Here's a matchup to watch in Sunday's Panthers-Browns game:
Panthers RBs Jonathan Stewart and Mike Goodson vs. Browns run defense
One of the breakout stars of 2009, Stewart has struggled to get much going this season in a Carolina offense that has sputtered all year. The third-year back from Oregon has just 208 yards on 69 carries (3.0 ypc), with a longest rush of 24 yards.
Powerful and fast, the 5-10, 235-pound Stewart returned to practice this week after missing two games with a concussion, and he'll likely play a key role in the offense on Sunday. However, the Panthers also figure to get Goodson, who has impressed in two starts in place of Stewart, some carries, too. Goodson, in his third NFL season and a Texas A&M product, rushed for 220 yards on 45 carries in Weeks 10 and 11 and also caught 8-44-0.
The 6-foot, 212-pound Goodson has very good speed, as evidenced by his 45-yard run vs. Baltimore last week. Goodson started right, cut back across the middle and sprinted away from his pursuers until Ravens CB Chris Carr was able to slow him up enough for the trailing Ray Lewis to make the tackle. Goodson's impressive acceleration was quite apparent when he ran away from Ravens FS Ed Reed, who tried to bring him down to no avail.
The Browns, whose run defense is improved from a season ago, surrendered 132 yards on 24 carries to Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew in Week 11. On average, Cleveland has allowed 116.3 yards on the ground and 4.0 yards per carry.
Browns NT Ahtyba Rubin continues to catch the eye with his fine play in the middle of the line. Not only is Rubin stout, but he shows very good effort. On the back end of the defense, keep an eye on safeties T.J. Ward, the team's leading tackler; and Abram Elam, who has played very well recently. In an especially impressive play last week, he stripped Jones-Drew of the ball, recovered the fumble and sprinted for a touchdown.
Cleveland has generally played sound run defense this season, and that approach will serve them well against Carolina, with Stewart and Goodson capable of breaking big runs if they get a crease.