Insider's Take: Panthers v. Titans

The Panthers ended a seven-game preseason losing streak with a 15-7 victory over the visiting Titans on Saturday. John Fox's crew showed growth in several areas, yet the offense still couldn't find the end zone. Here's a look at what worked, what didn't and what's next after this preseason dress rehearsal.

What Worked

--The passing game still did not produce any points, but it showed some signs of life. Matt Moore and Jimmy Clausen combined to complete 22-of-38 passes (58 percent) and posted a preseason-best 269 net yards passing. The impressive yardage total was boosted by big gainers from Gary Barnidge (50 yards), Dante Rosario (24), Brandon LaFell (20), Tyrell Sutton (20), David Gettis (19) and Mike Goodson (18).

--So far this preseason, Carolina's run defense has allowed a league-low 2.5 yards per carry. Making that stat even more impressive is that the three teams the Panthers have faced each ranked in the top-five in rushing in 2009. The Titans ranked No. 2 a year ago thanks to the 2,000-yard season by MVP candidate Chris Johnson. Versus the Panthers on Saturday, Johnson carried eight times for 10 yards (1.25 ypc).

-- It's difficult to fathom the Panthers having a better pass rush minus Julius Peppers, but it's looking like that might be the case. Ron Meeks' unit recorded seven more sacks on Saturday to lift its preseason total to 18. Only 10 players in the league have at least three sacks so far this preseason and three of them are on the Panthers: Everette Brown, Eric Moore and rookie Greg Hardy.

What Didn't

--Once is a fluke, twice is a trend and three times is cause for legitimate concern. The Panthers have yet to score an offensive TD this preseason, continually choking away their best opportunities. On Saturday, that came when Wallace Wright fumbled the ball at the Titans' 10-yard line. Much of the blame goes to starting QB Matt Moore, who has been given plenty of opportunities (18 drives) and has yet to find paydirt.

-- Carolina's running game didn't help. The Titans held the Panthers to just 59 yards on 23 rushing attempts. Seven of those attempts went for negative yardage, while too many others picked up only minimal gains. DeAngelo Williams was as contained as the Pro Bowler on the opposing sideline, gaining just 13 yards on nine carries. Fans thought they might get to see Jonathan Stewart provide a spark after he came out for warm-ups in full uniform, but he quickly changed into street clothes and watched the game from the sidelines. Stewart will not return until the regular-season opener.

--The special teams looked better but still had too many flubs. Trent Guy got his chance to earn a roster spot as a return specialist but misread the first two punts that came his way. Even the ever-reliable John Kasay contributed to the blunder reel by pulling a 25-yard field goal attempt that would have iced the game with just over two minutes remaining. Mike Goodson's 91-yard kickoff return touchdown buoyed the overall grade for the special teams, but it's clear there is still work to do.

What's Next

The Panthers have until Tuesday to trim their roster from 77 to 75 players (one roster spot was saved when OT Kirk Barton decided to retire instead of reporting after being claimed last week; another spot will have to be created once OT Jeff Otah returns).

Carolina wraps up its preseason docket with a road game on Thursday against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The starters are expected to see little or no action in this game as the teams gear up for the start of the regular season on Sept. 12. One exception could be Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, who may get extended playing time before he begins his four-to-six game suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy.

What did you take away from Saturday's win? Talk about it in 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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