Panthers vs. Chargers: Final Grades, Analysis for Carolina

Charles Edwards@@CEdwards80Contributor IDecember 16, 2012

Panthers vs. Chargers: Final Grades, Analysis for Carolina

0 of 5

    The Carolina Panthers (5-9) defeated the San Diego Chargers (5-9) 31-7.  This is the first winning streak for the Panthers this season and dominated on both sides of the ball.  Ron Rivera and Mike Tolbert both impressed on their return to San Diego and did so in grand fashion.

    Cam Newton played well and Mike Tolbert has had a great game with two rushing scores.  Obviously, the defense has been doing their part as they have pressured Rivers and kept him from making plays and keeping him on the run.

    The defense kept the Chargers off the board for slightly over three quarters when they gave up a touchdown within the first minute of the fourth quarter.  Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy led the defensive line in disrupting the San Diego passing game.

    The win moves the Panthers within a game of division foes New Orleans and Tampa Bay and should use this victory as a motivational tool to win out the season.

    Here are the final game grades and analysis.

Cam Newton

1 of 5

    There is no denying Newton has played well over the past few weeks and he continued to do so against San Diego.  While there won't be a playoff appearance for him or the Panthers this season, the way he has rebounded has been impressive. 

    He finished the day 19/33 for 231 yards and two touchdowns.  His quarterback rating was was an excellent 99.4 and he continued his streak of being turnover free. 

    Newton is 4-3 over the last seven games and given his level of recent play should put to bed any doubts about his future as the Panthers' franchise quarterback.

    Final Grade: A


    4th Quarter Grade: A

    Newton may be young but he is shown signs of maturity as evidenced by his reaction to a low snap.  Instead of trying to pick it up and run, he just fell on the ball allowing the Panthers to retain possession. 

    While many have taken notice of Newton's improved play on the field, it's the small things that are beginning to impress.  Currently, he holds the franchise mark for most completions without throwing an interception at 153.  That number certainly can increase before this game is over. 

    3rd Quarter Grade: A

    Cam Newton has looked sharp in the second half with completions to Smith and Olsen helping move Carolina deep into Chargers territory.  Newton was able to find Smith in the end zone and despite the throw being low and away, Smith was able to haul it in for the score. 

    It's hard to believe he was struggling early this season.  At this stage of the game he has 7,490 passing yards after two seasons of play putting him in the same company as Hall of Famer Dan Marino and future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning.  There shouldn't be any doubts about this young man's future in the NFL

    He was a little off during the Panthers' second possession of the third quarter but Carolina should begin to focus on killing the clock as they are playing to win after building a huge a lead.

    While the play calling has gravitated towards the run game, Newton is still making plays by going through his reads and finding the open receiver.  He shouldn't be called upon to do too much with the score being so one sided, so expect the Panthers to rush the ball more in the final quarter.


    2nd Quarter Grade: B+

    Newton and company have been very lucky in this game.  What seemed to be another sack resulted in a shovel pass to Tolbert turning 2nd and long into 3rd and short.  Newton is definitely doing his part to make plays regardless of how ugly or unorthodox they may be. 

    While it was incomplete, watching him avoid pressure and make a deep strong throw to Louis Murphy was very impressive.  One can only imagine how nice it would have been had he completed the pass.

    A scary moment late in the quarter saw Newton dealing with a hurt knee but fortunately he stayed in the game and helped get Carolina deep inside San Diego territory.  He was unable to complete a pass in the end zone but he should take solace in knowing his team is up by 24.

    Newton's stat line for the first half is 14 of 27 for 194 yards and one touchdown.  With one half left to play, he could have a very big game.


    1st Quarter Grade: A-

    Newton used his feet to help move the Panthers downfield and he was impressive in avoiding an early sack.  The end result may have been an incompletion but he did his part to make sure Carolina did not lose yards.  His rush on fourth down helped set up first and goal eventually getting the touchdown.  It seems as though Super Cam is going to continue to fly high.

    A couple of hand offs and a completion later, Newton has his Panthers up by two scores against the Chargers.  There is still a lot of football left to play but the momentum is clearly in his favor as well as Carolina.

