Carolina Panthers

Panthers know Smith can't do it alone

CHARLOTTE -- The Carolina Panthers love what Steve Smith is doing for them right now.

They'd love nothing better though, than getting him a little help.

Having already seen what happens when defenses can zoom in on their star wide receiver, the Panthers know this week they need to spread the wealth to keep the offense running smoothly. That means getting the running game back on track, and getting their other receiving options involved for a change.

Of course, two games into the new system of offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson, no one's going to outwardly express that concern.

"I'm not worried about it," quarterback Jake Delhomme said. "(The Houston game) kind of got out of hand pretty quick. That swing we had at one point, it was a one game deal. I truly believe we can run the ball effectively; we're going to try to get back to that this week.

"I really feel we're a rhythm team, when we can run and pass and flow like that. We did that somewhat early in the game. We scored 14 points, early. We'd run, throw, run, throw. Good teams, you jump on someone 14-0, you want to step on somebody. And that's what was disappointing. We need to keep grinding, keep that edge."

Finding another option in the passing game might help.

Among the league's top 10 in receiving yards, only Houston's Andre Johnson accounts for a higher percentage of his team's total passing yards (262-of-452, 58.0 percent), and he's expected to miss the next month with a knee injury. Smith has 271 of the Panthers' 517 yards through the air (52.4 percent), and only Cincinnati's Chad Johnson and New England's Randy Moss also make up more than half.

It harkens back to 2005, when Smith was their only option for most of the year. Drew Carter didn't come on until late, Keary Colbert slumped because of an injury he didn't disclose, and teams felt free to gang up on Smith.

That year, he accounted for 44.8 percent of the team's yards (1,563-of-3,485), and the fact they advanced to the NFC Championship Game kept him from freaking out about being a one-man show.

"I haven't really put any thought into it," Smith said. "Now that you mention it, no concern. We went to the NFC Championship Game. If that was a bad year, I'd love to have bad years, as far as the offense and where we rank and how long and how far we went."

Still, there will come a time when he needs someone, and he's not getting the help now.

Colbert struggled catching the ball last week (three drops), and Carter had a deep ball sail through his hands. Delhomme talked to Colbert in particular about the issue, insisting the team hasn't lost confidence in him.

"I told him, 'Hey, I'm still going to come to you,'" Delhomme said. "I don't think there's any doubt that he knows that. He's more disappointed than anyone else. He works his tail off. We can't focus in on (his drops), because we all had a hand in our performance. I will not hesitate to throw him the football again."

Smith said the issues on offense were magnified by the way they lost the Houston game, giving up 34 unanswered points after taking an early 14-0 lead. In most weeks, scoring 21 points is plenty for the Panthers, who have played well enough on defense in recent years to make last week's result stand out.

"We were inconsistent as a collective unit," Smith said. "Did we run the ball as well as we'd like to? No. There's number of reasons why. Those guys get paid, too. But there's a lot of things we can take from this game, positive and negative, you can take from a loss; you can take the same amount of criticism of watching a film when you win.

"When you win, to harp on the negatives is petty. But when you lose and you harp on the negatives, that's what you call constructive criticism."

The one option the Panthers haven't explored is rookie receiver Dwayne Jarrett, their second-round pick. He hasn't been active for either game this year, and said Thursday he didn't know if he'd get to dress for the Atlanta game this week. It's not that anyone's disappointed in him. The experience of Colbert and Carter is preferable right now.

"It's a long season, and we'll see what happens," Delhomme said. "We saw that with Drew the other season, he didn't play until week 13 when we were making our run. (Jarrett) just needs to keep working. He catches the ball extremely well; we see that in practice, he just needs to keep working and staying on top of things.

"He's a talent. He can help us. But that's the thing, this is what's tough. This is probably the first time in his life he hasn't had a uniform. He's talented and everything, but it's the mental grind. It's a long season. It's not only physical. It's extremely brutal. But mentally it's tough, and you've got to stay focused. That's what we want to see from him, and this is a test right now."