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5 things about Panthers, Steelers in preseason

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP)

If Carolina's defense continues to play like it has in the preseason, the Panthers could be in for one heck of a year.

The Panthers intercepted rookie quarterback Landry Jones three times Thursday night in a 25-10 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers to finish 3-1 in the preseason.

Carolina finished the exhibition schedule with 13 takeaways and four defensive touchdowns.

''We have to continue to work on it and understand just how important it is to get the ball,'' Panthers coach Ron Rivera said.

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5 things we know about the Panthers after the preseason:

1. LEANING HARD ON DEANGELO: The Panthers will have to lean more on running back DeAngelo Williams this season - at least early on. Carolina placed Jonathan Stewart on the physically unable to perform list, so he will miss at least five games. When Mike Tolbert returns from a hamstring - his status for the opener against Seattle is questionable - he may be able to help ease Williams' load but until then the Panthers will count on their all-time leading rusher to pile up the numbers.

2. OFFENSIVE LINE A CONCERN: Carolina's first-team offense only scored one touchdown this preseason and the offensive line has had its share of injuries, so that's a concern. Travelle Wharton, who just signed this week, is expected to start at left guard even though he hasn't played a real game since 2011.

3. LINEBACKERS COULD BE AWESOME: Rivera couldn't be more excited about the prospect of having a healthy Jon Beason and Thomas Davis play alongside middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, who might be on the verge of becoming the league's best middle linebacker. Kuechly led the league in tackles last season and if you haven't seen him play yet, you're missing something special.

4. TED GINN JR. COULD GIVE A BOOST: Ginn was a cheap acquisition for the Panthers this offseason but he's already showing he has what it takes to be a playmaker. He sparked the Panthers to wins in their final two preseason games with a 74-yard punt return against Baltimore and two TD catches against Pittsburgh, including an 87-yarder bomb from Derek Anderson.

5. PANTHERS DEEPER: Depth has been a concern for years with the Panthers, but they seem to be more talented overall than in recent seasons. Carolina's success in the preseason has proven that out as they've been able to hold on to win preseason games in the second half.

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5 things we know about the Steelers:

1. OFFENSIVE LINE IS BETTER: The Steelers' starting offensive line remains very much a work in progress, though they did escape the preseason healthy, which was not the case last year. However, Mike Tomlin wasn't quite satisfied that he'd seen enough, opting to play the starting lineman in the final preseason game against Carolina while holding out his skill position players.

2. THE DEFENSIVE LEADER IS BACK: The Steelers learned that safety Troy Polamalu is back and being, well, Troy Polamalu. He's fast and he's making great breaks on the football - reminiscent of his past brilliance. That's great news for the Steelers, considering that play-making safeties like Polamalu are hard to find.

3. FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS: Rookie running back Le'Veon Bell is not as durable as advertised. Pittsburgh's second-round pick led the nation in carries last year without a problem but spent as much time in the training room as he did on the field during camp. He's out indefinitely with a sprained right foot and is not expected to be ready for the season opener.

4. BEN IS STILL KING IN PITTSBURGH: The Steelers learned that rookie Landry Jones isn't close to taking over for Ben Roethlisberger. The rookie from Oklahoma struggled in his preseason starting debut against Carolina with three interceptions. He led one touchdown drive, but the Steelers failed to reach the end zone on their next 13 possessions.

''I made some really bad decisions, obviously,'' Jones said. ''I just wanted to go out there and play to the best of my abilities, and obviously, I didn't do that.''

5. GO AHEAD, PICK THE RAVENS: Roethlisberger feels like the Steelers are being overlooked by people across the country - and he likes it that way.

''I don't want to talk too much about it because I like that we're still the underdogs and we're the nobody team and everyone's counting us out,'' he said. ''That's fine with me.''

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Online: AP NFL website www.pro32.ap.org

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Follow Steve Reed on Twitter: http://twitter.com/SteveReedAP

Tagged: Panthers, Steelers, Troy Polamalu, Ben Roethlisberger, DeAngelo Williams, Ted Ginn Jr., Jon Beason

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