    One thing about Newton that has improved along with his pocket presence is his field vision.  He has taken his time to find his receivers and while he missed a receiver who appeared to be wide open down the left sideline, he was able to do enough (and get a little luck) to help the Panthers go up 21-0.  Newton will get high marks for the first quarter and it should be interesting to see how he plays the rest of the way.


    Cam Newton is perhaps playing his best football of the year right now.  He has not thrown an interception since the Panthers played Denver, and his team has been 3-3 during a stretch that has seen a transformation of sorts from him.  Much of the same kind of play will be expected of him against the Bolts.

    When the season started, it looked as though he would struggle mightily but has since rebounded to challenge his numbers from last season.  He has thrown over 3,200 yards with 16 touchdowns on the season.  Even more impressive is how low his picks are (10). 

    Carolina's season is practically done, but don't tell him that.  Newton is going to do everything he can to help the Panthers finish on a positive note and give the fanbase a reason for optimism during the offseason.


2 of 5

    The offense looked good and while the offensive line struggled a bit at times with the San Diego pass rush, they kept Newton upright most of the game.  They allowed him time to find his receivers and for the running game to take hold. 

    DeAngelo Williams enjoyed the fruits of their labor as he accumulated 93 rushing yards and had 144 total yards on the day with a touchdown reception.  Steve Smith continued his legacy in Carolina with six catches for 57 yards and a touchdown.  He moved to over a 1,000 yards on the season making it the seventh time he has reach that total in his career. 

    Mike Tolbert made a lot of noise early by having his number called twice deep inside San Diego territory and scoring twice giving the Panthers an early 14-0 advantage.  He finished the day with 64 total yards and had his biggest game as a Panther.

    Final Grade: A+


    4th Quarter Grade: A

    As noted earlier, the offense is becoming more run oriented with the lead and doing their best to run out the clock.  They were unable to much on their first possession of the fourth quarter but it shouldn't affect them too much in the long run.

    Mike Tolbert is still having a great game picking up a huge gain on the ground and helping Carolina maintain possession in the final minutes of the game. Williams could reach 100 yards on the day.  He is close and is having one of his best games of the season. 


    3rd Quarter Grade: A-

    The first series for Carolina in the second half was headlined by Newton, Williams and Smith.  Williams was able to get some big gains on the ground, while Newton found Smith twice.  The second one resulting in a touchdown.  Give credit to Smith for the moves he made on his first reception of the quarter which netted the Panthers a first down. 

    Carolina is building on their lead and showing no signs of slowing down.  The Panthers lead 31-0 with 8:56 left to play in the third quarter.

    The offense wasn't able to do much the second time around but they really don't have to with the score being 31-0 in their favor.  Williams could possibly get to 100 yards rushing if the Panthers continue to pound the ball up the middle. 

    Williams didn't do the Panthers any favors by coughing up the football for the game's first turnover and he will need to have better ball control if he is to help his team close this one out.  Because of the fumble, Carolina gets a slight mark down for the period.


    2nd Quarter Grade: B+

    While the Panthers haven't scored during the first possession of the second quarter, they have made up for it by controlling the clock.  The longer they have the ball the more difficult it will be for San Diego to get back into this game.  The line seems to be seeing more blitz packages from the Chargers defense but have done enough to protect Newton. 

    Carolina is not content sitting on the lead as they are trying to increase their lead before the half.  Steve Smith had another catch using some fancy footwork to stay inbounds for the completion.  An interesting note about Smith is that he has a reception in 89 consecutive games.  Newton completed a beautiful pass to Greg Olsen to set up first and goal at the San Diego five yard line.  While it would have been nice to get the touchdown, the Panthers settled for the field goal.  The three points move Carolina ahead 24-0 seconds before the half.

    Their grade would be higher but they probably should have scored a touchdown given where they were set up on first down.  The only drawback was their lack of timeouts.  However, it's been all Panthers in this one.


    1st Quarter Grade: A+

    Steve Smith has assisted his head coach in the psychological warfare aspect of the game by getting the Chargers to commit a personal foul following his first reception.  Not only did it gain the Panthers additional yards but it was instrumental in setting the tempo early.  Carolina drove down the field, converted on 4th and short and Mike Tolbert was able to score with a leaping effort for the game's first touchdown of the day. 

