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