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War Room: Week 16 previews










Thursday, December 23
War Room: Panthers at Steelers

Carolina offense vs. Pittsburgh defense
Ranking in the NFL:
Run 20
Pass 2
Tot. Yds. 5
Scoring 5
Int's allowed 14
Sacks allowed 44
Ranking in the NFL:
vs. Run 27
vs. Pass 2
Total yds. allowed 12
# of Ints. 12
# of Sacks 36
Turnover differential +2
The Pittsburgh corners are not as bad as the horrid performance they put forth two weeks ago at home against Baltimore, but up front the Steelers are hurting. Joel Steed will be nursing a bad knee against the Panthers this week and Orpheus Roye hasn't been getting off the ball as well as he was at the seasons onset.

The Panthers offense is 5th overall in the NFL, thanks to QB Steve Beuerlein who's red-hot play has opened up the entire offense. With the help of WR Muhsin Muhammad and Patrick Jeffers, Beuerlein has put together prolific outings recently. On the ground, the Panthers welcome the return of Tim Biakabutuka this week against the Steelers, with hopes of adding balance to a one-sided offensive assault.

With Biakabutuka on the shelf last week, a running back-by-committee approach was used by Siefert and the Panthers. However, up front, Carolina is too weak to establish a multi-faceted running game. The Panthers will give the ball to Biakabutuka early and try to offset a Pittsburgh gameplan that will be geared to stop the pass.

Pittsburgh will be susceptible to the run this week. With Steed hobbled by his knee, expect Carolina to run right behind OC Frank Garcia. A successful running game will lure the Pittsburgh linebackers into the box and allow Beuerlein to throw to backs out of the backfield and TE Walls over the middle. It's vital that Steed and Roye penetrate Carolina's offensive line. Pittsburgh's linebackers have enough trouble covering the pass as is, committing to the run will only make things worse.

Carolina's WR's Jeffers and Muhammad have been creating mismatches for opposing cornerbacks all season. Both are playing so well that very few teams have corners good enough to stop the multi-faceted attack. Against Pittsburgh CB's Scott and Washington, the trend will continue. Scott has yet to fully recover from injury and Washington has lost a step.

Carolina TE Wesley Walls will also provide the Steeler defense with fits, because Walls will force safeties Davis and Flowers to become so concerned with his ability to work the seems that the Steeler CB's will be left on islands against Jeffers and Muhammad.

Beuerlein will be quick to locate mismatches all over the secondary and will make Pittsburgh pay for their poor coverage. The Carolina passing scheme will be too much for the Steelers undermanned secondary, as the Panthers have too many weapons at their disposal within their passing game.

Pittsburgh offense vs. Carolina defense
Ranking in the NFL:
Run 12
Pass 27
Tot. Yds. 24
Scoring 23
Int's allowed 16
Sacks allowed 34
Ranking in the NFL:
vs. Run 21
vs. Pass 25
Total yds. allowed 27
# of Ints. 10
# of Sacks 31
Turnover differential -6
The Steeler offense has been sputtering. Mike Tomczak is 0-3 since replacing Kordell Stewart at quarterback and RB Jerome Bettis has vanished from the game plan. With TE's Mark Bruener and Mitch Lyons both lost for the season, offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride will have to turn to the likes of Tony Cline, acquired off waivers from the 49ers. It is also likely that WR Courtney Hawkins is lost for the season and it is definite that his cohort Will Blackwell won't return.

The Pittsburgh offense is ranked 24th overall and spiraling out of control. Carolina's defense isn't playing good football either, ranking 27th in the NFL, and the problems are coming both on land and through the air. Kevin Green is being exposed, because opposing offenses are now running at him and catching him playing undisciplined football, flying upfield. In the secondary, CB Eric Davis is continually giving up big plays, keeping enemy ball clubs in games.

Bill Cower has his back against the wall and is capable of anything this week. Look for RB Richard Huntley to carry the ball a lot this against Carolina, because Hunley has been effective running against zealous defenders. Cower will be sending Huntley in Green's direction, hoping to catch the aggressive LB out of position. Carolina's defensive front hasn't been playing well against the run between the tackles, but the Steelers are particularly weak in this area, with injuries decimating their offensive line.

QB Mike Tomczak is moving the offense, but he's throwing costly interceptions and eliminating scoring opportunities. His ability to see the whole field has led to several different Steeler receivers catching balls in recent weeks. Tomczak has been throwing short pass patterns without great accuracy, which could be a major problem against the Carolina's aggressive corners.

