Panthers confused by offensive woes

The Carolina Panthers are searching for answers to cure their offensive struggles, but they appear as clueless as everyone else on what went wrong. They will try again to rectify the issues against the Vikings Sunday night.

Identifying the problems with the Carolina Panthers' offense is easy. Finding the solutions, well, that's an entirely different matter.

Coach John Fox was presented with the simple question of what has to be done to fix this offense, but he deflected that question until after the season when the Panthers do a complete evaluation of themselves.

"We are where we are, and there's not much you can do about it other than work with the guys you have to get better," Fox said. "Right now, that's all our focus and trying to do the best we can in the matchup against the Minnesota Vikings. Anything that needs to be done down the road or in the offseason, that's for a later date."

Players, like coaches, are quick to avoid the question.

"I'm a player, not a coach," running back DeAngelo Williams said Monday when asked how to fix the problems. "That would be tough for me to answer that question. I play football; I don't coach it. Staying in my lane, 55 is my speed limit. You're trying to get me to speed."

When Williams turned the question around to the reporter who asked the question by saying, "How would you fix it?" the reporter shrugged his shoulders.

"Yeah, exactly," Williams said.

It's quite obvious there's nothing the Panthers can do in the final three weeks that will suddenly repair the problems they've had the first 14 weeks of the season, especially with Jeff Otah out for the season.

The drop in production in offense has been as sharp as any in team history.

A year ago, the Panthers averaged 25.9 points, 349.7 yards and 17.9 first downs per game. This year, they're averaging 16.3 points, 321 yards and 16.3 first downs per game.

Carolina scored at least 30 points in seven different games last year, but have only reached that plateau once this year.

The sharpest decline has been in the passing game where the Panthers had 197.4 yards per game with 15 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions. This year, the Panthers are averaging 169.1 yards per game with eight touchdowns and 20 interceptions.

Wide receiver Steve Smith isn't about to call out his teammates, but anyone who watches the Panthers — and that includes opposing teams — realizes the simplest way to defend them is to shade a safety to Smith's side and put an extra man in the box to help out.

With Jake Delhomme's early-season turnover problems carrying over from last season and no real weapons outside of Smith, the passing game has been stuck in quicksand all year.

"When you're not winning there are a lot of things you can focus on and you can nitpick at, but that's going to require too much effort and I just don't have the energy to go down that path," Smith said after the offense was limited to 10 points last week against New England.

The obvious answers for the Panthers include finding a new quarterback and acquiring at least one and preferably two new receivers to replace soon-to-be free agent Muhsin Muhammad and unproductive third-year pro Dwayne Jarrett.

SERIES HISTORY: 9th regular season meeting. Vikings lead series 5-3. Last year at the Metrodome, cornerback Antoine Winfield gave the Vikings the momentum they needed before halftime by sacking quarterback Jake Delhomme and returning the fumble for a touchdown. The Vikings would go on to win that game 20-10. The Vikings were one of the few teams to shut down Carolina's running game (they finished third in the league last year against the run), limiting DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart to a combined 42 yards rushing, which was their lowest total of the season.

BY THE NUMBERS: 10 — Number of Panthers on injured reserve, seven of which were starters at the time of their injuries.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It took me a while to settle down, I think. But I think there were some mechanical things that we corrected, some footwork stuff that you're always going to have to work on as a player. So got that corrected and hopefully we won't be saying anything this weekend. But yeah it was something that needed to be corrected and we hit it." — Panthers QB Matt Moore on his high throws against New England.

NOTES

Jeff Otah became the 10th Panther player to be placed on injured reserve this season. The team signed offensive lineman Rob Petitti on Tuesday to take his place.

Otah tore the meniscus in his knee Sunday against the New England Patriots. He was a first-round draft choice by the Panthers last year and had started every game at right tackle this season. Otah will need surgery, according to general manager Marty Hurney. It's not considered a serious injury and the rehabilitation process will be about two to three months, so Otah is expected back in plenty of time for the team's three-week minicamp in June.

The 6-6, 327-pound Petitti was drafted in the seventh round in 2005 by the Dallas Cowboys after playing collegiately at Pittsburgh, the same school as Otah. He started 16 games for the Cowboys as a rookie at right tackle before being released and signing with the New Orleans Saints. Last year he played five games with the St. Louis Rams, starting one game.

He most recently played for the UFL's Florida Tuskers, the second such player to join the Panthers in last few weeks. The other is linebacker Quinton Culberson.

Geoff Schwartz is expected to start at right tackle on Sunday night against Minnesota.

  • QB Jake Delhomme (broken finger) did not practice on Wednesday. While he's getting closer to returning to practice it makes no sense to rush him back at this point.

  • RT Geoff Schwartz will make his first NFL start Sunday night against Minnesota.

  • CB Richard Marshall has a sprained ankle and his status for this week is up in the air.

  • CB Captain Munnerlyn could start this week if Richard Marshall is unable to go because of a sprained ankle.

  • RB Jonathan Stewart now has a toe injury to worry about along with his Achilles. Stewart's status this week is up in the air, but he sounds like he'll be able to play.


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