have the last two NFC Defensive Players of the Month – linebacker Jon Beason in October and end Julius Peppers in November.

Every member of the defensive line has a high motor and plays with a chase-the-ball mentality. Maake Kemoeatu, the Panthers’ 350-pound run-stopping tackle, has an ankle injury that could keep him out of Sunday’s game. A strong, gap-conscious defender, he has started all 14 contests and is the backbone of Carolina’s run defense. Damione Lewis plays the angles and has good movement at the other tackle. Peppers is one of the NFL’s premier defensive ends. This season he moved from left to right end and earned his fourth Pro Bowl invitation with 12.5 sacks – his fifth double-digit sack season. Peppers is an explosive force with long arms, speed, strength and toughness. Left end Tyler Brayton is a snap-to-whistle hustler who has a career-high 3.5 sacks. Charles Johnson (6.0 sacks) Darwin Walker and Hilee Taylor are productive backups.

The linebackers are disciplined and tough to fool. In the middle is Beason, a Pro Bowler who set a club record with 160 tackles as a rookie in 2007. This season he has 148 and is tied for the team-lead with three interceptions. He is an instinctive player vs. both the run and pass with good speed and an attack mentality. Tommy Davis has a very good burst to the ball on the weak side. He is second on the team with 119 tackles. Strongside backer Na’il Diggs has the strength to blow up lead blockers and the speed to run with tight ends. He leaves the field in the nickel defense. Adam Seward and Landon Johnson both contribute as reserves.

Left cornerback Chris Gamble leads the team with 18 pass breakups and has a career-high 91 tackles. He has good size and awareness in the zone defense and is strong on run support. On the right side, Ken Lucas has good ball skills and is an outstanding open field tackler. Chris Harris is an athletic strong safety who is quick to close on the ball. Rookie Charles Godfrey has started every game at free safety. He often moves down close to the line in the dime defense and has a knack for slipping blockers. The nickel back is Richard Marshall, who does a good job covering the slot receiver.

Special Teams

Eighteen-year veteran John Kasay has made 24 of 25 field goal attempts, a 96 percent success rate that is the NFL’s best. His only miss was a 54-yarder. Kickoff specialist Rhys Lloyd leads the NFL with 24 touchbacks and has reached the end zone on 45 of 76 kickoffs. Punter Jason Baker is fifth in the NFC with a 45.0-yard gross average and eighth with a 37.9-yard net average. Mark Jones, who was the Giants’ punt returner in 2004, handles both kickoff and punt return duties for Carolina. He is sixth in the league with an 11.7-yard punt return average and 19th with a 24.4-yard average on kickoff returns.


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