Tomczak has also repeatedly missed WR Troy Edwards when throwing vertically, but he cannot abandon this approach against Carolina CB Eric Davis. Davis has been trying to get more aggressive by creating contact with receivers off the line, but he's lost a step and cannot make up for his mistakes. Edwards is too quick off the LOS for Davis to press on him when applying man coverage. If Davis chooses to try and get physical with Edwards when in coverage, it will be up to Tomczak to make the play, because Edwards will be open.

Carolina ranks 25th in the NFL against the pass. If the Steeler offensive line can keep LDE Christian Peter from disrupting Tomczak's release, and keep the tight ends and backs in the middle of the field, Tomczak will have the time to pick apart the Panthers defensive secondary.

Special teams
Category CAR PIT
Punt return avg. 30 19
Kickoff return avg. 14 25
Opp. punt return avg. 22 2
Opp. kickoff ret. avg. 7 4
Time of possession 22 7
Pittsburgh kicker Kris Brown is playing well; booming his FG's. The return units have lacked explosion this year, but are consistent and coverage has been sound lately. The punting has been outstanding, going for over 45 yards a pop. Carolina kickoffs have been erratic, but dangerous. However, their punting has been among the worst in the league, averaging just under 40 yards a kick. The return units have been iffy, kickoffs being of most concern, tallying just 20 yards a shot on average. Kasay has been reliable on FG's this season and leads the team in scoring.

Key matchups
  • Panthers WR Mushin Muhammad vs. Steeler DC Dwayne Washington
    Muhammad is fresh off of a three-TD performance and is a legitimate big-play threat. Opposing quarterbacks of late have targeted Washington and, with DC Chad Scott healthy on the other side of the field, the Panthers will test him early. Washington needs to play up to par and eliminate the big play, keeping the Carolina offense from opening up.

  • Steeler QB Mike Tomczak vs. Panther FS Mike Minter
    Tomczak's arm is as ragged as ever, lacking any real zip. Look for Minter to hide out in zone coverage, only to sneak up on lofty Tomczak throws over the middle. Minter will use his instincts and sharp angles to get between Steeler receivers and the ball.

  • Carolina TE Wesley Walls vs. The Steeler LBs
    Walls has been hot all season long, continually stretching opposing coverage by working the seams of the field. The Pittsburgh LB's are a big group and will have to keep the pass-catching tight end in front of them to keep him in check.

    Carolina will win if...
  • Biakabutuka runs well returning from injury. The defensive gameplan for Pittsburgh will be to stop the pass. Production from Biakabutuka will force the Steelers to commit more players to the LOS and lead to Beuerlein having big day throwing.

  • Tomczak doesn't have the chance to set his feet in the pocket Mike Tomczak can see the whole field when he drops back to pass, but he's slow footed when setting up. Pressure from the Panthers will keep the Steeler QB from surveying the field and picking out open receivers.

  • Beuerlein spreads the ball around the field The Panthers have several pass-catching weapons and the Steelers are spread thin defensively. Beuerlein will need to distribute the ball to all of his weapons in order to take advantage of Pittsburgh's infidelity covering the pass.

    Pittsburgh will win if...

  • Mike Tomczak can complete the long ball. Tomczak has been relatively accurate underneath, but he hasn't been able to connect with his WR's when they break free into the field's deep third. If he can do so against Carolina, it will open up the entire field.

  • Kevin Green plays out of control. Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride is aware of Green's tendency to play with reckless abandon. Gilbride will attack Green's area of the field, which will not only eliminate Green's backside pursuit, but take advantage of his upfield surge.

  • DC's Scott and Washington get help form their safeties. Washington and Scott are capable of handling the Carolina WR's but will suffer occasional let downs. Help from their safeties will eliminate any big plays and stunt the Panther offense.

    The War Room edge
    The Panthers will have success on offense but not as much as they've been having recently. Pittsburgh is still having trouble converting in the red zone and that won't change at the hands of Carolina's stingy cornerbacks. The Steelers will run at Panther LB Green and move the ball, but Tomczak will again struggle when throwing, eventually canceling out any production on the ground. Buerelein will be able to move the ball through the air against the hapless Steeler secondary, still playing poorly even with Chad Scott back from injury. These teams are going in opposite directions for a reason, Carolina wins this one at home.

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