To the Air...port: Carolina Panthers Headed to Tampa

Eric QuackenbushSenior Analyst IOctober 7, 2008

Jake Delhomme: The rebirth of a veteran quarterback. My gut instinct was that the Tommy John surgery would be a success, and Delhomme would be able to perform better than in the last few years...He has never performed like this during his career in the NFL. He's putting up impressive numbers!

The Carolina Panthers have come a long way in a short amount of time. From acquiring talented players in D.J. Hackett and Muhsin Muhammad to drafting Jeff Otah, Jonathan Stewart, and Charles Godfrey for areas where they were shallow in depth.

Challenged by inner turmoil—Steve Smith sucker-punching teammate Ken Lucas during training camp—this team banded together.

Anyone could watch this year's Carolina Panthers team and think of any number of reasons why this team is outperforming the so-called experts' expectations, while staying humble and approaching every game as if it's their first of the season.

“...One thing that I’m really proud of this team about is that we approach things as a one-week deal,” Delhomme said. “You don’t look ahead. That’s what I enjoy most about this team. There’s a focus on the task at hand and that’s what you have to do," (carolinagrowl).

This week, it's back to being 0-0 and looking to win their "first" game as the Panthers prepare for a grudge match against the Buccaneers.

The Panthers are a 4-1 team coming off a potentially ego-inflating 34-0 win over Kansas City last Sunday. Will they bring their winning formula to Tampa Bay or leave it in Carolina?

I think, this week, Carolina will mix up their offensive gameplan as usual. They will start with the ground attack, and when you have a power running back like Jonathan Stewart, and a running back who is elusive and speedy like DeAngelo Williams, their complementing contrasts of speed and power wear a defense down while eating up yardage and game time.

Gaines Adams, Cato June, and Derrick Brooks are three of Tampa Bay's top defensive players. They will work to stop the run while trying to get through the Panthers' beefy offensive line and put pressure on Jake Delhomme.

Once the Panthers establish a steady ground attack, Delhomme will go to the aerial offensive attack, and Carolina has plenty of talent and depth in that area as well, with Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad to name a couple of threats.

Dante Rosario will play a key part in this game, as he is a big tight end with good hands for catching the ball in tight spots. No Panthers fan can ever forget that game-winning grab at the back of the end zone against the Chargers.

Wide receiver D.J. Hackett may be out for this game with an injury to his knee, so Dwayne Jarrett will get some time on the field with a chance to make some good plays and prove his worth.

Again, the Bucs have an answer for the Panthers' aerial attack in Ronde Barber, a very fast corner back who has hands that also seem to always come up with an interception.
Safeties Jermaine Phillips and Tanard Jackson round out Tampa's impressive defensive secondary.

Jon Gruden may be starting Jeff Garcia at quarterback against the Panthers, although it is still uncertain, as current starting quarterback Brian Griese is listed as questionable for this weekend's game.

Tampa Bay has a pretty sound running-back duo as well in Warrick Dunn and Earnest Graham. Both backs combine for a total of more than 600 yards rushing on the season.

Maake Kemoeatu, Julius Peppers, Na'il Diggs, and Jon Beason will play parts in a solid defensive front against the Buccaneers' running game and should make a strong statement on pressuring whomever Jon Gruden decides to start at quarterback.

If Tampa Bay can't get much of a running game going, they will have to use their passing attack. With Joey Galloway's return still uncertain, that leaves Maurice Stovall, Antonio Bryant, and Ike Hilliard to make up for Galloway's absence. Tight end Alex Smith also does a fine job for the Buccaneers.

The Panthers' defensive secondary is also showing solid performances week in and week out, as cornerbacks Chris Gamble and Ken Lucas each have an interception on the season, and safeties Charles Godfrey and Chris Harris also add experience and depth to the defensive backfield against Tampa's passing game and receivers.

All in all, this looks to be a really exciting game between two teams that absolutely despise each others existence! Carolina looks to improve their record to 5-1 and take sole ownership of the division at 2-0.

I'll take the Panthers in a close win by two points.