Carolina vs New England: Report Card Grades for Each Panthers Unit
The meeting with the New England Patriots didn't go as planned for the Carolina Panthers. After being thoroughly dominated in a 30-7 loss, the Panthers have a lot of work to do before the regular season begins. Making the task more difficult is the fact that there is only one game separating them from Week 1.
It's hard to find anything positive to take away from a such a lopsided game, but it is preseason and some exceptions can be made. That does not mean Carolina gets a pass for such a demoralizing defeat, but in a situation like this, closer scrutiny must be made in order to draw some positives.
Each unit did not fare too well compared to last week's game. Some of the positives came from Kelvin Benjamin, Brenton Bersin and Joe Webb. After those three, one has to dig deep to find any silver lining.
While the grades may be low compared to last week, it's important to take note of which unit could be the team's strength and weakness when September arrives.
Statistically speaking, the Carolina Panthers quarterbacks weren't too bad. However, they didn't do enough to keep the game close or give their team many scoring opportunities. The unit finished the night 17 of 25 for 208 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Cam Newton appeared to a bit hesitant in the pocket and didn't seem like he wanted to run the ball as freely as he had in the past. This may have been due to it being a preseason game and not wanting to get hurt, but he still was sacked three times and had to miss a play when the previous one left him getting up gingerly. Carolina fans held their breath, with many were wondering about the seriousness of it. ]
For the game, Newton was vastly outplayed by his counterpart, Tom Brady, as he finished the game with 88 passing yards after completing eight of 12 yards.
Newton's backup, Derek Anderson, provided a reason for optimism in the third quarter when it looked as though he would lead the team on a scoring drive. Unfortunately, Anderson was intercepted by Steve Beauharnais, who almost took it back for a defensive score. Ultimately, that play would prove to be the final nail in the coffin as the Panthers wouldn't get close to the end zone until they scored late in the fourth quarter.
Matt Blanchard came on afterwards and only seemed to serve as a game manager—he threw two passes and completed both of them. The man he is competing against for the third quarterback spot, Joe Webb, completed three of four for 64 yards and a touchdown. By that time, the game was already put away by the Patriots.
The projected starters in the backfield, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart combined for nine rushes and 20 yards. That is not exactly an eye-popping stat. Of course, the low number of touches may have played a role in such a low rushing total, although the line didn't do them any favors.
Fozzy Whittaker, who was a pleasant surprise last week, did not perform nearly as well as he did in his game against Kansas City. However, he did lead the team in rushing with 17 yards on the ground (once again, nothing to get excited about). But he seems to be a strong candidate to make the final roster or at least stick around until the last round of cuts.
Carolina appeared to be missing something in their backfield, which could be attributed to the absence of Mike Tolbert. Either way, the Panthers rely on the strength of the running game to move the ball, and the team cannot afford to go through a game like it did against New England or the end result will be an epic failure.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
Kelvin Benjamin is doing a good job of proving his critics and detractors wrong in the preseason. Of course, it will be what he does in the regular season that will count. Until then, he has enjoyed a solid preseason and caught five passes for a team-leading 47 yards against New England.
Going up against New England defensive back Darrelle Revis did not seem to bother him too much. Based on his production thus far, Benjamin may have locked up the top receiver spot.
Another receiver who has had a good a preseason without all the hype and anticipation is Brenton Bersin. The former Wofford receiver caught two passes for 42 yards; the first being a long 21-yard reception on third and 19. It will be absolutely stunning if he doesn't make the final roster as he has the makings of a solid third wide receiver on the depth chart.
Toney Clemons and Kealoha Pilares each had a reception that went for for 30 yards. Pilares was especially impressive in his grab as he didn't seemed slowed by his injury that sidelined him last week.
The tight ends combined for three receptions for 45 yards. Greg Olsen nearly had a big play in the first quarter when he had his man beat, but Cam Newton overthrew him. Still, their efforts—paired with those of Benjamin and Bersin—put a positive spin on a unit that will likely be trimmed later next week.
A failure to open up running lanes and letting Cam Newton be sacked three times does not bode well for the group of linemen in charge of fighting the battle in the trenches. New England employed some aggressive defensive schemes that seemed to overwhelm Carolina's offensive line and were part of the reason why the final score was one-sided.
