CHARLOTTE -- It's natural the Carolina Panthers' offense got most of the praise following a 27-13 win at St. Louis. They're the side with a new coordinator, a few new parts and no track record.
But the hammerlock the Panthers' defense threw on the Rams was no less impressive, and provided hope in all the areas where they're hoping to improve.
The Panthers had the Rams looking out of sorts, particularly in the second half, when they scored a field goal on their first possession and never made another dent. Those three points came after an 84-yard kickoff return, but the Rams couldn't capitalize beyond getting 7 yards closer for the kick.
That, and the two fumbles forced by a team which wasn't very good in that area last year, pointed to the progress.
Never miss a local story.
"The first game is always important," defensive end Julius Peppers said. "You add on, it's a confidence game and a road game, so those are two things we can build on as we prepare for next week."
It's too early to put too fine a point on it, but the Panthers rank in the top 10 in the significant defensive categories (before Monday's games). They're seventh in total yards allowed, seventh in rushing yards allowed, sixth against the pass and tied for eighth in points surrendered.
One of the new wrinkles on Sunday was the constant movement of Peppers. He flipped sides, stood up and dropped into coverage often, much of it part of their plan to take away Rams runner Steven Jackson.
Fox grinned when asked if that was Rams-specific, or something they'd do more of in the future.
"You're making it tough for me to answer that," he said. "It's something that we had messed with in practice and hadn't shown in games a lot. That's something we may or may not do moving forward."
Peppers indicated it was largely about confusing the Rams, giving them something else to worry about -- as if they didn't have enough problems. With Jackson fumbling twice and All-Pro left tackle Orlando Pace leaving the game with a shoulder injury, the Panthers' tactics might well have been down their list of concerns.
"It's just a new package and something different," Peppers said. "We tried to move them around a little bit. That's about it -- we just try and give them a new look."
The Panthers also played physical with the Rams' receivers, going back to the old book -- which is to try to knock them out of their timing routes by playing close man-to-man defense at the line of scrimmage.
"Once you get your hands on those types of receivers, they get frustrated," cornerback Chris Gamble said. "They can't get the ball where they want and it takes a lot out of them.
"We try to play man-to-man a lot and mess up their timing. That's what we did a lot and try to break on the ball and make plays, and basically that's what we did."
It was a strong first outing for a team with numerous question marks.
There were concerns about linebacker Dan Morgan, but he came through fine. The Panthers' safety position has been an issue for months, but Chris Harris and Deke Cooper forced fumbles. The Panthers were 29th in the league in takeaways a year ago, so getting two on the board early was significant.
But the biggest sign might be the way they throttled the Rams after the break.
Stopping them from pushing through after Dante Hall's big return was a testament, but several players said the coaches fiddled with the plan after the Rams' first-drive touchdown, then again at halftime.
"It wasn't like we did a whole different game plan the second half or anything like that," Fox said. "In the first game you never know what you're going to get for sure. You look at things they've done in years past, you look at some of the preseason. You know you're going to get something you've never seen, and that's one of the coaching points going into a first game -- being able to adjust."
• Panthers notebook • 3C