Panthers vs. Saints: Instant Grades and Analysis for Carolina's Week 2 Game

Stephen FenechCorrespondent ISeptember 16, 2012

Panthers vs. Saints: Instant Grades and Analysis for Carolina's Week 2 Game

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    The Carolina Panthers beat the New Orleans Saints in Week 2 of the NFL season by a score 35-27. The victory was the Panthers first, while Drew Brees and the Saints remain winless.

    Cam Newton, Brandon LaFell and the bevy of talented running backs were able to consistently move the ball against the Saints defense.

    Carolina's defense made enough stops to keep Drew Brees and his explosive from getting into a rhythm for much of the game.   

    Let's take a look at the Panthers' final post game grades and evaluations. 

Cam Newton- B+

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    Overall Grade- B+

    Cam Newton went 14-for-20 for 253 yards and a touchdown without throwing an interception.

    After a week 1 performance that saw Newton gain just four yards on the ground, the Panthers decided to use Newton's ground prowess more against the Saints. He carried the ball 13 times for 71 yards and found the end zone once.

    Newton's play set the tone of the game and his performance allowed him to beat Drew Brees and the Saints for the first time in his career.   

    Fourth Quarter- B+ 

    Cam Newton found a wide-open Steve Smith who made things happen after the catch on a play that put the Panthers back in the red zone.

    Newton took the snap on second-and-goal and ran the ball into the end zone to give the Panthers a dominant 15-point lead.

    Newton was unable to rush for a first-down on a third-and-seven, which would have ended the game.  

    Third Quarter- B 

    Cam Newton rolled out to his right on his first passing attempt of the second half and hit Greg Olsen to move the chains.

    On second-and-nine, Newton threw a ball that should have been intercepted by Patrick Robinson. The fortunate dropped pick was followed by Newton intelligently throwing the ball away.

    Newton has managed the game well and is trusting his feet more during Week 2, which has led to a more potent Panthers attack.  

    Second Quarter- A-

    Cam Newton is starting to get things going on the ground, but hasn't been very successful through the air.

    Newton was stopped on fourth-and-inches and his toss to his tailback on the option was unsuccessful.

    Cam hasn't led the Panthers offense to any points thus far, and he will have to hope his defense can keep them in the game.

    Newton hit Jonathan Stewart for a touchdown to give the Panthers the lead. He appears to be in his element at home against the Saints and the Newton-LaFell combination has been dangerous this afternoon. 

    Newton has been finding Brandon LaFell all over the place and hit him for 19-yards. On a big third-and-two, Newton took the snap and picked up the first down on a designed run to give the Panthers a first-and-goal inside the five.   

    First Quarter- B

    Cam Newton completed the only throw he attempted on his opening drive, throwing a dart to Brandon LaFell for 27 yards.

    After getting sacked and seeing Jonathan Stewart get swallowed up in the backfield, Newton scrambled for over ten yards but couldn't get the first down.

    On the first play of his second drive, Newton ran the ball for 40-yards in a vintage Cam moment.  

Offense- B+

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    Overall Grade- B+

    The offensive line played much better in Week 2, and Brandon LaFell was nothing short of excellent against the Saints.

    The offense scored 28 points, which was 18 more than last week.

    The return of Jonathan Stewart made a big difference, as he was a threat to move the ball on the ground and through the air.

    If the offense can continue to mix things up for the rest of the season, opposing defensive coordinators will have a hard time finding a scheme that will slow the Panthers down.  

    Fourth Quarter- B

    Cam Newton found a wide-open Steve Smith who sprinted down deep into Saints territory for a 66-yard gain. On the next play, Jonathan Stewart gained three yards on the ground to put the Panthers on the 11-yard line. 

    On a play that seemed destined to fail, Newton found Kealoha Pilares who made a move and gained six yards to give Newton a third-and-short. DeAngelo Williams barely converted on third-and-short to give the Panthers a first-and-goal.

    After Williams got stuffed on a draw, Newton took the ball up the middle for a six-yard touchdown run.

    After the turnover on downs by the Saints, the Panthers were unable to move the chains and were forced to punt the ball back to Drew Brees and company.

    This grade would have been much higher if the Panthers had been able to run out more clock when they got the ball back with seven minutes left in the fourth quarter.

    Third Quarter- B+

    The Panthers converted for a first down on their first set of downs, but were unable to move the chains again. While Carolina had the momentum to open up the half, a strong drive by the Saints would swing the momentum in their favor.

    Cam Newton and Brandon LaFell continue to make things happen, as the two connected on a 20-yard strike. That first down was followed by a Newton run that didn't net Carolina any yards.

