Dwayne Jarrett battles for control of the ball Saturday night. (AP Photo)
CHARLOTTE – The preseason is about finding answers, but the reality is we’ll have to wait until the regular season to find out just how good (or how bad) Carolina’s offense really is.
Granted, the Panthers have been downright unwatchable on that side of the ball through three games but is it really a fair assessment when -- as coach John Fox readily points out -- two of the team’s top three playmakers, Steve Smith and Jonathan Stewart, haven’t played a snap in the preseason?
There’s still one game left before the real bullets fly, but we won’t know anymore after Thursday night than we know now. Fox never plays his starters more than a series or two in the preseason finale, so not much will change between now and then.
So what can we expect come Sept. 12 against the New York Giants?
Will the Panthers look like the well-oiled machine that put up 41 points at the Meadowlands last December or will they look like the broken-down clunker they’ve appeared to be in the preseason?
The reality is we won’t know.
Perhaps Smith’s return will ignite the passing game. Perhaps his mere presence will bring the best out in potential No. 2 receivers Brandon LaFell, Dwayne Jarrett, Kenny Moore and Wallace Wright.
One thing is for certain – the Panthers have spent a good portion of the preseason working on their passing game, almost to the point where they’ve ignored the run.
In an effort to get their young quarterback and receivers working on the same page, the Panthers have called 129 pass plays and 70 running plays so far in the three exhibition games.
That’s nearly a 2:1 ratio of pass to run.
How often do you see a John Fox coached team throw that much? The answer is never.
Obviously it won’t be that way in the regular season.
When the regular season arrives, the focus of Carolina’s game plan will shift back to running the football behind Stewart, who ran for a franchise record 206 yards last year against the Giants, and Pro Bowler DeAngelo Williams.
The preseason was clearly about finding out what the team had in the passing game.
“We have as young of a group of wide receivers I think you’ll find in the league,” said offensive tackle Jordan Gross. “There’s not a lot of familiar faces in that group. We got to get better, we got to protect better. Matt (Moore) will watch tape and improve. Just a team effort, but it’s definitely nothing to throw an alert on.”
Moore, who completed 18 of 30 passes for 190 yards against Tennessee to raise his quarterback rating to 56.1, said he feels like the offense is “headed in the right direction.
“Just to see the strides that I think we’ve taken, we’re getting better each week. There’s some throws that I think I missed that are unacceptable.”
One play in particular hurt.
Moore had Dwayne Jarrett streaking open down the middle of the field and overthrew him by a few steps.
“You just have to hit those opportunities because they’re big plays,” Moore said.
Everything could change by Sept, 12 -- or maybe it won’t.
The reality is we just won’t know until that day arrives.
In the meantime, as Gross said, the Panthers offense has “a lot of work to do.
“Bottom line is we just have to keep working and we’re very optimistic, there’s nowhere to go but up,” Gross said. “We’re better today than we were a week ago and that is going to be the trend all season I feel.”