FOX Sports Exclusive
Fearless Prediction: Panthers (4-6) at Jets (4-6)
Game SnapshotKICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
TV: FOX (Thom Brennaman, Brian Billick, Chris Myers)
KEYS TO THE GAME: Jets rookie QB Mark Sanchez continues to struggle reading defenses and is coming off a five-turnover game. New York will put its gameplan on the shoulders of the offensive line and hope it can handle eight-man defensive fronts to clear lanes for RB Thomas Jones against a Panthers defense allowing 130.7 rushing yards per game. Panthers QB Jake Delhomme has thrown just one interception his past four games, but Carolina still doesn't want to expose him to passing the ball against the Jets' blitz packages. RBs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart will be the focal point. FAST FACTS: The Panthers average 5.0 yards per carry, but have just a 13-second average edge in time of possession on the season. ... The Jets have lost their past three home games by a combined 10 points.
- DE Everette Brown came to Carolina with a reputation for being a quality pass rusher, but he's working on becoming better against the run. Brown has bulked up during the season and improved his strength. "Number one you have to work hard," coach John Fox said. "And he's worked very hard. It's a pretty grueling schedule with the practice routine. To go in and put in extra time to build your strength rather than just maintain it takes a little extra work ethic. I think he's playing the run a lot more aggressively and a lot stronger. We always knew he had pass-rush skills, but he's playing the run better now."
- DE Charles Johnson (strained pectoral muscle) did not practice and will not play this week.
- LB Na'il Diggs (bruised ribs) did not practice and is not likely to play this week.
- WLB James Anderson will get the start this week.
- SLB Dan Connor will start if Na'il Diggs can't go.
- RB Jonathan Stewart returned to practice on a full-time basis Thursday and will play against the Jets.
- CB Dwight Lowery (high ankle sprain) didn't practice again Thursday and is likely to be replaced in the starting lineup by Lito Sheppard, finally healthy after being hampered much of the season by a quadriceps injury.
- DB Donald Strickland (concussion) didn't practice Wednesday or Thursday and isn't likely to play Sunday versus Carolina.
- QB Erik Ainge was a healthy scratch against New England, because former Patriot Kevin O'Connell was the third quarterback at New England. Ainge is likely to return this week to his usual role of third quarterback.
- S Eric Smith is known as a hard hitter, and in fact, was fined for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Arizona's Anquan Boldin last season. His ability to deliver a big hit could be one reason he will replace Kerry Rhodes in the starting lineup. It's believed coach Rex Ryan wasn't happy with Rhodes' physicality.
- WR Brad Smith figures to get any snaps in the Jets' version of the Wildcat with Leon Washington out for the season. Smith ran it once at New England, but the play was unsuccessful.
Inside The CampsPanthers:
Don't be surprised if the Carolina Panthers go with a safety-by-committee approach Sunday against the New York Jets.
Coach John Fox said Thursday there's a possibility Charles Godfrey, who is returning after missing four games with an ankle injury, could rotate in and out with Sherrod Martin and veteran Chris Harris.
That means Godfrey might be on the field with Harris and other times with Martin. Sometimes it might be Martin and Harris.
"It's a good problem to have," Fox said. "We are bringing a guy back who hasn't played in a month and there really is something to practicing and playing versus just looking at it on tape and watching in the meetings.
"I think all three are very good players and I think we can mix them in based on situations, based on matchups and based on a lot of things."
When asked if all three will see action, Fox said, "That's a possibility."
Rex Ryan is taking a more hands-on approach to the Jets' offense.
But rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez isn't threatened by that. He welcomes the input.
"That means the world to me," Sanchez said Wednesday. "That means he definitely hasn't lost confidence in me and that he wants to make sure I understand that. He's not shy about saying that we're linked. 'We're linked together, you and me. You're going to be our quarterback for a long time here.' Those are encouraging things to hear from your head coach no matter how you're playing. I do truly appreciate his support and it really helps get through some tough times like this."
And times certainly are tough for Sanchez. After throwing four touchdown passes and two interceptions during a 3-0 start for the Jets, the rookie from Southern Cal since has uncorked 14 picks against only six touchdown passes.
After Sanchez's most recent meltdown, a five-turnover disaster in a 31-14 loss at New England, Ryan has decided to take a greater role on offense. Until now, the former defensive coordinator had continued to function that way, spending almost all of his time on the defensive side of the ball.
Ryan's idea has been to install a code system to try to cut down Sanchez's mistakes and make him understand what is needed in a particular game situation, i.e., whether to take a risk or whether to play as conservatively as possible.
Of course, maybe a code that let Sanchez know not to throw the ball to the guys not wearing green jerseys might help at this point. He'll try to do that Sunday against Carolina.
"Basically it's helping him manage when he gets out on the field to understand maybe the parameters, maybe the game situations and all that kind of stuff," Ryan said.
"We practiced it a little bit today," Sanchez said. "When we're just starting the game, maybe we're a little more conservative here, or it's, 'Hey, man, you just completed your last nine passes. Let's go. Let one rip. Give our guy a shot.' He's got a code for it, so it's good.
"The biggest thing is getting his point across about what we need as a team," Sanchez added. "On offense, what's the situation? Do we need to throw down the field? What mentality are we in? How is this game going? To try and manage the situation, manage the offense and try to get first downs, move the chains. Those are really where he's giving a lot of his input. It's not like he's calling the plays or anything."
No, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer still will do that, but he won't have as much autonomy as he did as Ryan and the Jets attempt to develop Sanchez. It's a process that has been slower than expected, especially given his fast start.
"There's been a ton of support from all guys in the locker room," Sanchez said "offense, defense, young guys, older guys. That means the world to me. It's pretty special to know that they're in this with you. They just talk about keep fighting, keep playing, keep your head up, don't ever doubt yourself. That's great. I couldn't ask for anything better." PREDICTION: Jets 23-21