    Carolina has definitely picked up where they left off by once again scoring on their opening drive.

    The Panthers are making the most of out of San Diego's miscues.  They didn't waste any time move inside their own territory and Tolbert added a second score to make it a 14-0 game.  The former Charger is making quite an impression on his return trip to San Diego with two scores in the first quarter.  The offense is doing quite well on the ground with Newton, Williams and Tolbert making a difference with the running attack.

    A trick play that saw Steve Smith pick up a lot of yards on the ground and lucky tip that allowed DeAngelo Williams to catch a Newton pass for a touchdown have the Panthers up big, 21-0.  Carolina hasn't been this dominant in the opening quarter all year long and could serve as a sign for things to come the rest of the way.



    This unit looked very impressive last week against the Falcons.  Not only did they maintain a dominant time of possession over Atlanta, they scored on their first five possessions, building a 16-0 lead in the process. 

    Steve Smith is enjoying the Newton era given the fact he is set to have another 1,000-yard receiving campaign, and tight end Greg Olsen has been steady and well worth the trade that was made for him prior to the start of last season.

    The interesting aspects of the offense to look at on Sunday will be the offensive line, which was instrumental in allowing Newton to have the time to find his receivers; and the running game, which hasn't been great this season but has shown signs of getting better.  Both will be tested against San Diego's rush defense, which has been stingy on opposing run games.  It is ranked fourth in the league at stopping the run.

    How well this unit executes and maintains control of the ball will go a long way in determining the outcome of this game.  Carolina's offense has improved over the past few weeks and it's looking for much of the same this Sunday.


3 of 5

    What is not to like about the Carolina defense as of late?  They are keeping opponents out of the end zone and their front seven is coming on strong in the waning weeks of the season.  Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy are emerging as the best defensive end tandem since Julius Peppers and Mike Rucker. Each of them had two sacks on the day and gave Philip Rivers a hard time.

    Luke Kuechly had another game in which he was making his presence known.  It didn't matter where the ball ended up, the young linebacker seemed to be involved on nearly every play.  Normally, he leads the team in tackles but this week he gave way to Thomas Davis who recorded 10.  These two have been just a handful of good stories coming from the Carolina defense despite their disappointing record.

    The secondary was helped out by the efforts of the line and linebackers as they were able to lock down the San Diego receivers and prevent the big play.  This unit has been doing well despite not having much experience with the loss of Chris Gamble and Haruki Nakamura on the season.

    Final Grade: A+


    4th Quarter Grade: A

    So much for the shutout as the Panthers gave up a touchdown early in the final quarter.  Philip Rivers found Antonio Gates for the score in the corner of the end zone but Carolina still has a considerable lead.  The defensive front seven has been stout and they shouldn't be letting up in the last minutes of the game.

    Just when the Chargers thought they had something going for them, the Panthers force another fumble and recover, thus killing the drive and essentially putting this game out of reach.  Frank Alexander came up with the recovery and now Carolina will put their offense back on the field to kill more time off the clock.


    3rd Quarter Grade: A

    Greg Hardy notched his tenth sack of the year moving ahead of Charles Johnson for the team lead.  The Panthers could very well have two players with double digit sacks after the end of the season.  It certainly helped the defense get the Chargers off the field with a three and out.  This unit is still looking strong as the second half opened up.

    This defense has been devastating in this game.  Johnson reclaims the lead with another sack which resulted in a fumble.  While the Chargers recovered, the play brought up fourth and long forcing the Chargers to punt again.  This is definitely the way Carolina fans envisioned the defense's play when the season started.

    Pressure, pressure and more pressure.  The Carolina defensive front has made their presence known in this quarter and the San Diego fans are getting weary of it.  Regardless of whether or not they are able to get the sack, the Panthers seem to constantly have someone in the backfield.  Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis have looked great in this one, providing quality defense behind the tackles and ends.

