The Carolina Panthers (1-2) face the Pittsburgh Steelers (1-2) at 7:30 p.m. at Heinz Field.
Here are three things to watch for:
1. Consistency: The Panthers have been consistent on offense or defense through the first three preseason games. They've started slowly on both sides. They've been unable to sustain a running game, gaining only 55 yards on 16 carries from DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Not what you want when you're a ball-control team. They've struggled at times to stop the run. Not what you'd expect from the league's second-best defense in 2013. They've allowed 10 sacks and collected only five. Not what you expect from the team that led the league in sacks last season with 60. Wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery, signed as a free agent from Pittsburgh, has one catch for 8 yards. Not what you want when you're replacing the veteran leadership of Steve Smith. It might be asking too much for a significant change with the starters likely not playing more than a quarter, and with quarterback Cam Newton being held out with a fractured rib. But a little bit of consistency would be a good place to end the preseason.
2. Communication: Roman Harper is getting his first start at strong safety after missing the first three preseason games with turf toe. He was signed as a free agent from New Orleans to be a leader in this rebuilt secondary and provide an attitude this group has been lacking. There have been breakdowns in communication during the first three games, resulting in big plays for the opposition that have contributed to the slow starts. With starting defensive ends Greg Hardy (shoulder) and Charles Johnson (hamstring) out, the secondary needs to set the tone for a change.
3. Blocking: The offensive line has allowed too many sacks and opened up too few holes. Injuries to the right side of the line have played a small role. Rookie right guard Trai Turner (groin) is expected to be out for the second straight game, but right tackle Nate Chandler (knee) is back. Chandler lost the left tackle battle to Byron Bell, who still has issues with the bull rush. If he doesn't pick up the pace he may lose the right tackle job to Garry Williams. The Panthers believe in winning from the inside out. The defensive front is solid. The offensive front needs to start setting the tone on the other side before it faces a tough Tampa Bay defense in the Sept. 7 opener. As I've said throughout the offseason, the success of the rebuilt line is the key to the success of this team.