AP: Offenses struggle, Panthers beat Titans 15-7


CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Star running backs Chris Johnson and DeAngelo Williams couldn't find any holes. Vince Young and Matt Moore weren't much better through the air.

Optimists can point to the ferocious defense that Carolina and Tennessee played Saturday night, but the offensive ineptitude was cause for concern after the Panthers slogged to a 15-7 preseason victory over the Titans.

Carolina's overhauled defense hardly looked like it missed Julius Peppers, sacking Young four times, keeping Johnson in check and holding Tennessee to 50 yards in the first half.

"We got caught off guard by a lot of pressures, a lot of blitzes and things like that," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. "I think that happens, it's coaching, and it happens in a short week."

But the Titans stymied Moore and Williams, too. Carolina's first-team offense is still looking for its first touchdown of the preseason despite playing into the fourth quarter against Tennessee's second- and third-stringers.

"Two of our three biggest playmakers from a year ago haven't played a snap in the preseason," Panthers coach John Fox said, referring to wide receiver Steve Smith (broken arm) and running back Jonathan Stewart (heel). "I think we're very young overall and particularly at the receiver position. We've still got a lot of work to do."

But Fox's defense is playing better than anybody could have hoped.

Johnson, the NFL's Offensive Player of the Year in 2009, managed just 10 yards on eight carries with little room to roam in his most extensive work of the preseason. He has 39 yards on 19 carries in three games after rushing for 2,006 yards last season.

"We'll be OK when the season starts," Johnson said.

Young, playing the entire first half, completed just 6 of 9 passes for 48 yards under constant pressure. Charles Johnson, who took over for five-time Pro Bowl defensive end Peppers when he signed with the Chicago Bears during the offseason, had his way with Tennessee right tackle David Stewart and recorded two of Carolina's seven sacks.

"We just stayed pretty basic today," Young said.

The Panthers, who held the Jets to 112 yards one week earlier, looked speedy in the secondary, and the line swarmed the ball despite starting with four different linemen than ended last season. Carolina has 18 sacks in three games.

"I'm really liking what's going on so far," Panthers linebacker Jon Beason said.

The offense, though, is another story.

Moore, given the starting job when Jake Delhomme was released during the offseason, had his third consecutive uninspiring performance. He completed 18 of 33 passes for 190 yards with no interceptions. Williams rushed for just 13 yards on nine carries, and there is still no clear No. 2 receiver opposite Smith.

Just how inefficient have the Panthers been? They have five field goals in 39 preseason possessions.

"There are throws that I missed that are unacceptable," said Moore, pointing to an overthrown pass to an open Dwayne Jarrett that would have been a first-quarter touchdown. "You've got to hit those opportunities."

The game didn't open up until Carolina's starting offense left early in the fourth quarter.

The Titans took the lead on former Panthers quarterback Kerry Collins' 35-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jared Cook. Mike Goodson then brought back the ensuing kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown for Carolina. Josh Vaughan's two-point conversion run failed.

Panthers cornerback Brian Witherspoon picked off a Collins pass on the Titans' next possession, leading to John Kasay's third field goal. Witherspoon, fighting for a roster spot, later intercepted a pass thrown by rookie Rusty Smith, who played ahead of veteran quarterback Chris Simms.

Carolina rookie backup Jimmy Clausen threw a 50-yard pass to tight end Gary Barnidge on the next possession, but Kasay hooked a 25-yard field-goal attempt.

While Moore's protection was better than the first two games, he had trouble finding receivers, his accuracy was suspect and there were drops.

Five of Carolina's first six drives ended in three-and-outs. The Panthers finally moved the ball late in the first half with an odd group of Wallace Wright, Trent Guy and David Gettis at receiver. But Wright fumbled after a catch, and the ball was recovered by Tennessee's Stephen Tulloch at the 14 to end the only first-half scoring threat for either side.

To make matters worse, Wright injured his right shoulder on the play and didn't return.

Notes: DE Derrick Morgan, the Titans' first-round draft pick, had one tackle in his NFL debut as he returned from injury. ... The Titans didn't dress 11 players, including TE Bo Scaife (back), CB Cortland Finnegan (groin) and WR Nate Washington (wrist). ... Trent Guy replaced the struggling Armanti Edwards as Carolina's punt returner, but he didn't fare well in judging punts. ... Jason Baker had a 76-yard punt for the Panthers.

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