    Jonathan Stewart's return has been a spark for the offense, as he broke a 16-yard run that was followed by a DeAngelo Williams 27-yard burst.

    With about nine minutes left in the third quarter, the Panthers are starting to dominate the Saints with their ground game.

    Steve Smith drew a defensive pass interference call, but was injured on the play and must come out of the game for at least one play.

    DeAngelo Williams took a handoff from Newton and ran up the middle on first-and-goal to give the Panthers a 28-13 lead.

    Steve Smith was carted off the field due to cramping and will hopefully be back if they need him in the fourth quarter.

    Deep in their own territory, Newton hit Mike Tolbert on a delayed pass into the flat, who then rumbled for a first down and kept Drew Brees on the sideline.

    Second Quarter- B+

    The Panthers opened the second quarter in Saints territory and the combination of Cam Newton and DeAngelo Williams on the ground picked up two first downs to open the period.

    Carolina failed to convert on a fourth-and-inches and turned the ball over to the Saints.

    On the first play of the drive's second quarter, Newton threw a strike to 22-yard strike to Brandon LaFell. That completion marks the second big completion between the two this afternoon.

    The Panthers are continuing to pound the ball on the ground, but were called for holding and Newton only gained four yards on the play after.

    Newton hit Jonathan Stewart for his second passing touchdown of the year to put the Panthers up 14-13.

    After the Saints punt, the Panthers performed a variation of the Statue of Liberty play that saw Newton hand the ball off to LaFell who picks up 25-yards on the ground.  

    First Quarter- C+ 

    Cam Newton threw a beautiful strike to Brandon LaFell for a 27-yard completion, which was a great response to the Saints opening touchdown. 

    DeAngelo Williams gained the first down via two rushes, but Newton was sacked to put Carolina in an unfavorable down and yardage situation. 

    After the sack, the Saints tackled Jonathan Stewart for a loss and tackled a scrambling Newton before he could pick up the first down.

    Newton broke off a 40-yard run to get the Panthers back into Saints territory. While the Carolina offense hasn't scored any points yet, it is encouraging that they are moving the ball.  

Defense- B+

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    Overall Grade- B+

    Just like last week, the defense got strong as the game went on. 

    While the Saints did score a touchdown in both the third and fourth quarters, that isn't that bad considering the opponent. 

    The defense just has to slow down opposing offenses enough to ensure that Cam Newton and the offense can outscore them. 

    Chris Gamble, Charles Johnson and Jon Beason all made big plays against the Saints in Week 2 and that will have to continue if the Panthers want to compete in a very dangerous NFC Sout. 

    Fourth Quarter- B

    Marques Colston was the beneficiary of Josh Norman falling down, allowing the Saints to convert a big first down and get inside the Panthers 25-yard line.

    The Saints offense is clearly still fighting, as Pierre Thomas broke multiple tackles to get the ball to the one-yard line. On the next play, Mark Ingram easily got into the end zone to inch the Saints closer.

    Pierre Thomas gashed the Panthers for 48-yards with about nine minutes left in the fourth quarter, putting more pressure on the Panthers defense.

    Chris Gamble made a great deflection on a nice pass from Drew Brees that would have resulted in a touchdown to Jimmy Graham. On fourth-and-four with the game on the line, the Panthers made a big stop and got off the field.

    When Brees got the ball back, Brees was sacked on first down and connected on a six-yard passes to Darren Sproles and Jimmy Graham to move the chains.

    Later in the drive, Marques Colston caught a pass and fought his way inside the one-yard line as the game took a break due to the two-minute warning.

    After getting stuffed on first-and-goal, Brees scored on a quarterback sneak to make it a one-score game.  

    When the Saints got the ball back with 48 seconds left and no timeouts, Jon Beason picked off Drew Brees to end the game and give the Panthers their first win of the season. 

    Third Quarter- B+

    The Panthers forced the Saints to punt on their opening possession, which was a big after the Panthers offense couldn't produce a quality drive to open the half. Both the secondary and defensive line have been performing adequately thus far against one of the most explosive offensives in the NFL.

    Midway through the third quarter, the Saints receivers have combined for two catches and 22 receiving yards.

    A strong rush off the edge by Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson forced Drew Brees to get called for intentional grounding and forced the Saints to punt.

    Second Quarter- B-

    Drew Brees hit Jimmy Graham on a third-and-six deep in their own territory to convert for a first down. The Panthers are having a very hard time covering Graham, who is getting open on command.

    Darren Sproles has continued his dominance over the Panthers in the first half, as the Panthers are having a hard time accounting for him when Brees steps back to pass.

    The Panthers managed to get Brees and the Saints off the field before they drove the entire length of the field, and need the offense to sustain and drive and keep Brees on the sideline.

