CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The Panthers offense was expected to be their strong suit this season and a big reason center Ryan Kalil promised Carolina fans a Super Bowl victory.
Yet it's the offense that has let the Panthers (1-4) down this year.
Second-year quarterback Cam Newton and the Panthers enter Sunday's game against the Dallas Cowboys ranked 23rd in the NFL in offense and 25th in points scored through five games — a far cry from 2011 when they finished seventh in total offense and fifth in points scored.
Wide receiver Steve Smith said the struggling Panthers have "a long laundry list of things" they can get better at on offense.
"This team relies heavily on this offense, and that's been different than in years past," Smith said. "And yet we haven't done anything consistently that would help our defense stay off the field. All we've done is kind of been middling around a little bit and been real lethargic and left (the defense) out there on the field longer than they should be."
The Panthers won't get a break this week.
The Cowboys, despite a 2-3 record, have allowed the second-fewest yards in the league and rank No. 1 against the pass.
The Panthers are hoping the bye week has helped wipe the slate clean and they'll come back on Sunday re-energized.
Newton, for one, said he feels refreshed.
Last year's AP offensive rookie of the year spent the bye weekend visiting a haunted house, go-kart racing, watching movies, playing video games and doing plenty of "self-evaluation."
He said after talking with his father Cecil Newton he also has a deeper appreciation for his job.
"God gives only a few people opportunities like this and it's easy for people to take it for granted," Newton said Wednesday. "It gave me time to reflect and appreciate this lovely, wonderful game that I play."
Newton said "there's a lot of differences" between last year's offense and this year's, including his own play. Newton's quarterback rating ranks 23rd in the league and there are 28 QBs who've thrown more touchdown passes than him at this point in the year.
But he said dwelling on the past does no good.
"It's time for us to start taking ownership and taking pride in this game," Newton said. "We know everything we want to achieve is still out there for us to achieve."
Rivera said Carolina's problems offensively boil down to missed opportunities.
"We've had some situations where we've missed guys that were wide open, or we've missed cuts, or we've missed blocks," Rivera said. "Last year we made more plays and we're working to do that this year."
Rivera still believes the Panthers are doing some good things on offense.
However, he said his staff made some schematic changes this week, although he wouldn't say specifically what that entails for fear of tipping off the Cowboys.
"We believe we have found some answers," Rivera said.
Despite Carolina's struggles, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett views the Panthers as a dangerous team especially now that they're backed into a corner.
"At different times they have done a really, really good job; other times it hasn't been quite as smooth — that's the nature of the NFL," Garrett said of the Panthers offense. But "when have those guys they do and those schemes it's a real challenge for us."
The Panthers plan to shake things up this week on the offensive line as a result of the season-ending foot injury to Kalil, their three-time Pro Bowl center.
Rivera confirmed last week Geoff Hangartner is moving from right guard to center. Byron Bell said Wednesday he's moving from right tackle to right guard and will start alongside Garry Williams at right tackle.
"I'm OK with it," Bell said. "I've played there before."
Panthers receiver David Gettis returned to practice, but Rivera said it's unlikely he'll be activated to the 53-man roster this week. The Panthers have three weeks to make a decision on whether to add Gettis from the PUP list.
Rivera sighted conditioning as the major reason why the team will likely wait a week on Gettis.
"He ran well, and he's a big target," Rivera said of the 6-3, 220-pound Gettis. "He seemed pretty good for the wear. He got a lot of good work, so we're pretty excited. We'll see how he reacts (Thursday) morning."
Notes: Middle linebacker Jon Beason was held out of practice Wednesday after experiencing some soreness in his left knee following Monday's work. His status for the Dallas game remains up in the air. It's the same knee that kept him out of the Seattle week ... The Panthers placed LB Kenny Onatolu, a special teams player, on injured reserve with a torn left triceps and signed CB Ron Parker to the 53-man roster. He'll play mainly on special teams. ... LB Jerry Franklin was signed to the practice squad.
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