Carolina (6-4) at Washington (3-7)
November 25, 2006 7:39pm CST
The Carolina Panthers defense is rounding into dominant form as it heads into a matchup against a Washington Redskins team that's missing its starting quarterback, running back and top receiver. The Panthers (6-4) look to maintain at least a share of their NFC South lead when they visit the struggling Washington Redskins (3-7) on Sunday. Carolina used a dominant defensive performance in last week's 15-0 victory over St. Louis to move into a first-place tie with New Orleans. The Panthers came up with a season-high seven sacks and limited the Rams to 111 total yards -- a season low for a Carolina opponent. "It was probably as good of team defense as I've seen so far this season and it was definitely our best tackling game," Carolina coach John Fox said. Defensive tackle Mike Rucker had two sacks for Carolina, which dominated despite not getting a sack from linebacker Julius Peppers, the NFL leader with 11. "We're starting to feel each other," safety Mike Minter said. "With so many new guys coming in there, they didn't understand what it takes to play on this Carolina Panthers defense." The Panthers, who haven't allowed a touchdown in their last six quarters, are looking to take advantage of the myriad of injuries and changes plaguing Washington's offense. Quarterback Jason Campbell will make his second career start in place of an ineffective Mark Brunell, running back Clinton Portis is out for the year and receiver Santana Moss missed last week's game with a hamstring injury. Moss' status for Sunday is uncertain. Campbell completed 19 of 34 passes for 196 yards and two touchdowns in his first start, a 20-17 loss at Tampa Bay last week. Washington managed a season-low 64 rushing yards. "Certainly there are things that Jason would have liked to have done better," said Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, who has never faced the Panthers. "It was a tough place to go and start against one of the better defensive schemes that you will see in football. "This week is not going to be much different. We are seeing another outstanding defensive group coming to town." Despite the personnel turnover on the offensive side of the ball, though, Washington's biggest problem is defense. The Redskins are ranked last in the NFC with more than 358 yards allowed per game, and the last four quarterbacks they have faced have finished with a rating of at least 100. "Right now, we're not good on defense," Washington defensive end Phillip Daniels said. "We've got to just face it." The beleaguered unit could receive a break if Carolina running back DeShaun Foster is inactive. Foster, the team's leading rusher with 651 yards, suffered a hyperextended left elbow in the St. Louis game and is listed as questionable. DeAngelo Williams would get the start in Foster's place. The rookie had his best game as a pro with season highs of 20 carries for 114 yards against the Rams. Carolina receiver Steve Smith is averaging an NFL-best 108.8 yards per game and has caught touchdown passes in consecutive games for the first time this season. Panthers cornerback Ken Lucas missed the St. Louis game with a strained hamstring and is questionable. He's also been plagued this season by neck and shoulder pain, as well as a strained groin. "We've got guys who have been performing at a high level regardless of if I've been out there or not," Lucas said. "I just would like to be out there to help my team win." Six of the seven meetings between Carolina and Washington have been decided by three points or less, including the Panthers' first win in the series -- 20-17 in the last matchup Nov. 16, 2003.