Struggles Don't Stymie Carolina's Confidence

QB Matt Moore (Charles Krupa/AP)

The Carolina Panthers were the first NFL team in 14 years to finish the preseason without an offensive touchdown. But nobody in the Carolina locker room seems to care.

The team's offensive stars shrugged off the notion of a touchdown-less preseason with a shrug of the shoulders on Wednesday.

They firmly believe that once the regular season begins Sunday against the New York Giants, they will simply be able to flick the switch and get things clicking.

"Yeah, I think so," said quarterback Matt Moore. "That's the plan."

Leading receiver Steve Smith, who didn't play at in the preseason, reiterated that by saying, "I think we can. I think we will."

Like Smith, last year's leading rusher Jonathan Stewart didn't play in the preseason, meaning the team was without two of its top skill position players.

Stewart likewise feels the Panthers will be just fine when they get back to what they do best, which is running the football.

"I think it's going to be a whole different show, period," said Stewart, who ran for a franchise-record 206 yards last December in a 41-9 win over the New York Giants. "Like I said, the regular season is totally different than the preseason."

When a reporter asked fellow running back DeAngelo Williams about the team's offensive struggles, he responded with a sarcastic, "In the preseason? You're talking about the preseason? Oh, OK."

So why are the Panthers so optimistic they can turn it around?

Williams said it's largely based around the team winning four of five games down the stretch last season under new quarterback Matt Moore.

"We beat a Vikings team last year with Matt Moore," Williams said. "We beat a New York Giants team with Matt Moore. We came close to beating a New England team. New Orleans Saints, granted they didn't have Drew Brees, but it's hard to get a win in this league. That's what makes me optimistic. I know what he's capable of doing. I know what our wide receivers are capable of doing, and our backfield, O-line and defense are capable of doing."

Even coach John Fox downplayed the team's preseason struggles.

"These are regular season games now and I think in the preseason we spend more time evaluating people and we do our best to pick the right 53 guys," Fox said. "There's not a lot of schemes going on or those type of things.

"We practice every day. There are a lot of things we see in practice you may not see in the preseason games. But we feel just as strongly as we did at the close of last season."

Williams cited the Indianapolis Colts' horrible preseason record -- and spectacular regular season record -- over the past several years.

"Granted, we're different than the Indianapolis Colts, but it's the preseason," Williams said. "I've told a lot of people we're saving all our touchdowns for the regular season. That's pretty much all I have to say about that."

SERIES HISTORY: 6th regular-season meeting. Panthers lead series, 3-2. In the last meeting in December, the Panthers closed out the old Giants Stadium with a resounding 41-9 win over the New York Giants. Jonathan Stewart ran for a franchise-record 206 yards and Matt Moore threw for three scores against a disinterested Giants defense.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Wide receiver Steve Smith has played the game of football with a pretty big chip on his shoulder, which is undeniably part of what has helped him become a four-time Pro Bowl player.

But are you ready for a kinder, gentler Smith when he returns to the field Sunday against the New York Giants?

"Just smile and have fun," Smith said of his new motto, showing off his new colored braces on his teeth. "Instead of frowning and getting upset, just smile and be glad at what's going on.

"The NFL season, it's not permanent or temporary, it kind of comes and goes. You can't hang your hat on it too much. You can't allow it to dig you down too much. The next thing you know it is 10 games in, or 10 years in, and you haven't enjoyed it as much as you should."

On a few occasions this past offseason Smith ripped into New York Giants safety Michael Johnson for a hit he delivered to Smith in Carolina's 41-9 win over the Giants in Week 16 last season.

The hit broke Smith's arm and he viewed it as a cheap shot.

On Wednesday, Smith called his offseason rants about Johnson "immature" and "ignorant."

"A lot of times I walk around here and pump my chest out and (feeling) that I want the respect of players, but realistically I have the respect of the players," Smith said. "I just have to go out there and play."

As for the comments he made about Johnson, Smith said. "I said that, and of course a guy has to respond. He's trying to make a living. It's not going to prove anything from my end to just go out there and just call him out.

"I can't continue to be that way and I won't be that way. To say (things like that) is just stupid."

Smith said he plans to play Sunday against the Giants. Johnson is still on the Giants' roster, but is buried on the depth chart and might be inactive.

