Desperate to make something of the season, the Lions have enlisted the help of veteran quarterback Daunte Culpepper, who came out of retirement a couple of weeks ago. Culpepper got off to a less-than-stellar start last Sunday, completing 5-of-10 passes for 104 yards and an interception while being sacked twice.
Culpepper’s arm and experience will no doubt prove to be an asset for the Lions as they continue to search for a way to get star wideout Calvin Johnson the ball on a regular basis. Johnson is by far the Lions' most dangerous offensive threat; and without significant production from him, the offense is merely stagnant.
The Panthers (7-2) are returning home after a disastrous effort in Oakland last week, a game that was somehow won by the defense. Quarterback Jake Delhomme, an outsider in MVP conversations just a week ago, threw four interceptions on his way to completing only 7-of-27 passing attempts for 72 yards and a touchdown that came on the opening drive.
Running back DeAngelo Williams was the offensive stud for Carolina last Sunday, rushing for 140 yards—69 of them coming on a touchdown scamper late in the second quarter.
The Panthers' defense was the real story of the game, holding the Raiders' offense out of the end zone for the second consecutive week and recording five sacks to go along with two interceptions.
Culpepper will play his first regular-season game in Bank of America Stadium since 2005 with the Minnesota Vikings in a game during which he tore a knee ligament and effectively ended his prosperous career with Minnesota. With the Lions' offensive line struggling against speedy rushers so far this year, Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers could have a field day with Culpepper.
Peppers recorded three sacks last week and has been playing at his Pro-Bowl form the last few weeks. Another key matchup to watch will be the Lions' defense against the Panthers' prolific rushing attack. It’s no secret that the Panthers are a run-first, pass-second offense, and that game plan will not change this week.
Carolina Will Win If…
They can establish the run.
Carolina has the most success in games where they can set up the passing game through the run. Delhomme does much better when he isn’t forced into passing situations and he can rely on the running back to keep the chains moving while attacking through the air when he reads vulnerability in the defense.
DeAngelo Williams has had two straight 100-yard rushing games and is on pace to break the 1,000-yard mark for the season. Rookie Jonathan Stewart will likely remain in a limited role as he continues to come back from an injured heel.
The last two weeks Stewart has seen just a handful of carries in a relief role for Williams. Another added bonus to the Panthers being able to establish the run is the man-to-man coverage that Steve Smith would likely see. Smith is one of the best receivers in the league when it comes to beating man-to-man coverage, and his big play ability is undeniable.
Crossing routes will also become an option for Delhomme, and Muhsin Muhammad and tight end Jeff King—who has seen an increased role in the passing game—will be open over the middle for medium gains more and more as the Panthers run the ball consistently.
Carolina Will Lose If…
They repeat their performance from last week.
Unlike the Raiders, the Lions are winless. This is a team who is looking for any way to win that first game and get the monkey off their back and be able to look forward to salvaging whatever they can from this season.
With Culpepper’s arm and Johnson’s speed and size, the long ball will certainly be an option—something the Panthers have had trouble covering. The potential matchup of a receiver like Johnson one-on-one with the Panthers' defensive backs is not favorable for the Panthers, and the defense would like to stay in zone coverage as much as possible.
Kurt Warner exploited the Panthers' weaknesses in the secondary in Week Eight, and there’s no doubt Culpepper and the Lions offense have been studying that film to determine what types of routes will be necessary to break apart the stingy Panthers' defense.
If Carolina continues to give the ball away deep in its own territory like they did in Oakland, the Lions will no doubt capitalize by taking chances that a team under regular circumstances might not. After all, they have nothing to lose.
DeAngelo Williams. If Williams can continue his stretch of 100-yard rushing games, the Panthers are almost a lock to win. The offense is very effective when it is centered around the ground game, and the Lions' defense has struggled to stop the run this year, allowing 161.2 yards per game.
Jake Delhomme will need to return to form as well for the Panthers; and he should, as Detroit’s passing defense has been letting up nearly 250 yards through the air this year. Their 30.8 points allowed per game average is 31st in the league.
This will be a tough game for the Lions. With the Panthers undefeated at home and sporting a 7-2 record for just the third time in franchise history, the crowd will be a major factor. This is Carolina’s last tune up before their schedule takes a brutal turn.
The Panthers face teams with a combined record of 33-21 after this week’s game, including the 8-1 Giants and two 6-3 division rivals in Atlanta and Tampa Bay. This may be their last chance to get a big win before they have to buckle their chinstraps and get down in the trenches.
This is also their last chance to work any kinks out in their gameplan against a less-than-stellar opponent.
I think the Lions will hang tough in the early going, but will fade away as the game progresses and the Panthers eat away the clock running the ball. Peppers could have a big game on the defensive line for the Panthers, and Culpepper could have a long day ahead of him if his offensive line shows any signs of weakness like they have in weeks past.
Panthers 28, Lions 10
To get a different perspective on this upcoming matchup, check out Detroit Lions community leader Scott Rieger’s take.