Kansas City vs Carolina: Report Card Grades for Each Panthers Unit
The Carolina Panthers (1-1) notched their first win of the preseason with a victory over the Kansas City Chiefs (1-1). There were some good plays made by the Panthers and some that will require the team to do some work later this week. For a game that marked the return of Cam Newton, this tilt was highlighted by the running game—and none of it involved Newton.
With two weeks left to go in the preseason, some players left an indelible mark on the field with the fans and perhaps with the coaches. Rosters will be trimmed down, so every positive thing counts. For a meaningless exhibition game, it's the only thing that counts.
So, how did the different positions stack up?
Each unit had its pros and cons. The preseason serves as a means to separate those who can make plays from those who aren't up to the challenge. The next several slides will break down each positional unit along with a final grade for Sunday's game.
Much was made about Cam Newton's return Sunday. He wasn't bad, but he wasn't good either. He finished the night four of nine passing for 65 yards. He looked a bit rusty, but it was his first live game action of the preseason, so he should be able to bounce back. He used his mobility to avoid the pass rush at times, and he seemed to move around without any problems. Despite being sacked twice, he didn't do anything questionable or make any plays that could have jeopardized his health.
Derek Anderson replaced Newton just before the half. Of the four Carolina quarterbacks to appear in the game, he had the most success. He completed five of eight passes for 91 yards and a score. If anything, he shored up his case to remain Newton's backup.
The third quarterback of the evening, Joe Webb, wasn't spectacular, but he did have some nice throws. He put really good touch on a ball that was dropped by Tavarres King and finished his night two completions out of three attempts. That was good enough for 27 yards.
The game was closed out by Matt Blanchard, who did not throw the ball once.
All of the quarterbacks did a good job of making effective throws, and despite seeing a few batted around, none of them were intercepted. Overall, Ron Rivera and Mike Shula have to like what they saw from their signal callers.
Seventeen attempts for 97 yards and three touchdowns.
That was the production between Jonathan Stewart and Fozzy Whittaker on Sunday night. The running game set the tone for the Carolina Panthers, and the success of both men reminded fans of when the running game was a dominant force in the Queen City.
Stewart made the most out of two goal line opportunities to find pay dirt, while Whittaker showed an excellent burst of speed and power to dominate the second half. He would lead the team in rushing with 13 carries for 71 yards and a score.
DeAngelo Williams didn't do much with his three attempts as he only gained nine yards on the night. Interestingly enough, Mike Tolbert only carried the rock once, but with Stewart and Whittaker finding success in the backfield, it was of little consequence.
Kenjon Barner was pulling double duty as a running back and return man. He did well from the backfield as he rushed for 18 yards on seven carries. He did a good job of finding running room, but now he faces some legitimate competition from Whittaker.
There may be an unexpected position battle developing for the remainder of the preseason.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
Brenton Bersin made a strong case to make the team. He tied Kelvin Benjamin for the most catches on the evening with two, and despite having only 29 yards compared to the rookie's 41, he caught the only touchdown pass of the Carolina offense. That was a 16-yard reception from Derek Anderson in the third quarter. It would seem that his hard work in camp is paying off.
Benjamin was targeted four times, but he only caught two of them. An argument could be made that one of those passses was overthrown by Cam Newton. Regardless, he is providing reason to feel optimistic about the receiving corps as the regular season approaches.
The tight ends Brandon Williams and Ed Dickson did well in their appearances. Williams stood out the most as he held firm on his lone reception. A group of Kansas City defenders could not take him down, and it took the referee's whistle to blow the play dead as his movement was halted.
It's unknown how many tight ends the Panthers will carry, but Williams showed how tough he is, and that could go a long way for him when it comes down to final cuts.
Those not making any catches included Jerricho Cotchery, Marvin McNutt and Tavarres King. King dropped a beautiful pass from Joe Webb and looked to have hurt his knee going to the turf. He seemed to be alright but will have to use the next two games to prove he deserves to stay on the 53-man roster.
The offensive line gave up four sacks for a loss of 33 yards. The offensive tackles seemed to hold their own as Byron Bell and Nate Chandler did well in protection. Amini Silatolu put a nice block on his man when Cam Newton was flushed from the pocket, but instead of staying on him, he opted to help his quarterback find running room.
Whether or not he did the right thing is up for debate.
