RB Mike Goodson (Jim McIsaac/Getty)
The Carolina Panthers hope the kick-off of the Jimmy Clausen era coincides with their first win of the season. We set the stage for the showdown with Cincinnati with predictions, team reports and personnel updates.
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
SURFACE: Natural Grass
TV: CBS (Bill Macatee, Rich Gannon)
PREDICTION: Bengals 30-16
KEYS TO THE GAME: Welcome to the NFL, Jimmy Clausen. The Panthers' rookie quarterback gets his first start this week. He's facing a Bengals' defense that is aggressive, plays bump coverage behind some complex blitz schemes in the front seven and has been stout against the run. Clausen cannot produce if Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams don't get going. They've been stoned by Tampa Bay and the Giants in two losses.
The Bengals' personnel gives coordinators pause when deciding how to focus the gameplan. RB Cedric Benson can pick up yards in chunks. Loading up to stop Benson opens the field to QB Carson Palmer and a bevy of talented receivers.
FAST FACTS: Cincinnati has been outscored 79-34 in its two visits to Charlotte (0-2). ... Even after Sunday's game, Carolina will mark the Bengals' least-played opponent at four. Houston is next at five but they entered the league in 2002. An advantage is that the Bengals have faced the Texans five times in nine years. ... The Bengals have lost five straight road games.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
Even though Carolina's Jimmy Clausen is making his first NFL start on Sunday, Bengals cornerback Johnathan Joseph has a feeling that the Panthers are going to stress the run game first.
"You hear mostly about the guys who are covering but you need guys who can stop the run too," Joseph said. "Guys like (Jonathan) Stewart and (DeAngelo) Williams can hit the corner at any given time. If you don't have perimeter run force he can turn a 10-yard gain into a 50-yard gain."
When it comes to stopping the run, the Bengals defense is one of the better ones. They were seventh against the run last year and held Baltimore's Ray Rice to 87 yards last week.
After Hall picked off Joe Flacco last week, Joseph would love to get his first on Sunday. The game marks a homecoming for Joseph, who bought 80 tickets for family members. He grew up in Rock Hill, S.C., which is less than 20 minutes from Bank of America Stadium.
Despite growing up on the North Carolina/South Carolina border, this marks the first time that Joseph will be playing a game in North Carolina.
"It's the first time since I've been in the league that I get a chance to play back at home so it will kind of be like a hometown crowd," Joseph said. "I've driven by there a million times but have never even been in there before."
Mike Goodson is starting to round into the player the Carolina Panthers thought he would become.
The second-year player from Texas A&M has replaced Tyrell Sutton as the team's third-down back and kickoff returner this season.
And so far the results are mostly positive.
Goodson is second on the team in receiving yards with 64 on five catches and has five carries for 20 yards. He also has returns of 45 and 43 yards, although he did make one mistake last week when he misplayed a kickoff and let it bounce out of bounds at the 6-yard line.
But he's a home run threat any time he touches the ball -- he returned a kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown in the preseason -- so the Panthers are willing to deal with a few hiccups every now and again.
Goodson said he came to training camp this year with a renewed enthusiasm after receiving a phone call over the summer from Panthers running backs coach Jim Skipper.
"Skip gave me a call and said, 'Be ready. Just be ready,'" Goodson said. "I told him I would be ready."
Aside from his outstanding burst of speed, one of the reasons Goodson has been able to replace Sutton as the third-down back is because of his ability to help out in pass protection.
It's something that a lot of rookies tend to struggle with, and Goodson was no exception.
"I just had to learn how to set your body, how to take on a block the correct way," Goodson said. "Coming from college you just kind of wing it out there. Guys aren't as athletic as you and not as good as you, so you can just kind of get by with athleticism.
"But if you look at a guy like Jon Beason, I can't win against him or guys like him on athleticism. I have to be sound in my blocks and technique and I have to be in the right spot."
--CB Adam Jones did not practice on Thursday due to a shoulder injury suffered in Sunday's game. It looks as if he will not play, meaning Morgan Trent would be the nickel corner.
--DE Frostee Rucker did not practice for the second straight day due to a toe injury. If he is deactivated for the game, Carlos Dunlap could be made active for his first NFL game.
--DT Tank Johnson was upgraded to full participation after missing Wednesday's practice due to a foot injury. It is likely he will start on Sunday.
--WR Terrell Owens was upgraded to full participation and will start. He was designated as limited on Wednesday due to a back problem.
--WR Chad Ochocinco tweeted on Monday that he had a rib injury. He was fine in the locker room this week and has not been listed on any of the injury reports.
--RT Jeff Otah was the only player held out of practice Thursday and it doesn't sound like he will be back anytime soon. Otah said he's "not close enough to pinpoint" when he'll return to practice. You can rule him out for Sunday against Cincinnati.
--WR Brandon LaFell returned to practice Thursday on a limited basis and he will likely be listed as questionable for this week. LaFell missed last week's game against Tampa Bay with a hamstring strain.
--TE Gary Barnidge was added to the injury report as limited because of a rib issue. Barnidge is the team's third tight end and you wonder if the Panthers might try to keep an extra wide receiver up instead on Sunday.
--WR Steve Smith practiced on a limited basis for the second straight day Thursday due to a thigh injury. You can expect him to play this week. Smith has accounted for both Carolina touchdowns this season.
--DT Louis Leonard said he broke a bone spur in his elbow last week which prevented him from playing against Tampa Bay. Leonard said he was in immense pain and couldn't bend his arm at one point. He has practiced full this week and should play against Cincinnati.