Carolina Panthers

Despite 6-2 slate, Panthers see room for improvement

CHARLOTTE -- The Carolina Panthers come out of the bye week knowing they have things to improve, but they at least have the benefit of wading back into the shallow end of the pool.

The Panthers come return against two of the league's worst teams, beginning with this week's visit to 2-6 Oakland followed by a home game against winless Detroit (0-8). The Raiders looked historically bad against Atlanta in a 24-0 loss, after being held to minus-2 yards in the first half and 77 for the game, while allowing the young Falcons to roll up 453 yards and more than 45 minutes of possession.

Panthers coach John Fox said Monday, as his team resumed work, that those numbers were irrelevant.

"You learn in this league very early on, you better be ready," Fox said, mentioning horrible Kansas City's near-upset of Tampa Bay. "Our biggest goal this week is to get our team back game ready to make the long trip out west."

It was a persistent theme from Fox, who went to lengths to make sure people didn't think they were overlooking the next opponent.

There's always a hesitance among coaches and personnel about playing teams coming off embarrassing losses. The Panthers knew they were in for a fight when they went into Tampa Bay after the Bucs laid an egg in Denver, and then absorbed a 27-3 beating. Conversely, they rolled New Orleans 30-7 the following week.

Quarterback Jake Delhomme said he's fortunate to have former Raider Josh McCown in his meeting room. McCown has been telling them just how talented this week's opponent is. Still, Delhomme echoed Fox's sentiment that no matter what Oakland does, the Panthers have to worry about themselves.

"One thing I've noticed about this team, it's more about what we do, you can't worry about the other team," Delhomme said. "I promise you, when we come back here on Wednesday morning, there's going to be a sense of 'Get to work' and 'We need to get better.' That's one thing, you can kind of feel it around this team."

In order to get them to focus, expect a lot of talk about things they need to get better at, particularly on offense.

"Our focus will be on us," Fox said.

As early as last week, when guys were looking forward to long weekends, Delhomme was sounding that call.

"No doubt," he replied when asked if there were things to get better at. "I feel offensively we can play better, on third down and in the red zone. We can be more efficient passing the football, running the football, getting guys back healthy.

"That's something basically we've got a long ways to go, because if we were all that good, we wouldn't have gotten beat in Minnesota and spanked in Tampa."

Delhomme might have been overstating the case for emphasis, but there are some holes in the resume.

The Panthers are 13th in the league in rushing yards per game (113.9) but just 25th in rushing yards per carry. Much of that disparity stems from the fact they're sixth in the league in rushing attempts (30.9), and they've been able to run often rather than well in some games in which they built leads.

They're also 23rd in the league in third-down percentage (37.0), converting 40-of-108.

Despite their commitment to running, they haven't always been productive on early downs. Their average gain of 5.27 yards on first downs ranks 18th in the league, leaving them with some long-yardage options which are by nature harder to convert.

Delhomme mentioned problems in the red zone, but even there, they're 16th in the league, converting touchdowns on 10-of-20 visits inside the 20-yard line.

It's hardly horrible, but when you're looking for any possible motivation, you take what you can get.

"We're 6-2. I mean, we could end up being 6-10. Honestly," Delhomme said. "And if you look at it any other way you're kidding yourself. We put ourselves in a position to possibly make a run. That's what you want to do, get yourself in a position where you get your foot in the door in the playoffs. That's what this game is about.

"And we've done that so far, but we've got to finish. That's the biggest thing. Get away from it but get ready when you come back because it flies by. So be ready."

Be sure to visit Darin Gantt's blog for updates on the Carolina Panthers at community.heraldonline.com

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