Essentially, the player blocked by Silatolu was able to recover and get to Newton. However, for much of the first half, the Carolina offensive line did a good job of keeping their quarterback upright.
The most glaring concern was the inability to open up running lanes early in the game. However, enough was done to allow Jonathan Stewart to score twice in the first half of the game. If running lanes are created enough throughout the course of the game, the Panthers' rushing attack should be a force in 2014.
The backups did an exceptional job in the last half of the game as evidenced by Fozzy Whittaker's performance. If anything, there is reason for optimism as far as depth on the line is concerned.
For the most part, the defensive line was quiet but effective. They were able to win the battle up front despite letting the Chiefs move the ball on them early in both halves. Star Lotulelei was able to record a sack on a huge blitzing play in the second quarter.
Carolina decided to rotate their defensive ends frequently during the game probably due to Charles Johnson's hamstring injury that he was returning from and the possibility of Greg Hardy being suspended. The Panthers will lose Frank Alexander for the first four games, so moving their ends around made a lot sense as the regular season draws closer.
There is still a lot to learn about this unit and what can be expected of it this season. The answer probably won't come until September.
One thing that stood out about Luke Kuechly during Sunday's game did not involve him on the field.
While some of the other starters were in street clothes or joking around on the sideline, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year was still in pads and watching the game closely. There was a moment where he was seen counting the number of Kansas City players on the field.
His on-field production was impressive too.
Kuechly recorded four tackles, one sack and an interception before his night was over. He looks primed for another Pro Bowl-caliber season if this game was any indication.
A.J. Klein had a huge interception himself in the third quarter. His pick gave the Panthers excellent field position that led to another score. Thomas Davis put on another strong showing and hasn't seemed to lose a step as he registered three tackles and nearly had a pick.
Backup linebacker Adarius Glanton had a sack in the second half, and while he may not make the the final roster, he did show enough to make cutting him a difficult decision. Hopefully, he can follow up Sunday's game with two more strong performances.
The defensive backs were tested early and often by Kansas City wide receiver Dwayne Bowe. The veteran receiver had five catches for 62 yards and seemed to give the cornerbacks fits at times. Fortunately, he was unable to find the end zone.
Antoine Cason made two consecutive big plays during the game, and Melvin White showed why he deserves to be a starter in Week 1. Each had six tackles with White adding a defensed pass to his list of accolades on the evening.
Charles Godfrey and Thomas DeCoud each recorded three tackles and look to be ready for the regular season.
Roman Harper did not play as he is recovering from a turf toe injury. Hopefully, he will be back before the regular season begins.
If there were any concerns about Graham Gano's sore back, they should be put to rest. The veteran place kicker was perfect on all of his point-after attempts following the Panthers' four scores. He nearly missed on one as it just squeezed inside the upright. Regardless, he looked good and didn't seem to be limited on his kicks.
Brad Nortman and Jordan Gay each took turns punting the ball. Nortman was his typical strong self as he averaged 64 yards per punt. By comparison, Gay was unimpressive as he averaged only 16.5 yards on both of his attempts. There is no battle here, and Nortman should remain the team's punter.
Both Philly Brown and Kenjon Barner took turns fielding kicks. There is a chance that both could start, but the competition is far from over. Combined, they averaged 32 yards per return with Brown getting the slight advantage with 32.5 yards per return. Additionally, he fielded punts during the game, but nothing came of them.
A won challenge, sound coaching and good decision-making all led to a win for the fourth-year Carolina coach. Ron Rivera didn't have to gamble too much in this one as the Panthers were able to take the lead late in the game and hold on for the victory.
Perhaps the most notable thing Rivera did Sunday was talking to rookie Kelvin Benjamin and keeping him from losing his cool when he got into it with a Kansas City defensive back on the sidelines. It is that kind of mentoring that will allow his team to make wise decisions and keep unnecessary penalties from occurring that could hurt in the long run.
Both Mike Shula and Sean McDermott did well with their play calling.
Shula has to be impressed with how well the running game performed, while McDermott's defense stepped up when it had to in key situations.
Running Backs: A-
Wide Reivers and Tight Ends: C+
Offensive Line: B+
Defensive Line: B-
Special Teams: B
Cumulative Grade: B-
The Carolina Panthers showed a lot of good things against Kansas City, but there is still room for improvement. Carolina has a short week ahead of them before facing New England on Friday.
All stats courtesy of ESPN.com.