Insider's Take: Panthers vs. Jets

The Carolina Panthers fell to 0-2 in the preseason with their 9-3 loss to the visiting New York Jets on Saturday. While Carolina looked discombobulated at times, there were enough positives for John Fox to feel good about his team going forward. Here's a look at what worked, what didn't and what's next.

What Worked

--Carolina's defense was downright stifling. The Jets gained just seven first downs and 112 yards of total offense. New York averaged just 1.36 yards on 33 first-half plays, recording only three first downs before intermission. Mark Sanchez -- the most undeservedly hyped person in the football world outside of Lane Kiffin -- finished with almost as many attempts (10) as he did yards (12).

--The primary reason for the success of Ron Meeks' unit is a revved up pass rush. The Panthers are going with a no-name defensive line this season and the open competition has brought out the best in everybody. Everette Brown recorded two sacks in the first quarter to help quiet the critics who doubt his ability to live up to his draft status (acquired with a future first-round pick). Also, journeyman Eric Moore picked up a pair of sacks to strengthen his case for a roster spot.

--John Kasay was true on his only field-goal attempt, improving to three-for-three on the preseason with an average distance of 41.3 yards. This may not seem significant, given that Kasay has converted over 81 percent of his attempts in his 19 seasons. But it is crucial he be especially sharp in 2010, because from the looks of it, the Panthers will be settling for a lot of field goals.

What Didn't

--The quarterback competition may be over, but it's hard to call any of Carolina's signal-callers a winner. John Fox gave his top-two options each a full half to show something, yet neither was up to the challenge. Moore (34.9) and Clausen (35) had similarly pathetic passer ratings. Both completed less than 41 percent of their passes and both turned the ball over. The quarterback play must improve -- and fast -- or the Panthers will be on the outside of the playoff picture for a second straight season.

--The preseason absence of Steve Smith may be the best thing that ever happened to the Panthers. As has been made obvious by now, the team's young receivers need all the reps they can get. Brandon LaFell struggles to corral balls in traffic; Armanti Edwards looks very much like the newbie he is; and David Gettis seems destined for the practice squad. For all the hype surrounding the three rookie receivers, the No. 2 and No. 3 spots could very well go to veterans Dwayne Jarrett and Kenny Moore.

--Special teams often look rough during the preseason because of the number of young players shuffling in and out. But the display the Panthers put on at Saturday at Bank of America Stadium was embarrassing. New York's most effective play was the punt, as the Panthers fumbled three punts en route to gifting the Jets all nine of their points. Edwards lost the first two punts, making it difficult to envision him handling that role when the games actually matter. Making matters worse, Mike Goodson showed poor judgment by bringing two kickoffs deep out of the end zone, while the coverage units permitted a 67-yard punt return by rookie Joe McKnight.

What's Next

The Panthers get a chance to show their home fans that last Saturday was more aberration than indication as they host the Tennessee Titans on Saturday, Aug. 28. The Titans finished last in the AFC in total pass defense last year; if Carolina's QBs can't get their passer ratings over 40 in this game, the panic button will be pressed.

How important is next week's contest? Talk about it inside the message boards.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and also a long-time contributor to the network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports.

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