Panthers look to capitalize on opportunities vs. Texans
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Cam Newton knows if the Carolina Panthers are to stay unbeaten they’ll need to start putting up more points on offense.
Eight times the Panthers reached Jacksonville territory this past Sunday, but came away with only 13 points.
Carolina still won 20-9 largely because of a defense that forced three turnovers, had five sacks and scored a touchdown against the Jaguars. The Panthers fifth-year quarterback said now it’s time for the offense to do its part.
”Can we capitalize better? Absolutely.” Newton said. ”Will we? Yes, we will.”
It won’t be easy.
The Texans feature two of the game’s best defensive ends in J.J. Watt and 2014 No. 1 overall draft pick Jadeveon Clowney, who’ll look to converge on Newton from both sides. Clowney played about 30 snaps in the season opener, but Texans coach Bill O’Brien said his role will be expanded this week.
Newton played well in Carolina’s season opener, but things that were out of his control cost the Panthers.
Wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. dropped an uncontested touchdown pass along the right sideline and tight end Greg Olsen had a TD catch called back because of offensive pass interference. Instead of 14 points on those possessions, the Panthers came away with just three.
Kicker Graham Gano missed a 53-yard field goal and had another 43-yarder blocked.
Surprisingly, Newton only targeted Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen three times and he finished with one reception for 11 yards.
”Points, points – we need more points,” offensive coordinator Mike Shula said. ”That was discouraging because we had good field position and not taking advantage of that is tough. If you don’t take advantage of it it can come back and hurt you – which it almost did.”
The drops have been plaguing the Panthers ever since the second game of the preseason, which was just days after No. 1 receiver Kelvin Benjamin went down with a season-ending knee injury.
Starter Philly Brown struggled with five drops in two preseason games. Now it seems to be contagious with Ginn dropping two passes against the Jaguars and rookie Devin Funchess one.
Rivera said he’s ”not concerned” about the unit’s recent struggles.
Neither is Newton.
He said he’s more concerned this week about establishing a running game and winning the down-and-distance battle.
”We don’t want those guys to pin their ears back and start scheming up blitzes and making our jobs harder than it is,” Newton said of Watt and Clowney. ”… Those guys can create nightmares for offenses.”
Defensively, the Panthers could be without star middle linebacker Luke Kuechly on Sunday. He missed practice Wednesday after suffering a concussion against the Jaguars. Rivera offered no update on Kuechly’s status except to say that he remains in the NFL’s concussion protocol.
However, starting defensive tackle Star Lotulelei returned to practice for the first time in five weeks after battling a stress reaction in his right foot.
Rivera isn’t sure if Kuechly will play, but was optimistic Lotulelei could see action Sunday provided he doesn’t have a setback before the game.
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