Defense Leads One-Sided Performance

While Carolina's defense was outstanding Saturday night against the New York Jets -- they held them to 45 yards and three first downs on 33 first-half plays -- the offense and special teams continue to struggle.

The special teams in particular have been laughably bad.

The Panthers turned the ball not once, not twice but three times on punt returns against the Jets. The first special teams snafu came when rookie Armanti Edwards failed to run up and make a fair catch on a short punt and the ball hit fellow rookie Jordan Pugh, who was engaged in a block at the time, in the back of the leg.

A little while later Edwards, who is trying to make the conversion from college quarterback to NFL receiver and returner, let a punt slip out of his hands at the 12-yard line allowing the Jets to recover again.

The misery continued in the second half as Kenny Moore fumbled yet another punt return leading to three more points.

The three turnovers led to all nine Jets points.

And the terrible special teams play wasn't just reserved for punts.

Mike Goodson made two poor decisions on kickoff returns, bringing out returns where he should have taken a knee.

He was tackled at the 14 and 4-yard lines on his two returns.

Edwards figured he was over his growing pains, but apparently he's not.

"I'm hoping he gets it out of the way in the preseason," coach John Fox said. "He hasn't done it before. We'll continue to work with him. It's a little different under the lights in an NFL stadium. That's understandable. We'll continue to work that and improve it."

Edwards refused to use the fact that he's never returned punts in a game as an excuse.

"I caught over 100 punts in training camp, so it's not an excuse anymore," Edwards said. "I just got to do a better job of getting under the ball and making sure I catch it."

Edwards admitted he was nervous last week against Baltimore, but said he felt "very confident" entering this game.

As for the ball he dropped, Edwards said, "Basically what it is, I didn't get far enough under it and it went through my arms."

After that mistake he was replaced by Captain Munnerlyn on punt returns.

"I was expecting to get taken out after messing up two punts returns and giving up six points," he said.

Things got so bad for the Panthers at one point that the home crowd let out a sarcastic cheer when Munnerlyn actually caught a punt and didn't fumble.

CAMP CALENDAR: The Panthers wrapped up camp on Aug. 18 and are now practicing back in Charlotte.

NOTES, QUOTES


LB Jon Beason
Scott Cunningham/Getty
Early last week, Carolina Panthers starting quarterback Matt Moore declared the team's passing game "where it needs to be."

A few days later, he was proven wrong.

Moore and the rest of the Panthers suffered through yet another lackluster outing in a 9-3 defeat at the hands of the New York Jets. In two games, the Panthers have yet to manufacture an offensive touchdown.

Moore and rookie Jimmy Clausen, the two guys who've played the most at quarterback, have similarly embarrassing quarterback ratings -- Clausen is a 35, while Moore's is 34.9.

Moore completed just 6 of 17 passes for 57 yards, was sacked twice and threw an interception on the opening drive against a defense that finished No. 1 in the league last season.

Fox attributed Moore's uneasiness to the variety of exotic blitzes the Jets brought -- and the fact the Panthers hadn't prepared for them.

When asked to rate his level of concern with the passing offense, Fox said, "The one thing I will say -- and this is true with every team -- you're not game-planning yet, so you're not looking at hours and hours of what their pressures are. You kind of get your first look at them on game day."

Moore refused to use the lack of game-planning excuse.

"Maybe a little bit, but you still need to make plays," Moore said. "There's plays that should have been made tonight and we didn't make them -- myself included."

Said offensive tackle Jordan Gross: "It's definitely fixable. You see a lot of other teams do it and do it well. It's been widely known we're a young team. We've got to a lot of new faces in the receivers and a new guy slinging the ball. It won't come together overnight ... But we really need to work on our passing game."

With a chance to win over Carolina fans -- or at least wake them up from their slumber -- Clausen took over in the second half but didn't have any more success than Moore. He played the entire second half, completing just 9 of 22 passes for 72 yards and, with a chance to lead the Panthers to a winning touchdown, threw an interception with 1:35 left in the game. He was sacked three times.

"They were coming after us from every different way possible and that is something we have to keep improving on," Clausen said. "There are teams that are going to blitz you -- just like these guys -- you know, cover one, cover zero -- and bring the house. We have to go down there and make plays. There are plays out there to be made."

The players competing for the No. 3 QB job, Hunter Cantwell and Tony Pike, did not play.

The Panthers also know that the offense should improve with the return of three key players -- four-time Pro Bowl receiver Steve Smith, last year's leading rusher Jonathan Stewart and starting right tackle Jeff Otah.

All three are expected back in time for the Sept. 12 regular-season opener against the Giants.

"All I know is we need to keep working," Moore said. "There are plays there to be made, we know that. We're capable of making them. We're just going to keep grinding it out and take these two preseason games and keep learning and be ready to go in week one."

--Running back Mike Goodson, back from an ankle injury, opened the Jets game on kickoff returns for the Panthers and immediately made a mistake, taking a stutter step before he decided to return the ball out of the end zone. Goodson was tackled at the 14-yard line.

Later in the game, Goodson messed up again, somehow managing a 6-yard return after being tackled at the 4-yard line. To his defense, the blocking was horrible.

Still, it appears the Panthers want him to win that job, perhaps so they have a reason to keep him active on game day. The other option there is Tyrell Sutton.

--The Panthers are quietly expecting fourth-year defensive end Charles Johnson to have a breakout season.

And he's right there with them.

