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In My Opinion

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Panthers hiding from awful truth

By Scott Fowler
sfowler@charlotteobserver.com

CHARLOTTE After listening to the Carolina Panthers talk about their offense in the aftermath of Saturday night’s exhibition, I heard a lot of words that sounded semi-truthful and one word that was exactly right.

The Panthers beat Tennessee 15-7 Saturday on the strength of a gorgeous 91-yard kickoff return for a touchdown from Mike Goodson and a defense that has been utterly spectacular for three games in a row.

Carolina’s offense, as usual, had little to say. That offense has produced exactly zero TDs in three exhibitions. It has had 14 possessions in each of those games, which means it rests in an 0-for-42 TD slump.

That’s more than bad. That’s awful.

And yet the Panthers publicly critique themselves so gently it’s as if they are talking to their own grandmother, trying to find something good to say about the totally inappropriate dress she’s about to wear to a wedding.

Let’s talk first about the semi-truths. Panthers coach John Fox said after the game about his passing offense: “Two of our three biggest playmakers [Steve Smith and Jonathan Stewart] haven’t played a snap in the preseason, and one of those is a wide receiver. We are a very young team overall, particularly at the wide receiver position. I think we still have a lot of work to do, but I think there was improvement tonight.”

From quarterback Matt Moore: “Just moving the ball, there was some good execution. … So we’re headed in the right direction. We’re getting better each week.”

From offensive tackle Jordan Gross: “We’ve got a lot of room to grow.”

This was a postgame locker room in need of the brutal honesty that Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown spreads around for the Charlotte Bobcats on a daily basis. Saying the Panthers’ offense has room to grow is like saying the current real-estate market could improve a tiny bit.

The word that sounded exactly right to describe this offense also came from Moore, the struggling No.  1 quarterback. He was speaking in particular about his overthrown deep ball to an open Dwayne Jarrett in the first quarter that should have resulted in a 42-yard touchdown.

“There are some throws that I think I missed that are unacceptable,” Moore said, using that one to Jarrett as an example.

Unacceptable.

Yes. That’s the word.

That’s what the Panthers’ offense has been so far. I don’t care who’s not playing and how far ahead NFL defenses are of offenses in August (and they usually are). An 0-for-42 streak is unacceptable. DeAngelo Williams rushing nine times for 13 yards Saturday night – behind 80 percent of the first-string offensive line – is unacceptable. The Panthers’ combined quarterback rating of 51.1 in the preseason is unacceptable.

I hope, behind closed doors, the offense understands all this and is talking in harsher terms to each other. I would think it is.

Because the exciting part about this Carolina team is the defense has been outstanding. It has 18 sacks already and has allowed only 184.7 yards per game.

It’s a defense that looks as fast as any Panthers defense I’ve seen in 16 seasons of watching this team. It looks like a playoff-caliber defense.

But it’s not going to be able to tow the offense along like an anchor for four months.

Help is coming in the form of Smith and Stewart, but that’s not a magic pill. The Panthers need more plays like Brandon LaFell’s acrobatic one-handed catch against the Titans, fewer penalties (11 for 95 yards Saturday) and more clutch play on third down.

So far, the defense has been remarkable. The offense has been unacceptable. And all that 50-50 stuff will ever get you in the NFL is another 8-8 team.

sfowler@charlotteobserver.com or 704-358-5140
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