NFL Preview – Pittsburgh (1-1) at Carolina (2-0) (ET)

By John McMullen, NFL Editor

(SportsNetwork.com) – With the Greg Hardy issue in the rear-view mirror for
now the unbeaten Carolina Panthers will get back to business on Sunday night
as they shoot for their ninth straight regular-season home win in a matchup
against AFC-foe Pittsburgh.

Hardy, the Panthers embattled defensive end, agreed to be placed on the NFL’s
exempt/commissioner’s permission list on Wednesday until his domestic-abuse
case is resolved.

This latest twist in Hardy’s saga came three days after the club changed
course abruptly and deactivated him just prior to last Sunday’s 24-7 victory
over the Detroit Lions.

“There is no rule book for this. Our overriding goal has always been to do the
right thing,” Panthers GM Dave Gettleman added.

Hardy played in Carolina’s season opener despite being found guilty by a judge
on domestic violence charges in July and was expected to be in uniform again
last week.

But while his appeal of the ruling was enough to avoid a suspension — he is
currently awaiting a jury trial — the Ray Rice saga, Adrian Peterson mess and
the NFL’s subsequent decision for a tougher policy against domestic violence
apparently forced the Panthers to bench the defensive star.

According to a police report, Hardy assaulted girlfriend Nicole Holder and
threatened to kill her during an altercation in May. Holder said Hardy choked
her with both hands around her throat and threw her onto a couch covered with
assault rifles and shotguns. She said Hardy told her all the weapons were
loaded.

“Greg is hurt. It is a tough situation. He knows he put himself in it.”
Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said. “Greg is still part of this football
team. We have done nothing but put him on a leave of absence. We’re worried
about the wrong things … trying to find out who to blame. I hope people
understand we’re trying to get this right.”

Hardy tied a franchise record with 15 sacks in 2013.

On the field, Cam Newton led Carolina on two second-half touchdown drives last
Sunday as the Panthers also used their stout defense to take the easy win over
the Lions.

Newton had missed the season-opening win against Tampa Bay with injured ribs,
but was good to go against Detroit and after shaking off some rust, passed for
281 yards on 22-of-34 attempts and a touchdown.

“It was fun to go out there and battle,” said Newton. “It was frustrating
early on, but we stayed at it. I have to put our team in a better position to
win early on.”

Jason Avant had a touchdown catch, while Jonathan Stewart added a rushing
score and Graham Gano hit three field goals for the 2-0 Panthers, who
recovered two fumbles in the game and also had an interception despite missing
Hardy.

Things derailed a bit for Pittsburgh in Week 2 as the Baltimore Ravens
channeled their emotions during a turbulent week off the field for them en
route to crushing the Steelers, 26-6, back on Sept. 11.

The blowout win came three days after disturbing new video footage was
released showing Rice punching his now-wife in an Atlantic City casino
elevator.

Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger completed just 22-of-37 passes for 217 yards
with an interception and was held without a touchdown pass for the first time
since the final game of the 2011 season. Antonio Brown had seven receptions
for 90 yards but Pittsburgh turned it over three times.

“It was a disappointing effort for us. A lot of self-inflicted wounds are
going to prevent you from being in football games like that,” Steelers head
coach Mike Tomlin said.

The Steelers and Panthers have met just five times previously with Pittsburgh
dropping the first ever meeting and winning four straight from there.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Roethlisberger is 2-0 in his career versus the Panthers and comes in 313
passing yards shy of 35,000 for his career but things figure to be tough for
him in this spot.

The Steelers have been a mess so far this season and are probably lucky to be
1-1. Pittsburgh is allowing 356 yards per game so far and has been outscored
by a 50-9 margin since halftime of Game 1.

“It’s something that needs to be addressed and quickly rectified,” Tomlin
said. “We’re two games into this one. Hopefully by the time we’re able to
compare this year to last or any year for that matter (and) have a better
showing than we have to this point.”

With or without its star pass rusher, Carolina sports one of the best front
sevens in all of football and has won eight straight regular-season home games
The Panthers D has forced three turnovers in each game this year and has seven
sacks, fourth-best in the NFL.

Meanwhile, offensively Carolina is one of four teams yet to turn the ball over
while Tomlin’s stop unit is one of just three which hasn’t taken it away in
2014.

Second-year running back Le’Veon Bell has been the one consistent aspect for
the Steelers this year, averaging 5.3 yards per rush and amassing 304 yards
from scrimmage, second in the NFL.

DeAngelo Williams should be back in the Carolina backfield after a thigh
injury kept him out last week and be ready to take advantage of a Pittsburgh
defense surrendering 170 yards per game on the ground.

“Guys just aren’t making the tackles we need to make,” Steelers rookie
linebacker Ryan Shazier said. “A lot of times we get the guy stood up but
don’t get him to the ground. There is a lot of yards after contact.”

OVERALL ANALYSIS

The Panthers have won 13 of their last 14 regular-season games in the Tar Heel
State as well as the eight straight in which they’ve won by an average of
nearly 17 points per game. A 3-0 start looks a fail accompli here and the last
time Carolina did that, it would up in the Super Bowl.

“I think we are headed in that direction,” Rivera said. “We have a lot of guys
that have been in the system for (several) seasons now. It’s starting to
show.”

Sports Network predicted outcome: Panthers 20, Steelers 9