"You always want to have a double-digit sack total and make the Pro Bowl and stuff like that," Johnson said matter-of-factly when asked about his personal goals, "but you have to do the things on the field before you can (talk about it)."

Johnson, who had six sacks in 2008 and four last year, has worked almost exclusively with the first team at left defensive end throughout camp, opposite of where Julius Peppers played last season. This is his first stint as a full-time starter.

"I'm hoping it's going to be my year," Johnson said. "I'm going to keep working day by day. I feel good about myself. I feel good about my position. I feel good in a starting role. So hopefully it will be a good year for me."

--Defensive tackle Louis Leonard is waiting for a sense of normalcy to return to his life.

It's been a crazy 12 months for Leonard, who was fazed out of the Cleveland's defense last year when they switched to a 3-4 scheme, traded to Carolina and then placed on injured reserve after breaking his left ankle in Week 2 of the 2009 season.

And, about a month ago, just as he felt the ankle was getting better, Leonard tweaked his right knee forcing him to practice on a limited basis at training camp.

"I'm trying to rehab and learn how to play fast again," said Leonard, who's entering his fourth NFL season. "With any injury, you've always got it in the back of your head like, 'Ah, it's there.' It's a tough transition, and I'm just trying to keep my mind positive and keep going forward. I'm trying to forget about the injury and think about this season and go out there and make plays to help the team win.

"It's coming along. It's a process. After being out for so long and getting back on your feet you have to learn certain things. For one, you've got to learn how to deal with your body and putting your feet in the right place, and then you've got to learn how to deal with somebody else's body leaning up against you. I'm still trying to get through it now."

--Weak-side linebacker Jon Beason said when the regular season arrives he'll be the defensive player assigned to wear a microphone in his helmet and the one making the calls. However, Mike linebacker Dan Connor will be making the pre-snap checks.

"I think the guys are familiar with my voice in the huddle," Beason said. "It's good that Dan (Connor) gets to make the calls (in the preseason) because it makes him feel more like a (middle linebacker). Getting people lined up, making checks is something he can handle. He's a quiet guy by nature, so getting him talking more is good."

--Beason spent most of the offseason working out with DE Everette Brown and thinks the second-year player has the right approach to the game.

"Right away his demeanor, he had a focus about him (coming into the NFL)," Beason said.

"Attention to detail, carried himself like a vet.

"It was unfortunate last year he had the ankle injury. I think it set him back in terms of how much progress he was able to make at the defensive end position. But when he was in he was very productive for us in terms of getting pressures and causing some interceptions down the field. He's put in the work and I expect him to come out and have a big season for us."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think our defense was outstanding (against the Jets). They have been pretty good in both preseason games. We have to continue that. It's typical in the preseason, especially with some young guys stepping in on offense. I think defenses around the league are a little ahead of offenses." -- Panthers coach John Fox

PLAYER NOTES


DE Eric Moore
Scott Cunningham/Getty
--MLB Dan Connor did a nice job Saturday night against the Jets with six tackles, including one for a loss. He's making a good transition into a starting role with Jon Beason moving out to the weak side.

--RG Mackenzy Bernadeau started again Saturday night and seems to have control of that position.

--WR Steve Smith is running routes in individual drills during practice but isn't participating in team drills.

--DE Eric Moore is playing extremely well in a reserve role with two sacks and a forced fumble that resulted in a touchdown. Still he might not make the roster because of the depth the Panthers have at defensive end.

--RB DeAngelo Williams, who became a father last week, continues to run well with six carries for 26 yards against the Jets. He looks strong and powerful.

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Brandon LaFell vs. Kenny Moore, Dwayne Jarrett for the No. 2 WR position --

For the second straight week, nobody emerged in the battle for the No. 2 receiver spot opposite Steve Smith. Moore made one reception for 26 yards despite being targeted seven times. Rookie Brandon LaFell had four balls thrown his way but caught only one for 15 yards. Dwayne Jarrett was the target on four short passes and caught three for 17 yards.

Are we sure the No. 2 receiver is still on the roster as coaches say? Maybe it will take the return of Smith for the others to shine.

Smith is back to practice, but did not play Saturday night.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Jimmy Clausen vs. Hunter Cantwell for No. 2 QB spot --

Consider this battle over. Clausen played the entire second half against the Jets while Cantwell didn't even get in the game.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: RDE Everette Brown --

With Tyler Brayton out with an ankle injury, Brown stepped up and had a big game against the Jets with two sacks in the first two series. Brown is expected to be used in pass rushing situations this season coming in off the bench. His big night is a promising sign for the Panthers pass rush.

ROOKIE REPORT: Sixth-round pick Jordan Pugh started at strong safety for the injured Sherrod Martin against the Jets. He did well except for a blunder on special teams that really wasn't his fault. He was blocking a player when the punt hit his leg. There should have been better communication on the play... WR David Gettis is starting to come on strong and made one catch for 14 yards against the Jets... The Panthers like both seventh-round CBs Robert McClain and R.J. Stanford but might be only able to keep one of them... DE Greg Hardy had another solid outing -- although not as noteworthy as the preseason opener -- with four tackles and one pass defended.

INJURY REPORT: Among those who didn't play against the Jets were RB Jonathan Stewart, WRs Steve Smith and Trent Guy, OT Jeff Otah, DE Tyler Brayton, LBs Thomas Davis, Quinton Culberson and Jamar Williams, and Ss Sherrod Martin and Aaron Francisco.

Stewart and Smith are back to practice, but the Panthers don't want to use them yet. Stewart should play in the preseason but Smith might not.



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