The Carolina Panthers fell behind 10-3 in the first quarter of Saturday’s Week 1 preseason game against the Houston Texans in Charlotte, N.C. After swapping field goals in the second quarter, Carolina evened the score at 13 before the half.
When the teams came out of the locker room for the second half, it was all Houston. The Texans scored 13 unanswered points to beat Carolina 26-13.
It’s time to push optimism aside in Panther Nation. There’s still work to be done before this team can turn the corner and compete for a playoff spot.
Talk of playoff runs and full-page ads guaranteeing Super Bowl victories should probably wane while the Panthers look to fix problems that plagued the team a year ago.
Not to mention the Panthers need to get healthier.
Both Jon Beason and Thomas Davis missed Saturday’s game, as the linebacker corps remains a MASH unit. So did wide receivers David Gettis and Rico Wallace, cornerback Brandon Hogan and guard Mike Pollak.
Here are four other observations about Saturday’s loss:
Was Saturday just an off night for Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy, or are the Panthers in trouble?
1. Zero pass rush
The Panthers got little to no pressure on the quarterback Saturday, specifically when the first teams were in for both teams.
Tom Sorensen of the Charlotte Observer has screamed throughout training camp that Carolina’s biggest concern should be the lack of a pass rush. Nothing Saturday showed him to be wrong.
Houston quarterback Matt Schaub completed passes of nine and 21 yards on the Texans' opening drive.
He led the Texans 65 yards on nine plays, completing 3-of-5 passes in a scoring drive that consumed a little more than four minutes. On that drive, Schaub had all the time in the world to make decisions.
It’s difficult to draw conclusions off one series, but the NFC South is chock full of quarterbacks who will make a defense pay dearly if given extra time. If the Panthers can’t find ways to harass opposing passers, guys like Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Josh Freeman will enjoy playing against Carolina.
2. Panthers fail on special teams
Rookie Joe Adams had a wonderful punt return in the third quarter, cutting back and reversing his field on a 34-yard return.
That pumped up quarterback Cam Newton, who playfully chased Adams from the Carolina sideline. It should also pump up Panthers’ fans who need to remember that this return by Adams was twice as long as any Carolina punt return last year, according to the Rock Hill Herald.
But after the Adams return, Carolina stunk on special teams.
The Panthers allowed Trindon Holliday to average 53 yards on three kickoff returns, including a 90-yard return for a touchdown.
Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer described the effort as lackluster and said the special teams unit looked much like last year’s, even though Carolina hired a new “assistant special teams coach in the offseason, signed several free agents with strong special teams resumes and selected a pair of specialists with two of their seven draft picks.”
3. Kuechly Shined
It wasn’t all doom and gloom in Carolina’s 2012 debut. Rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly, the team's first pick in the draft, was a monster on the field.
Kuechly notched four tackles—including a tackle behind the line of scrimmage—and forced an Arian Foster fumble on a hit from behind. On that play, Kuechly accelerated to catch up to the running back.
Coach Ron Rivera had this to say about Kuechly in a report in the Rock Hill Herald.
Luke came out and showed what he’s capable of doing in terms of football plays. He came off the sideline and said, ‘Man that was fast.’ Once he got past that first series, you saw what he was capable of.
4. The rich got richer
The Panthers already had the only backfield in the NFL that produced three rushers who gained more than 700 yards last season. The two-headed monster of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, combined with Cam Newton, ran roughshod over opposing defenses last year.
Everyone knew that the addition of fullback Mike Tolbert via free agency was going to enhance Carolina’s run game. What people didn’t expect was undrafted rookie Tauren Poole making it an even more crowded house.
Poole ran four times Saturday for 26 yards and a touchdown and had the crowd switching between chants of “Poole” and verses of “Rocky Top” (the fight song from Poole’s alma mater Tennessee), according to the Rock Hill Herald.
Throughout camp Poole has been playing with a chip on his shoulder. The Panthers don’t need another running back. Poole does need a job come Week 1 in the NFL, however. With more performances like Saturday, Poole could make roster decisions in the backfield very intriguing.