The Carolina Panthers (0-1) offensive line is widely considered one of the top units in the NFL, but Carolina's front five got their butts whipped by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-0) in Week 1, and they need to be called out as a unit and individually.
|Jordan Gross||10th Year||Left Tackle||Allowed sack by DE Michael Bennett; beaten badly on inside move|
|Amini Silatolu||Rookie||Left Guard||Pair of false starts, holding penalty negating 14-yard gain, routinely out of position, allowed a sack|
|Ryan Kalil||Sixth Year||Center||Repeatedly gave up ground in middle of the field, communication with guards needs to improve|
|Geoff Hangartner||Eighth Year||Right Guard||False start, allowed three hurries and a QB hit, dominated by DT Gerald McCoy|
|Byron Bell||Second Year||Right Tackle||Not a good day when Bell has most solid performance on O-line|
Despite starting a rookie at left guard and an undrafted second-year player at right tackle, the Panthers offensive line boasts a pair of Pro Bowlers—left tackle Jordan Gross and center Ryan Kalil—and a solid eight-year veteran in Hangartner.
The Panthers offensive line remains one of the league's top units, but they were badly outplayed on Sunday.
Week 1 Line Struggles
The Panthers, ranked third in the NFL in rushing in 2011 (150.5 yards per game), stumbled to a franchise record-tying low 10 yards rushing against the Buccaneers, mostly due to the offensive line's inability to establish control of the line of scrimmage.
After losing seven yards on DeAngelo Williams' first two carries, Carolina abandoned the run for the rest of the half, while Tampa Bay's rookie runner, Doug Martin (24 carries, 95 yards), consistently picked up yardage in three-, four- and five-yard chunks and gobbled up the clock for 18 minutes and 45 seconds in the first half.
The Buccaneers, who fired their coaching staff and hired new head coach Greg Schiano after losing 10 straight games to close the 2011 season, finished 30th against the run (156.1 yards allowed per game) last season, but they are No. 1 in the same category after one game in 2012.
Tampa Bay shut down the Carolina Panthers' running game by stacking eight men in the box and dominating the line of scrimmage on Raymond James Stadium's soggy field.
The Panthers were at a disadvantage playing without injured running back Jonathan Stewart (ankle) whose single-cut, downhill running style would have been more effective in the wet conditions than the quicker, more evasive Williams, but without any holes to run through, he likely would have struggled, too.
Rebounding in Week 2
Carolina plays its home opener—and second divisional game of the season—against the New Orleans Saints (0-1) this Sunday.
It is imperative for the Panthers offensive line to establish control of the line of scrimmage early in the game in order to run effectively, control the clock and keep Drew Brees and the Saints' quick-strike offense off the field.
Stewart is listed as "questionable" for Carolina's Week 2 matchup against the Saints, according to ESPN.com, but the Panthers cannot afford to use backfield personnel as an excuse.
No matter who carries the ball against New Orleans, the Panthers offensive line has to do a more effective job at winning individual battles and opening up running lanes for the backs and for Cam Newton.
A Clean Slate
The Carolina Panthers are still fundamentally the same team that ran for more than 150 yards per game in 2011.
And New Orleans showed its vulnerability against the run last weekend, when the defense gave up 153 yards rushing in a 40-32 loss to the Washington Redskins (1-0).
But in a copycat league in which teams adopt the latest and greatest strategies seemingly overnight, the Bucs will be tempted to employ the same eight-man front used by Tampa Bay until Cam Newton, Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell and Greg Olsen burn them consistently in the passing game.
I have often stated that the Carolina Panthers are at their best when they run the football more often than they pass, and my theory was proven to be correct once again when Rob Chudzinski's offense ran the ball just 13 times compared to 33 passes in Week 1.
However, circumstances and execution predicate offensive play-calling, and neither worked in the Panthers' favor last weekend.
Carolina needs its wide receivers, tight ends and fullback to block effectively in order to break long runs downfield, but it all starts up front with the offensive line.
If the Panthers hope to have a chance to beat the Saints and escape the NFC South cellar this weekend, Ryan Kalil, Byron Bell, Jordan Gross, Geoff Hangartner and Amini Silatolu each need to step up their games.
Fortunately, they get to start all over on Sunday with a clean slate and a dry field.
Jimmy Grappone is a Featured Columnist covering the Carolina Panthers and the NFL on BleacherReport.com.
You can follow me on Twitter @jimmygrappone and be sure to check out my archives for more Panthers articles.
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