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What to watch: Panthers vs. Bengals


CHARLOTTE – The Carolina Panthers need to have something positive happen on gameday – and fast.

"I think the biggest thing for the offense is to start fast. Go out there and try to put six points on the board the first drive," said rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen, who will make his first NFL start when the Panthers host the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday at 1 p.m. "When there are plays to be made, make plays."

On offense, the Panthers (0-2) haven't often gotten six points at a time regardless of the time left on the clock. Counting the preseason, Carolina has scored two offensive touchdowns in six games, prompting the Panthers to go with Clausen over Matt Moore.

Panthers fans can't wait to see the direct impact that the quarterback change will have on the team's performance. A look at the potential indirect impact of the change leads off other things to keep an eye on against the Bengals (1-1).

THE TRICKLE DOWN EFFECT: The quarterback change may not be enough in itself to totally turn around the Panthers' fortunes, but the message that the decision sends could lead to a crucial change in the way the players surrounding Clausen perform.

"We're going to do whatever it takes to win," defensive end Everette Brown said. "Whether that's making changes or doing the same thing you've been doing but doing it better, that's what we're going to do.

"We don't come in here and prepare day in and day out to lose. We're doing whatever it takes so that we can be victorious."

The move to bench Moore after two sub-par games should have the attention of everyone in the locker room, and the Panthers hope that leads to better play across the board.

"It's a production business. You've got to produce," running back Jonathan Stewart said. "The coaches are going to try to make moves to win, and that's what they're doing right now."


SPEAKING OF PRODUCTION: If Clausen is to excel, the Panthers' potentially powerful running game needs to click.

Then again, if the running game is to excel, Clausen needs to click.

With Moore at quarterback, opponents were stacking the box against the run and daring him to beat them. That likely will be the case even more so with a rookie under center.

The proven running game, however, appears willing to bear the burden of the chicken-or-the-egg debate.

"Eight men, nine men in the box every week -- that's aggressive," Stewart said. "But I think we're ready for that."

Even with the offensive difficulties to date, Carolina ranks a respectable 16th in the NFL with 104 rushing yards per game, while Cincinnati ranks 18th in stopping it (113.5 yards). Still, the Panthers are a far cry from their 156-yard average a year ago, a figure that ranked third in the league.

"I thought we ran pretty well (Week 2 against Tampa Bay). Are we capable of better? I think so," head coach John Fox said. "There's no question we have to take better advantage of what people are doing to us to stop the run."


SECONDARY CONCERNS: In wide receivers Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens, the Bengals feature two of the biggest attractions in the NFL.

"Everybody watches their reality shows, but when they come in, they're humans just like everybody else," Panthers cornerback Richard Marshall said. "We know they're good. We know what they're capable of. We've just got to come in and play our technique and our assignments and do what we do."

Marshall said the Panthers haven't been doing that so far. Carolina is tied for last in the NFL with five touchdown passes allowed through two games.

"We need to communicate better," Marshall said. "During the preseason, our communication was good and we were playing with great technique. The last game we played with better communication than we did the first game."

The Bengals rank eighth in the NFL with 250 passing yards on average, but not all the credit goes to No. 85 and T.O. Rookie wideout Jordan Shipley and rookie tight end Jermaine Gresham have combined for 19 receptions.

SACK EXCHANGE: Cincinnati would love to rattle Clausen with its pass rush, while Carolina needs to at least pressure Palmer to disrupt the Bengals' potent passing attack.

Whichever team gets to the quarterback the most could well be the team that gets the victory. The thing is, neither team has been able to do that so far: The Panthers and Bengals are tied for last in the league with a single sack apiece.

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