The Panthers enter this game with a top five pass defense, giving up only 185 yards per game under first year coordinator Ron Meeks. Meeks is a disciple of Tony Dungy and favors the Tampa 2 defense. This scheme depends a lot on the front four to generate a pass rush. There is very little blitzing. In fact, the Panthers only have 2 sacks all year from non linemen. It is primarily an execution based defense. You more or less know what is coming, but it is not all that easy to beat.
Julius Peppers is Carolina's best pass rusher. The 6'7" 283 pound end could probably fit on the line in either a 4-3 or a 3-4 system. He leads the team with 7 sacks on the year. He is being slowed by an undisclosed hand injury, which has limited his playing time recently. His play has been somewhat up and down this year. Tyler Branton also plays end for the Panthers. He has 2.5 sacks and 16 pressures. Rookie Everette Brown from Florida State will also see time at end. He spent a lot of time subbing for Peppers last week. Charles Johnson, a part of Carolina's nickle package on the pass rush, is battling a pectoral injury. His status is unclear. No Carolina tackle has a sack this year. Based on this, the key matchup will be Peppers against D'Brickashaw Ferguson. Peppers has 7 of his team's 18 sacks this year. If D'Brickashaw does his job, there's a good chance the Jets will keep Mark Sanchez clean.
Linebackers and secondary players in a system like this play a lot of zone coverage. The middle linebacker in particular must be very athletic and cover a lot of ground. The safeties are playing Cover 2 deep, which means everything in front of them in the middle of the field falls to him. Jon Beason mans this role for the Panthers. He's been good near the line, leading the team in tackles and been solid in coverage. Carolina is thinner at outside linebacker. Standout Thomas Davis, who was excellent this year in zone coverage, is on injured reserve. So in backup Landon Johnson. Another starting outside linebacker, Na'il Diggs, is banged up with injured ribs and quite possibly could be out Sunday. That could leave young players James Anderson and Dan Connor outside. They both have been adequate against the pass, but it could leave Dustin Keller opportunities to find seams.
Carolina will likely start Richard Marshall and Chris Gamble on the outside at corner. They comprise a solid tandem. Gamble had a rough game against the Dolphins last week, but he has good cover skills. Marshall has been a solid performer all year. At safety Charles Godfrey is battling an ankle injury for the Panthers. If he can't go, he'll be replaced by rookie Sherrod Martin. Martin has started the last 4 games and arguably played better than Godfrey, who has struggled. Chris Harris, the other safety, has also had some lapses. Still, this defense is a Cover 2 with an emphasis on safeties playing conservatively to prevent big plays. I'm not sure I'd count on Braylon Edwards or David Clowney as vertical threats. A good route runner like Jerricho Cotchery will probably be the primary target working to find holes in the zone.