Dwayne Jarrett had three catches, but only for 19 yards. (Photo by John Clark)
CHARLOTTE – We’ve already heard a whole bunch of excuses for the Carolina Panthers’ shamefully inept passing game this preseason, and quite frankly they're getting a little old.
They’re young at quarterback and wide receiver and those guys need time to develop.
Opposing defenses are throwing blitzes at them they haven’t spent time preparing for in the preseason.
They don’t have Steve Smith… or Jonathan Stewart… or Jeff Otah.
It’s still early in the preseason.
All of those may be true to some extent and provide some reassurance to those inside the organization that the passing game isn’t as bad as it looks, but offensive veteran offensive tackle Jordan Gross hit the nail on the head after Saturday night’s 9-3 loss to the New York Jets when he said, “We need to get better, because the regular season is approaching in a hurry."
Time to panic?
It may be, because this preseason is beginning to look remarkably similar to last year’s preseason.
And that’s not good.
The Panthers managed just one touchdown pass during a winless 2009 preseason and the problems in the passing game carried over into the regular season resulting in three straight losses to open the season. The Panthers never recovered and finished the season 8-8 and out of the playoffs one year after winning the NFC South.
This year, Matt Moore and Jimmy Clausen have quarterback ratings you don’t want to write home about -- 34.9 and 35, respectively -- and the Panthers (0-2) have yet to score an offensive touchdown in eight quarters.
So how concerned is coach John Fox?
“We’re halfway through the preseason so we have two more games to get some things sorted out,” Fox said. “The one thing I will say is, 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 are getting your first look at them on game day.
Added Fox: “We saw a wide variety of pressures (Saturday night) with two relatively young quarterbacks.”
In others words, there’s nothing to see here, folks. Please go about your business.
True, the Panthers have got seen different looks from two of the league’s better blitz defenses in the Ravens and Jets. They finished first and third respectively in overall defense in 2009.
But Moore admitted that game plan or no game plan, the Panthers need to find ways to be productive.
“Maybe it’s a little (factor), but you still need to make plays,” Moore said. “There are plays that should have been made tonight and we didn't make them -- myself included. I missed a couple things and those are just things that we need to learn and get better at. In the regular season, yes, game planning helps a little bit, but we've got to go out and execute."
Said Clausen: "They were coming after us from every different way possible and that is something we have to keep improving on. 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 out there and make plays. There are plays out there to be made."
And the blame shouldn’t fall exclusively on the quarterback’s shoulders.
Carolina’s highly-acclaimed offensive line has allowed 11 sacks and none of the receivers competing for the No. 2 spot opposite Smith have stepped up.
After declaring last week the team’s passing game is “where it needs to be,” Moore said he was “a little disappointed” in the effort Saturday night. And he should be. The Panthers have a great running game, so they spent a good portion of the offseason looking to improve their passing game which ranked 27th in the league last season despite four quality starts by Moore to close the season.
They devoted the first three days of OTA sessions in June to passing the football.
They came out of that feeling good about themselves, but that optimism seems to be fading with each passing preseason game leaving one to wonder if the Panthers should have made a move to acquire a No. 2 receiver like Anquan Boldin, Brandon Marshall or even Terrell Owens.
“We need to keep working,” Moore said. “There are plays there that need to be made and we’re capable of making them. We’re just going to keep grinding it out and keep working on it and take these next two preseason games and keep learning and be ready to go in Week One.”
Gross described the passing game as “definitely fixable.”
But we shall see. The problem is if you can't throw the ball, it makes it awfully tough to run it as the Panthers found out early last season.
“You see a lot of other teams do it and do it well,” Gross said. “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."
Because when the real bullets start to fly in three weeks excuses won’t matter anymore.
Wins and losses will.