Panthers Report Card: Week 11 vs. Saints
The Carolina Panthers made it closer than it needed to be but got the job done against the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night.
It wasn’t a terribly effective day for the Carolina offense and it started with the up and down play of Cam Newton. The Panthers QB was shaky throughout this contest only completing 14 of 33 pass attempts with just 192 passing yards and only leading one scoring drive in the second half. There were still a few positives though as in the first half, Newton and the offense were able to capitalize on good field position on multiple occasions by putting points on the board. On two Saints turnovers the Panthers scored 10 points and following the team’s field goal block, Newton went deep on the very next play to find Ted Ginn Jr. For a beautiful touchdown pass. The biggest play Newton made though may have been his fourth quarter completion to give the offense a new set of downs and help milk the clock to put this one out of reach.
The Panthers running game was stifled yet again as Jonathan Stewart and company were only able to muster 50 total yards on the ground. Stewart was the team’s leading rusher with a mere 31 yards on 18 carries and scoring the team’s first touchdown of the game. Once again the Panthers’ ineffectiveness on the ground destroyed their offensive rhythm and forced them into far too many three-and-out situations in the second half when they were operating with a double digit lead and trying to run out the clock.
WIDE RECEIVER & TIGHT END
The Carolina pass catchers, like there QB, had a bit of a tough go-around here as they had limited opportunities and more than a few miscues of their own. The group’s Thursday night outing was highlighted by Ginn’s superb touchdown catch late in the first half where he got both feet inbounds in the back of the endzone. The other big play from this group came from Kelvin Benjamin who caught an 18-yard strike late in the fourth to extend the Panthers drive and help run the clock out and give the Saints limited time to work with. On the other hand, there were far too many errors on the part of the receiving corps like the multiple drops as the team was trying to move the ball downfield and run the clock in the second half.
Like the rest of the offense, the hog mollies up front for the Panthers were shaky throughout on Thursday night. They allowed just two sacks but gave up seven QB hits on Newton who was pressured routinely. On top of the pressure allowed in the passing game, the line was unable to do anything in the run game against the New Orleans front seven that allowed Carolina to gain just 50 yards on the ground. Ryan Kalil’s return was supposed to help out the offense but his shoulder was clearly still bothersome and caused him to miss the second half, forcing Chris Scott into emergency center duties.
The defensive line came to play once again as they continued their hot streak against the Saints. They totaled three sacks on the night – two from sack leader Mario Addison and one from Kony Ealy – and got to Drew Brees on multiple occasions throughout the night. Addison’s big night also included a forced fumble on Brees on the first drive of the game that led to three points for Carolina. The defensive line’s big game was a key reason for the Panthers’ defense holding Brees and the Saints offense to just 285 passing yards – a stark contrast from the first time these two teams met.
While Luke Kuechly’s heartbreaking, emotional injury was the lasting takeaway from this matchup, his play before that occurred was nothing short of phenomenal. The middle linebacker logged 14 total tackles on the night and pitched in with one for a loss and a pass defensed. His linebacker-mate Thomas Davis was also big racking up eight tackles of his own and stuffing more than a few screens and runs while holding the Saints rushing attack to 107 total yards.
With each week the Panthers secondary looks more and more improved and this week against a normally high-flying Saints offense, they showed up big time. Rookie corners James Bradberry and Daryl Worley, the team’s starting duo, were solid once again with seven and nine tackles, respectively, and holding Brandin Cooks, Michael Thomas and company to an extremely modest outing for their standards while throwing in some solid plays throughout. Safeties Kurt Coleman and Tre Boston were terrific as well with the former making nine tackles, forcing a fumble and picking off a Brees pass, and the later making a key pass breakup late in the second half on a deep ball.
With Andy Lee done for the year it was newly signed Michael Palardy getting the start on a short week and needless to say, he shined in his NFL debut. Palardy kicked six times averaging 46.7-yards per punt with one inside the 20-yard line and a few boomers including one that went for 56 and another late in the game for 52 yards that helped flip the field and put the Saints away. Graham Gano was also terrific in this one as he knocked in all three of his field goals from 32, 49 and 42 yards out. Ginn nearly coughed up the ball on a punt return deep in Carolina territory but luckily managed to fall on it.