--Smith said he's been impressed with the progression of QB Matt Moore, who won four of five games last year for the Panthers and has taken the starting job by the horns this year.

"He's always had a lot of positive things," Smith said. "He's completed some good balls and good passes. He's been very efficient and minimized mistakes. When you have all of those plusses and not that many negatives it's kind of hard not to give a nod to that guy. I think he deserves it and that's why he's in the position he's in because of the things he's done."

--CB Captain Munnerlyn said Wednesday he expects to return punts against the New York Giants.

"Right now I'm the No. 1 guy, so I'm expected to do some things back there," Munnerlyn said. "Hopefully, I can take one to the house."

Munnerlyn said he likes to return punts.

"I like the ball in my hands. I'm kind of happy I'm back there, kind of excited. Just going to go out there and make some plays," he said.

If Munnerlyn is returning punts, it could render rookie Armanti Edwards inactive on game day.

BY THE NUMBERS: 25 years, 233 days -- The average age of the Panthers' 53-man roster, which makes this the youngest team in the NFL, according to STATS, LLC. Imagine how young the Panthers would be if 41-year-old kicker John Kasay wasn't around.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "You can tell a little bit. I think that's good and bad. We've got youthful legs, they don't have as many miles as a lot of the teams have. But with that comes maybe mental mistakes. That's what we're trying to change. That's what we're trying to limit, the mental mistakes, and I think that's what the preseason was for. Because we have such young guys, that's the reason why we didn't score any touchdowns in the preseason. It's a mesh thing. You've got to mesh with the younger guys, and once you've get the unit all together, then it flows a lot better. We didn't have Steve Smith. We didn't have all our guys, all our bullets." -- RB DeAngelo Williams on having the youngest roster in the league.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Panthers used former college quarterback Armanti Edwards in the "Mountaineer" package (most refer to it as the Wildcat) in their preseason finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

They had limited success in the six plays they ran it, although that was behind the second-time line.

While the Panthers may use that down the road, it's unclear if they will use it against the Giants because there's a chance Edwards may not be among the 45 active players. He's struggled as a returner and is still learning the receiver position.

The Panthers may have put it in against the Steelers just to give the Giants something else to prepare for.

PLAYER NOTES

--QB Jimmy Clausen will be the team's No. 2 guy heading into Sunday's game against the Giants.

--G C.J. Davis has been released after reaching an injury settlement with the team.

--RT Jeff Otah (knee) did not practice Wednesday and could be a scratch this week.

--RT Geoff Schwartz could start this week in place of injured Jeff Otah.

--RB Tyrell Sutton (shoulder) did not practice on Wednesday.

GAME PLAN: The Panthers threw the ball much more than they ran it during the preseason, but you can expect that to change this week against the Giants.

Carolina wanted to test out its young passing game in the preseason so they didn't focus on their strength, which is running the football.

Now that the regular season is here you can expect a heavy dose of Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Giants RBs Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs vs. Panthers WLB Jon Beason --

Beason makes the move to weak side linebacker to fill the void created by the injury to Thomas Davis. He did well there in the preseason, but you can expect the Giants to test him in the pass pattern early on.

--Giants QB Eli Manning vs. Panthers secondary --

Carolina's secondary is one of the more underrated units in the league. Led by corners Chris Gamble, Richard Marshall and Captain Munnerlyn, the Panthers finished fourth in the league against the pass last season, allowing an average of 191 yards per game.

--Panthers RBs Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams vs. Giants front seven --

Williams didn't play in the last meeting against the Giants, but Stewart did and ran for a team-record 206 yards and a touchdown in New York's final game at Giants Stadium last December.

INJURY IMPACT: The only players who didn't practice on Wednesday were OT Jeff Otah (knee) and RB Tyrell Sutton (shoulder).

DE Tyler Brayton and CBs Richard Marshall and Captain Munnerlyn returned to practice "full" and are all expected to play Sunday against the Giants. The Panthers don't have to release a detailed injury report until Friday.

If Otah can't go, then Geoff Schwartz gets the start. Schwartz is an able fill-in. In fact, he was the starting right tackle when Jonathan Stewart ran for a franchise-record 206 yards in the last meeting against the Giants in December. The Giants finished 14th in the league against the run last year.

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