    On the Saints final drive of the first half, the Panthers shut them down and got Cam Newton the ball back with just over two minutes left in the half.  

    First Quarter- C 

    The defense got burned on a third-and-five on the Saints first drive, as Darren Sproles made a couple Panthers miss for an 18-yard play.

    On the Saints next third down, Drew Brees found Sproles for another big completion which put them on the edge of the redone. 

    Brees found Jimmy Graham for the touchdown to cap off their first drive. Not a good first defensive drive of the day for the Panthers.

    Charles Godfrey picked off Drew Brees and returned it for a touchdown from the Saints 9-yard line to even up the game.

    Off the interception, Brees hit Jimmy Graham for two big plays to put the Saints back in the red zone.

    Carolina made a stop in the red zone, and kept the Saints to a field goal.

    This grade would have been an "F" had it not been for Godfrey's big play.  

Special Teams- B+

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    Overall Grade- B+

    No gaffes from the special teams unit against the Saints, and they recovered the onside kick that allowed the offense to run out the majority of the clock.

    Brad Nortman was solid once again, and Justin Medlock hit the extra points that were asked of him.

    Joe Adams wasn't able to get anything going in the return game, but at least he didn't make any major mistakes.  

    Fourth Quarter- A

    After the Cam Newton touchdown, the Panthers kick off coverage team tackled Darren Sproles at the 11-yard line.  

    With five minutes left in the quarter, Brad Nortman punted the ball that bounced inbounds before going out that pinned the Saints inside their 20-yard line.

    After the Saints scored a touchdown to come within eight with less than two minutes less, the Panthers recovered the onside pick to give the offense a chance to run out the clock.  

    Third Quarter- C

    Darren Sproles returned a Brad Nortman punt 16-yards to the Saints 27-yard line. While it would have been nice to pin Drew Brees deep in their territory, Sproles is electrifying and stopping him from taking it all the way was a win in itself because he was in the open field.

    The Saints punt coverage pinned the Panthers inside the five, but that was more of a nice play by New Orleans than a gaffe on Carolina's part.

    Darren Sproles made a couple nice moves after a good Nortman punt, but he was ultimately pushed out of bounds by the Panthers coverage.  

    Second Quarter- C 

    Joe Adams took a kick off back to the 26-yard line and the return game is yet to be a factor in this game.

    Not much to report on in terms of special teams thus far but that could change in the second half.  

    First Quarter- B

    Joe Adams returned the first kick off to the Panther 24-yard line. Interesting to see Adams returning kick offs rather than Kealoha Pilares.

    Brad Nortman pinned the Saints inside their ten-yard line on his first punt. The great punt put pressure on the Saints and contributed to the Charles Godfrey interception.

Coaching- A-

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    Overall Grade- A-

    Ron Rivera and the rest of the Panthers coaching staff have beaten the New Orleans Saints for the first time under the second-year head coach.

    The Panthers coaching staff got back to running the ball and it clearly paid dividends as their talented backfield found the holes created by the offensive line all afternoon. 

    Rivera now has the get the team ready for a game against the New York Giants on Thursday Night. 

    Fourth Quarter- A-

    On a fourth-and-four with 7:19 left in the fourth quarter Ron Rivera called a timeout to throw the Saints off rhythm and to talk about the potential game ending stop coming up. After a strong rush by Charles Johnson that caused a fumble, Drew Brees recovered the ball and threw an incomplete pass.

    When you can get a strong pass rush with your front four, a lot of simple defensive calls will earn coaches strong praise for their coverage no matter what it was. 

    Third Quarter- B+

    Ron Rivera and his coaching staff have managed to out coach the Saints staff up to this point. As stated earlier, the Panthers are focused on rushing the ball and Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams and Cam Newton and they are breaking off huge chunks of yards every time they get the ball.

    Rivera's defense has played pretty well all day and made the proper adjustments to slow down Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles.  

    Second Quarter- B-

    The Panthers found themselves in a fourth-and-inches situation inside the five and Ron Rivera decided to roll the dice.

    The Saints stopped the attempted option and took over possession. While it didn't work, you can't kill Rivera for deciding to go for it on fourth-and-inches, although the option play call was somewhat questionable.

    It's nice to see that Rivera isn't scared to take chances when he believes the odds are in his favor.  

    First Quarter- C 

    Ron Rivera saw the Saints drive down the field for a touchdown on their first drive and then his offense was forced to punt.

    The Panthers focused on running the ball on their first drive, and it was nice to see them get back to what they do best. 

    Things turned when Charles Godfrey took an interception back to the house, but it remains to be seen if the defense can slow down the Saints over the span of the game.