The Panthers opened their season with a tough 12-7 loss to Seattle. We break down every unit and see how they did.
Analysis: Even though Cam Newton threw for just 125 yards, Newton made very good decisions and made some tough throws down the stretch. He was even able to convert some key third downs with his legs when the team needed him to. It was a great first performance for Newton and one the team will expect from him as the season goes along.
Running Backs: B-
Analysis: We all knew DeAngelo Williams would have to step up his game with Jonathan Stewart sidelined. For most of the game he did just that. Williams was able to average 5 yards a carry and gave the Panthers great balance on offense while also keeping the stout Seattle defense honest.
The one huge blunder was of course his fourth quarter fumble in the red zone with 5 minutes to go. The fumble was definitely a game-changer as the Panthers never saw the ball again.
Wide Receivers: B
Analysis: This group was hard to give a grade to simply because the offense didn’t target very many of them. Outside of Steve Smith and tight end Greg Olsen, Carolina struggled to get other receivers involved.
Brandon Lafell, the supposed number two receiver, was only targeted twice the entire game and finished with zero receptions. Free agent Ted Ginn only had 1 reception for 10 yards. The unit did have a few drops, but also provided the offense yards after contact to keep the chains moving. Look for the Panthers to try and get the other receivers more involved in the offense next week. They’re too talented not to.
Offensive Line: B-
Analysis: Given the relative inexperience of the line, the unit performed very well. Cam Newton was only sacked once and didn’t have to rush many of his throws. The line also created holes for DeAngelo Williams which gave the offense a huge boost when they started struggling through the air. The team suffered a huge blow when it was announced veteran right guard Garry Williams would miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL and MCL. Look for newly acquired lineman Travelle Wharton to see an increase in snaps.
Defensive Line: A
Analysis: You have to give Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman credit. Gettleman wanted to create a dominant defense and used the first two draft picks on Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short to help shore up a strong front seven. On Sunday, the front seven showed it was as good as advertised. The line did an excellent job of containing Russell Wilson in the pocket and slowing down the rushing attack led by Marshawn Lynch. The D-Line held Lynch to a career-low 43 rushing yards. Minus the Frank Alexander ejection, the unit was a huge bright spot for the Panthers.
Analysis: Panther fans finally got a chance to see the linebacker corps healthy. Luke Kuechly, Jon Beason and Thomas Davis combined for 23 tackles Sunday. Simply put, when the unit is healthy, it can be the best in the league. The game against Seattle marks the first time since 2010 that Carolina has had all three linebackers healthy.
Analysis: The secondary at times was very good, but they were also very bad at times. The team allowed 320 passing yards, a career high for Russell Wilson. Josh Thomas in particular had a tough day. He was targeted two plays in a row on deep bombs with one resulting in the go ahead touchdown for Seattle. In a tight game like Sunday’s, every mistake is magnified and that definitely was the case in this contest.
Analysis: By now Carolina Panthers fans know that losing close games like this one is the norm under Ron Rivera. On offense, new offensive coordinator Mike Shula called the plays like he did during the preseason: very conservatively. The offense rarely took shots down the field and seemed almost stubborn to go to the air when the run game wasn’t working. Defensively, the first half couldn’t have gone much better for the Panthers. They held a 7-3 lead and had stopped Russell Wilson in his tracks. In the second half, defensive coordinator Sean McDermott became a lot more aggressive with blitzes but ultimately ended up getting burned on bubble screens and long passes downfield.
Final Thoughts: The Panthers were upset after the game that they had let another win slip through their grip as they should have been.The team can’t linger over this loss too long because they have to travel and take on a Buffalo Bills team that took Tom Brady and Co. down to the final seconds. There is no sugarcoating it: the upcoming Bills game is a must win for the team. Starting 0-2 would almost be unrecoverable given how talented the NFC South is.