“It should give us a good feel for where we are and what we need to work on.” Those were the pregame words of head coach Ron Rivera before the Carolina Panthers took the field against the New England Patriots for their third preseason game Friday night at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, MA. It turns out the Panthers still have quite a bit to work on.
The buzz surrounding the Carolina Panthers the past few days since their 30-7 loss to the Patriots surround quarterback Cam Newton’s health, the resurgence of several questions thought to be well on their way to being answered, and the first round of cuts. NFL teams were required to reduce their rosters to 75 players Tuesday; a complete list of the 14 roster moves made to trim the roster follows this article.
The questions that have unfortunately resurfaced include Newton’s health, the stability of the offensive line, and the play of the secondary and the defensive reserves, especially in the secondary.
Regarding Newton’s health, his ankle looked fine; unfortunately his ribs are not, as Newton took a hard hit and fractured a rib late in the first half, after running for his life for most of it. In addition to the constant scrambling, Newton didn’t look sharp throwing the ball. Although his velocity was great, his timing wasn’t, resulting in many overthrows. The lack of chemistry between Newton and his receivers is clear. Newton’s latest injury will not help that chemistry.
Newton will miss the preseason finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers due to the fractured rib; the team expects Newton to be ready to the season opener September 7th when the Panthers play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The offensive line is another story. After making strides through the preseason, culminating in relatively solid play against a stout Kansas City Chiefs defense, they floundered against an arguably better Patriots defense. That point alone might excuse the poor play of the line, and in further defense of the Panthers offensive line, they were missing two key players; the right side of the line missed the game, as both right guard Trai Turner and right tackle Nate Chandler were nursing injuries. Left tackle Byron Bell’s play was especially alarming opposite defensive end Chandler Jones, an emerging star.
Regardless of the level of play by the opposition, rising stars, or injuries, no Panthers fan wants to here this knowing they will face defenses like the Seattle Seahawks, and potentially the San Francisco 49ers, through the course of the season and playoffs.
The first team defense played well. The second and third team defenses did not. The Patriots are a good offensive team, with a similar offensive style to the Panthers. They both run the ball well, have questions at wide receiver, utilize their tight ends often, and have franchise quarterbacks running the show, although said quarterbacks have different styles. The Patriot’s offensive line is also considerably better than the Panthers. Despite this, and the absence of defensive end Charles Johnson, the front seven played exceptional, especially linebacker Thomas Davis.
The problem was the second and third units, which had trouble covering the Patriots receivers, despite getting some pressure on Brady and rookie Jimmy Garoppolo. Penalties were also a huge problem. Although it’s become a league-wide problem this preseason, the stress on the illegal contact between players, including illegal hands to the face, resulted in several chippy penalties that extended many Patriot’s drives or canceled out great pressure. Regardless, the Patriots put up 17 second-half points, mostly with second and third team units.
The play of the offensive line and the secondary must improve if the Carolina Panthers are going to compete in the NFC. The Panthers schedule might rank in the lower third of projected schedules for 2014, but those projections are based on 2013. Teams on the Panther’s schedule have improved, and there will be no easy road to the Super Bowl. The Panthers have Championship aspirations, but they face tough competition, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
The offensive line is the anchor for one of the league’s best run games, and the Carolina Panthers offense can’t afford to regress because of poor offensive line play. The defense is arguably the best in the league, the only real argument based on the inexperienced secondary and the lack of reliable reserves. The second and third team defenses can’t be allowed to waste the talents of the best front seven in the NFL. Now consider that front seven and the running backs comprise ~46% of the 2014 salary cap – suddenly the situation becomes serious.
The Carolina Panthers have a chance to right the ship before the regular season against the Steelers Thursday night in their preseason finale in Pittsburgh, the team’s second straight preseason game on the road. The Panthers face the Steelers again in the regular season week three in Charlotte, NC. Although the Steelers have question themselves entering 2014, it will prove a formidable test on the road in front of a hostile crowd, nonetheless.
The preseason finale will provide a chance for some players to make the team, as there are positions still open. “We’ve got three-to-six positions that are really still up in the air.’ Rivera told reporters, ‘There are a lot of guys that have done some good things and put themselves right on that cusp.” Rivera also said the first teams would get extended play after their embarrassing loss to New England on a short week.
Players not expected to play other than Newton include Johnson for the third straight preseason game, and Turner, who’ll miss his second straight preseason game. With Newton’s injury, second team quarterback Derek Anderson awaiting the birth of his child, and quarterback Matt Blanchard on injured reserve, Joe Webb will get extended action. “He can’t get hurt,” Rivera said. The preseason finale will also showcase the debut of free agent safety Roman Harper, out for the entire preseason with turf toe.
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List of moves to cut roster to 75 players
QB Matt Blanchard
OL Kevin Matthews
TE D.C. Jefferson
Physically Unable to Perform:
CB De’Andre Presley
WR Tiquan Underwood
WR Toney Clemons
P Jordan Gray
DT Linden Gaydosh
T Oscar Johnson
WR Marvin McNutt
LB Anthony Morales
WR Kealoha Pilares
DE Craig Roh