CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Bengals have their offense revving in high gear.
Cincinnati has put up 34 points in back-to-back games to open the season, although quarterback Andy Dalton said they haven't played a perfect game.
"We left some stuff out there," Dalton said. "We can definitely improve and get better. (But) if we're saying that and scoring 34 points, that's a good thing."
Dalton and the Bengals will look to fix those "little things" and start 3-0 for the fifth time in coach Marvin Lewis' 16 seasons when they visit the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
The Panthers are coming off an uncharacteristically poor defensive performance in a 31-24 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, prompting coach Ron Rivera to say he wouldn't tolerate laziness on defense .
The big change from last year's 0-3 start for the Bengals has been up front.
The offensive line was a mess last season, the main reason they finished last in the league in offense.
Coordinator Bill Lazor was given freedom to redesign the offense. He overhauled the line, and the Bengals have new starters at four positions. So far that line has meshed well together, allowing just two sacks — none in a 34-23 win over the Baltimore Ravens on Sept. 13.
"Anytime you have time back there you can step into your throws, and you can put the ball where you want it," Dalton said of the protection in the team's 2-0 start .
Another adjustment has been lining up wide receiver A.J. Green in different spots on offense. Green caught three first-half touchdown passes from the slot against the Ravens. Cornerback James Bradberry will cover Green most of the time, but there will be occasions Green could face nickel back Captain Munnerlyn in the slot, where he'll have a significant height advantage.
"The reason they are moving him around is to try to create opportunities for him. You just got to have a package that can counter it," Rivera said of Green.
Things to watch in the Bengals-Panthers game:
HISTORY OF 3-0
The Bengals also started 3-0 in 2005, 2006, 2014 and 2015, making the playoffs in three of those years before losing in the first round each time.
Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey only carried the ball seven times against the Falcons, but he had twice that many receptions. His 14 catches (for 102 yards) tied a franchise record and showed Cam Newton is willing to be patient and use check-downs to move the chains. Newton is completing a career-best 69 percent of his passes in his first year playing in coordinator Norv Turner's offense.
Rivera said he anticipates more things will open up down the field once teams begin to honor McCaffrey coming out of the backfield.
"They (wide receivers) understand too that now all of a sudden those linebackers might not be dropping 12 to 15 yards deep anymore," Rivera said.
"They may be right at about 8 (yards). Those digs are going to start opening up, those post routes, those bang-eights across the middle — they are going to start flashing a little more."
The Bengals will lean heavily on Giovani Bernard , their only healthy running back with experience in the system. Starter Joe Mixon tore cartilage in his right knee during the win over Baltimore and is out for a few weeks. Running back Tra Carson pulled a hamstring in practice on Monday, so the Bengals signed free agent Thomas Rawls. Bernard has three 100-yard rushing games in his career.
"It doesn't change for me," Bernard said. "I feel like people are freaking out, but my goodness, it's football."
Panthers rookie wide receiver D.J. Moore is expected to see more playing time this week after a 51-yard touchdown catch against the Falcons.
The team's first-round draft pick played 17 snaps on offense, but Rivera said earlier this week that "it's time to put more on his plate." He also said he's noticed a swagger about Moore this week in practice.
The Bengals' young defense has given up a lot of yards but forced game-clinching turnovers in each of their wins. Third-year safety Clayton Fejedelem forced a fumble and returned it for a touchdown with 24 seconds left as Andrew Luck was driving the Colts for what could have been a winning touchdown in the season opener. Last week safety Shawn Williams hit Joe Flacco and forced a fumble as the Ravens were trying to drive for a tying TD late. Luck threw for 319 yards and the Colts piled up 380 overall. Flacco threw for 376 and the Ravens had 425 in all.