Here's a matchup to watch in Sunday's Panthers-Browns game:
Panthers WR Steve Smith vs. Browns' secondary
Fast, strong and competitive, Steve Smith has long been the Panthers' top receiving threat, and few receivers have been more important to their team.
However, Smith's impact has been blunted this season with Carolina's offense suffering from poor QB play. He has caught just 34 passes for 411 yards (12.1 ypc). He has not caught a TD pass since Week Two, and his longest reception is just 37 yards. Opponents are double-teaming Smith, far and away the Panthers' most dangerous option in the passing game.
The Panthers will move Smith around for favorable matchups, and there's a chance he'll line up on both sides, as well as in the slot.
Check the status of Browns LCB Eric Wright, who missed most of the Week 11 game at Jacksonville with a knee injury. Rookie Joe Haden, who replaced Wright, has played well, with defensive coordinator Rob Ryan recently calling him "clearly one of our best players; he gets better every week." RCB Sheldon Brown's toughness and experience are assets, but he has struggled in coverage at times this season.
If Panthers rookie QB Jimmy Clausen (concussion) is cleared to play and has recovered sufficiently, he'll start. If he's out another week, veteran Brian St. Pierre is likely to get the call. St. Pierre targeted Smith more than any other player in Week 11, with Smith catching four of the seven passes thrown his way for 46 yards. Smith caught 3-47-0 in Clausen's last start (team-high six targets).