    2nd Quarter Grade: A

    The Carolina defense saw it's longest time on the field in this one but were able to shut down the Chargers and force them to punt.  Rookie Luke Kuechly has been all over the field and making plays.  He should be a great defensive player during his career.  The good news is the Carolina defense is preventing Rivers from making big plays and is a big reason why they are ahead by three touchdowns.

    Charles Johnson is continuing to establish himself as one of the best defense ends in the league.  He was able to get to Rivers for another sack, increasing his team lead.  Another thing to like about Carolina's play on defense is their ability to do the little things.  They were able to knock the ball from Rivers' hands and set up fourth down. 

    You have to give these guys a lot of kudos because they have shut out their opponent in the first half for the second straight week. 


    1st Quarter Grade: A+

    It's always a good defensive series when the opposing quarterback helps out the defense by slipping out of his hands prior to releasing the ball.  The series didn't start off great with a couple of penalties; one of which was a neutral zone infraction against Carolina.  However, the Panthers defense came up big when Philip Rivers fumbled and set up their teammates on offense with excellent field position.

    The defense is continuing to get after Rivers by flushing him from the pocket and throwing the ball away.  No doubt these guys are doing their part to help Carolina get the win.  Two great defensive series has the Panthers in good shape late in the quarter.

    They are still playing hard as the first quarter ends.  A batted ball in the secondary basically put the exclamation point on what has been a dominant Carolina defense in this game.


    The defense started out with a lot of question marks but is poised to have a possible defensive rookie of the year in Luke Kuechly, two defensive ends aiming for double-digit sack numbers and a possible comeback player of the year in Thomas Davis.

    Not bad for a unit that was one of the worst a year ago and definitely not bad for a team missing two key defensive players in Jon Beason and Chris Gamble.

    The Carolina defense was awesome against the Falcons, especially through two-and-a-half quarters where Atlanta was shut out.  The only concern came in the fourth quarter when Atlanta started making a run, but a Davis interception put an end to its momentum.  Carrying over that same work ethic into the San Diego game should be the goal of every man on the defense.

    They have shown flashes of what they can be, but it's time they started playing at a high level for four quarters and establish themselves as one of the best defensive units at the start of 2013.

Special Teams

4 of 5

    It was mentioned in the fourth quarter and put out there the Panthers really didn't need too much of a showing from their special teams unit.  Everyone did their jobs and there were no mistakes committed.  When the offense and defense are both playing at a high level, it shouldn't be a surprise that the special teams see the field too often.

    The kicking game was flawless but the real test will come when they are called upon when the game is on the line.  For now, Graham Gano is doing enough to feel comfortable about the kicking team going forward. 

    There are still a lot of concerns about special teams but at least in this game there wasn't much to worry about as the Panthers dominated from start to finish.

    Final Grade: A


    4th Quarter Grade: A

    Who needs special teams when the offense and defense are rising up?  The Panthers have been quiet on special teams for much of the game and have only accounted for five points courtesy of Gano.  Their job for this period is simply to either pin the Chargers deep or give them decent field position.


    3rd Quarter Grade: A

    An extra point and quality special teams play on the coverage units has the Panthers in good shape.  They haven't done much in this one but really haven't had to because of the score. 


    2nd Quarter Grade: A

    Carolina's first punt of the day resulted in giving the Panthers the ball back following a roughing the kicker penalty.  Call it luck or simply undisciplined play by the Chargers, but the momentum is clearly in the Panthers' favor.  They haven't been spectacular on returns but with a 21-0 lead, they can afford not to be.  They have been doing enough just by holding onto the ball and moving forward instead of backwards on returns.

    Graham Gano kicked a field goal to increase the Carolina lead to 24-0.  This was the consolation prize for the Panthers as they were unable to get the touchdown.


    1st Quarter Grade: A

    The good news is Graham Gano is three for three on extra points.  The punting unit has yet to see the field and that has been a good thing in this game.  The kickoff teams have been looking good early as they have not allowed a big return by the Chargers.


    It's still too early to tell where this part of the Carolina Panthers is headed.  Aside from a missed extra point in his debut, Graham Gano has been solid; however, it is uncertain if he is the long-term solution at kicker.  Brad Nortman has had his woes in the punting department but has seemed to have gotten over his mechanical problems that plagued him at midseason.

