Yes, the Green Bay Packers are headed to Carolina this week, but with apologies to singer James Taylor, this visit won't be about sunshine, moonshine and good friends. This week is all about business for both teams. You hate to use the word "desperate" in Week Four, but these two teams are both off to rough starts with only one victory between them. The Carolina Panthers are at home, and it's Monday Night Football. You know they will be fired up. The Packers should expect a very hostile Bank of America Stadium.
I think the Panthers are a much better team than their 1-2 record indicates. They lost their season opener against the New Orleans Saints on a last-second, 47-yard field goal. They beat the World Champion New England Patriots in Week Two and then stumbled again last week, losing on another last-second field goal to the Miami Dolphins. That one really stung for Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme, who threw an ill-advised pass in the fourth quarter that was picked off and returned to the Carolina 25-yard line to set up Olindo Mare's game-winning boot.
Like the Packers, the Panthers have suffered some injuries and free agency departures. The loss of wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad to the Chicago Bears was a real blow because he was their big play guy. So far this season, only Steve Smith has been a go-to guy at the wide receiver position. Ironically Smith broke his leg against the Packers in last year's opening game (also a Monday Night at Carolina), but he seems to be coming back with a vengeance. Last week he caught 11 passes for 170 yards and three touchdowns. In this young season Smith has 23 catches for 342 yards and four touchdowns -- a good indication that he has made a full recovery from his injury. Still, without Muhammad, Delhomme is pressing a little bit, similar to Brett Favre losing Javon Walker. Carolina's running game has been their biggest disappointment this year. Running back Stephen Davis is back from injury last year, and they were expecting big things from him. The combination of Davis with DeShaun Foster was supposed to put up big numbers, but so far it hasn't happened.
So how do these two teams match up for Monday night? The Packers had better buckle their chinstraps tightly because the Panthers still have extreme confidence in themselves. Remember they are a team many picked to be in the Super Bowl this season. They think they can win and believe they are better than they've shown so far. This is going to be another serious challenge for the Packer offensive line because the Panthers bring a very stout defense. Although they allowed Dolphins rookie running back Ronnie Brown to rush for 123 yards, they held Deuce McAllister of the Saints to 64 yards and Corey Dillon from New England to a paltry 36 yards in their first two games.
Carolina did lose one of their fine defensive tackles, Kris Jenkins (brother to Green Bay's Cullen Jenkins) for the year with a torn ACL, and that has hurt their interior defense somewhat. Also, outside linebacker Will Witherspoon and cornerback Ken Lucas were both out last week. But this is a team with a very sturdy front seven led by defensive end Julius Peppers and their All-Pro middle linebacker Dan Morgan, a real beast in the middle. Morgan is all over the place defensively and has a nice front four in front of him to occupy the offensive line, freeing him up to roam sideline to sideline. He's one of the fastest linebackers in the league, and the Packers must be aware of where he is at all times.
The Packers might match up pretty well with their defensive secondary against Delhomme and his receivers. As I mentioned, Smith is the only guy who has been productive. Their other wideout, Keary Colbert, is off to a slow start, and without Muhammad the Panther passing game isn't what it was in years past. Delhomme has four touchdowns and four interceptions. This might be a great opportunity for Ahmad Carroll to elevate his game another notch after his promising performance against Tampa Bay. His fine interception is going to boost his confidence, and he should feel good about the way he played. Hopefully, he'll build on that and turn into the player we all hope he can be.
So that brings us to the bottom line. Forgive me for sounding like a broken record, but if the Packers are going to notch their first victory of the season they have to eliminate the penalties and turnovers that have plagued them so far. If they don't eliminate the turnovers, it's difficult to expect good things to happen. The Packers need to give themselves more opportunities to be successful on both sides of the ball. Until they can stop hurting themselves it will be difficult to beat anybody in this league.
Don "Majik" Majkowski was inducted into the Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame earlier this year. His career for the Packers spanned six seasons (1987-92), including being named to the Pro Bowl in 1989 when he led the NFL in passing yards. In addition to his duties with Packers.com, Majik provides football analysis for WSSP-AM, SportsRadio 1250 in Milwaukee, WDUZ SportsRadio 107.5 & 1400 The Fan in Green Bay, WTSO - ESPN 1070 in Madison, WDEZ in Wausau, and WIZD in Stevens Point. Visit Majik's Web site, www.majiknetwork.net, for more information.