Missing were Nate Chandler and the rookie Trai Turner, but that shouldn't be the reason why the Panthers were outplayed up front. If there is any concern to take away from this preseason, it could be the O-line and what needs to happen in order to make it a more sound unit. There is just too much riding on its ability to protect the quarterback and assist in the running game for there to be a huge margin for error.
Hopefully next week's game will yield a better result from the hog mollies. Until proven otherwise, this entire unit needs to prove it's capable of being effective and winning the battle at the line of scrimmage.
The defensive line looked unimpressive against New England, and while there were moments early in the game that offered reason for optimism, the defensive line looked vulnerable and had difficulty stopping the New England rushing game (31 carries for 82 yards) and failed to pressure Tom Brady enough to disrupt his game.
The unit also failed to record a sack, and while the excuse that Charles Johnson was not there can be made, it is still unacceptable. Carolina needs to be able to compensate for its losses when certain personnel are not available. Such will be the case when the season opens and Frank Alexander won't be able to play due to a suspension.
Speaking of Alexander, he tied with Drake Nevis to lead the unit with three tackles.
Other notable defensive linemen like Greg Hardy, Star Lotulelei, Dwan Edwards and Mario Addison each had a tackle. With any luck, the unit will recover for the preseason finale at Pittsburgh, although many of the starters may sit with Week 1 on the horizon.
From the look of things, Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis are both ready to for the regular season. Davis led the team with seven tackles (two for losses) and Kuechly was right behind him with four of his own. Based on their performances the past couple of weeks, it's likely that both will sit or play in limited action next week.
The other linebackers, Adarius Glanton, Jason Williams, Ben Jacobs, A. J. Klein and Anthony Morales, all contributed a tackle each.
The play of Davis and Kuechly made this unit the strongest asset on the defense against New England. However, Carolina looked like a shell of itself defensively, causing the Panthers to give up a lot of yards and a lot of points.
There was a reason why this unit was listed in the preview as a matchup to watch going against Tom Brady. Unfortunately, they did not rise to the challenge; the former MVP picked apart the Carolina secondary on his way to 204 yards and two touchdowns.
It should be noted that was in the first half—splitting time with Ryan Mallet.
The concerns over the effectiveness of the secondary are warranted, and this game showed that the Panthers will have a bit of a weakness in its secondary when the season begins.
Carolina's backups didn't fare much better either.
Rookie quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo completed nine passes for 105 yards and a touchdown. It's one thing to get schooled by an elite quarterback like Brady, but it's an entirely different matter when the lesson comes from a rookie.
It's almost tempting to grade the special teams unit as incomplete. After all, there were no field goal attempts and the Carolina returners only saw one return each on a kick off and a punt. Colin Jones netted one yard in his only return and Philly Brown got just as many in his lone punt return.
The punt coverage was horrible for the Panthers and the 45.3 yard average on Brad Nortman's punts did not do the team any favors. On the bright side, Jordan Gay rebounded from an awful showing last week and averaged 54 yards on both of his punts.
Graham Gano's only action was his extra-point attempt, which he converted late in the fourth quarter following Carolina's lone touchdown.
Generally, more is expected from this unit, and it failed to deliver Friday night. A pass will be given for the return men, as both were unable to make anything happen. However, the aforementioned poor coverage on punts gave New England good starting field position and the Pats took full advantage.
The preparation for any game rests on the shoulders of a team's coaching staff. Ron Rivera's team didn't look very prepared, which could perhaps be attributed to the short week. The play-calling appeared to be very vanilla, as Carolina looked more focused on getting players on the field and seeing what they could do.
The good news is that the Panthers committed the least penalties—five. Overall, that may seem insignificant, but it shows that Carolina is dedicated to being a smart and disciplined team.
Rivera will need to get his guys ready for the preseason finale and hope that everything comes together by Week 1. Fortunately, this is a resilient team that has recovered from slow starts in the past, and despite the blowout loss, the Panthers should recover from it.
Running Backs: D
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: B
Offensive Line: D
Defensive Line: C-
Special Teams: D
Final Grade: D
Yes, it was only a preseason game, but the Carolina organization, staff and fans expect better from its team. The Panthers need to fix problems (mainly up front on the offensively line and in the secondary), but the issues are nothing that cannot be resolved.
Maybe next week's game will tell the tale or perhaps we'll have to wait we're a few weeks into the regular season.
Game stats and information provided by ESPN.com.