    Armanti Edwards, Joe Adams and Armond Smith seem to be the ones responsible for the handling the kick and punt returns for the remainder of the year.  Whether or not they will be the ones who will be the full-time starter at the position after the season is undetermined, but hopefully they provide some incentives as to why they should be.

    Football is a game of field position, and the special teams unit plays a critical role in either getting its offense a great starting point or backing its opponent against the wall.  The guys still have a lot to prove, not only to their teammates but to themselves.


5 of 5

    Ron Rivera beat his old team and boss in convincing fashion Sunday.  He may have done enough to keep his job after the season is over.  The Panthers need a split over their last two games in order to match last year's record but Rivera should be aiming for the sweep. 

    Both Sean McDermott and Rob Chudzinski did an outstanding job with their play calling and they each saw their units play exceptionally well en rout to 31-7 victory.

    McDermott's defense was all over Philip Rivers and were able to shut down the Chargers' offense for most of the game.  They forced four fumbles and recovered two of them.  He may have provided reason to keep his job given how well the defense has played with the number of inexperienced, young guys getting a lot of playing time.

    The offense continued its pace of moving the ball and scoring often as the play calling by Chudzinski played to the team's strengths and allowed Newton to thrive once again.  It would have been interesting to see what the score would have been had the Panthers continued the high tempo that allowed them to hang 24 points in the first half. 

    Regardless, the coaches made good decisions and played to win.  They were interested in preserving their lead and did not make any unnecessary play calls that may have resulted in turnovers or worse. It is hard to grade a coaching effort like today's any lower than perfect.

    Final Grade: A+


    4th Quarter Grade: A+

    Sean McDermott should be proud of his guys.  They have played outstanding football and forced four fumbles in this one.  Life becomes a lot easier when the defense is firing on all cylinders.  For all the good the Chargers have done on offense, it has been negated by the Panthers defense.

    3rd Quarter Grade: A

    Coach Rivera's team is doing what he wanted to do when they started the second half and that is to continue to set the tempo of the game.  Carolina has a big lead and the Chargers don't have an answer for them.

    Everyone on the staff should be feeling good as the Panthers are in control of this one and were able to shut out San Diego through three quarters.

    2nd Quarter Grade: A

    They haven't done anything in terms of flashy or overly creative, but Rivera has his team up and headed to halftime with a big lead.  McDermott's defense is continuing to keep the Chargers in check and Chudzinski has kept his play calling simple even though it hasn't been too effective.

    Regardless of the results in this quarter, the Panthers are still leading and frustrating the Chargers in all aspects of the game.


    1st Quarter Grade: A+

    Ron Rivera has a lot of respect for Norv Turner but he no doubt got into his head during the pregame warm ups. The personal foul penalty and the early score should help Rivera and his crew. 

    With his team getting out to a huge, early lead Rivera is enjoying his return out west.  Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski has done a good job of calling the plays and what has been really impressive is that his calls have been straight forward without too much, if any, trickery.  Sean McDermott's guys have recovered and forced a three and out.  The defense could have another big day.  The 14-0 advantage will certainly help their cause.

    After one quarter of play that has seen dominance on both sides of the ball, one has to give the Carolina coaching staff a lot of credit.  Carolina finds themselves leading big after the first period.


    You have to give Ron Rivera and his staff some credit.  While they have disappointed ownership and the fans, they have made a compelling case to keep their jobs when the season ends.  Ending the year on a four-game winning streak would go a long way to make the decision to release any of them a difficult one.

    Sean McDermott's defense has been playing well lately and it seems as though his guys are finally learning the system.  They were able to pressure Matt Ryan in both games this season and found a way to keep the Falcons off the scoreboard until midway through the third quarter. 

    Rob Chudzinski was probably the one coordinator under the most scrutiny after the offense started off slowly.  However, the re-emergence of Cam Newton and the overall improved play may warrant him another year as the team's offensive mastermind. 

    It should be interesting to see how things play out against San Diego as everyone from the fans to the coaches and the players want to see Carolina get out of town with a win.