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Mr. Laz
09-18-2004, 12:26 PM
Posted on Sat, Sep. 18, 2004

Carolina's front four will be a heavy load

KC's offensive line expects challenge

By IVAN CARTER
The Kansas City Star

The playoffs are a long way off, but that won't prevent the Chiefs and Panthers from hitting the field with a little extra juice Sunday.

“You know that neither of us wants to be 0-2,” said Chiefs Pro Bowl left tackle Willie Roaf. “Both of us want this one real bad, so it's going to be a good game.”

And it will be won or lost with Roaf and the other big boys up front.

The Chiefs enter this rare matchup with one of the NFL's best offensive lines, but they are still incorporating a new member — right tackle John Welbourn — who struggled in last week's loss at Denver.

The Panthers have perhaps the game's best front four — Julius Peppers, Kris Jenkins, Brenston Buckner and St. Joseph native Mike Rucker — but that unit hardly sniffed Brett Favre while allowing the Green Bay offensive line to control the line of scrimmage in the Packers' 24-14 win Monday night over the Panthers.

That Carolina front four has nonetheless earned the respect from its peers on the Chiefs.

“The thing about them is that they are big and strong and athletic,” said Roaf, who will match up with Rucker, a 2003 Pro Bowler. “They play well off each other, and the other thing that surprises me is they don't rotate, either. They stay in there the whole game. You would have to say that they are the best front four in the league.”

Carolina will present a challenge to a Chiefs offensive line that helped put up 24 points at Denver and allowed Priest Holmes to rip off 151 yards and three scores. But it also had problems in pass protection and racked up too many penalties.

Welbourn was making his first start at right tackle since his rookie season with Philadelphia, when he played only one game at that spot. Welbourn, who had off-season knee surgery, has been making the transition from guard to tackle throughout the preseason.

Raylee Johnson beat Welbourn with an inside move on the game's second play and planted Trent Green. Reggie Hayword and Mario Fatafehi also beat Welbourn on different pass plays. Welbourn was also called for two false starts and an illegal-use-of-the-hands penalty in the first half.

Welbourn was solid against the run and found a groove as the game went on, but the Chiefs noticeably kept tight end Tony Gonzalez in to block on a key third-and-5 play in the third quarter.

They may have to adopt a similar strategy for dealing with Peppers, the lightning-quick left end who has 19 sacks in 28 career regular-season games.

“He had a good week of practice,” Vermeil said of Welbourn. “He's going to have to stack up some good weeks in a row of game preparation and games to get used to playing right tackle. He had some problems — the illegal procedures — it doesn't matter if you are a guard or tackle, shouldn't happen, but (Denver) is a tough environment. But I think he'll eliminate those and be better at what he does.”

To deal with Peppers, Green Bay often employed an extra offensive tackle, Kevin Barry, on Peppers' side of the line of scrimmage. As a result, Peppers finished with seven tackles but no sacks. Carolina's two sacks came from tackles Jenkins and Buckner.

“He was, I'd say, 99 percent of the time over Julius' side,” Carolina coach John Fox said. “They were just trying to take Julius out of the game from the standpoint of rushing the passer.

“It's not anything new; it's been done before. Not allow us to create any big plays. Even with that said, we had two sacks and not that many passing opportunities. It was a good plan, and they executed it well, and we've got to get better.”

The Packers also had success moving Favre out of the pocket, which is where he was standing when Buckner and Jenkins tallied their sacks.

“A lot of (Favre's) throws weren't just standing back, dropping in the pocket; they were either play-action or they were moving the pocket, rolling all the way outside the tackle where they chopped Peppers and sealed the back side,” Green said. “Obviously, a lot of that has to do with the running game. They wouldn't have been able to do those kinds of things with the play action if they hadn't been able to run the ball as effectively as they did.”

That is why the Chiefs will have to run the football Sunday if they want to slow that Carolina front four. That approach certainly won't be a shock to Fox, who watched Green Bay patiently pound at his defense on Monday night.

“I fully expect them to run the football,” Fox said. “With Priest Holmes, why wouldn't you?”