Panthers Report Card: Week 9 vs. Rams
The Carolina Panthers gutted out a hard fought victory over the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday afternoon, here’s how they graded out.
It was an ugly slow, hard fought battle between the Panthers and Rams on Sunday and as such, yards were hard to come by for everyone and Cam Newton was no exception. The Carolina QB had a so-so day with a slew of key conversions and key plays but also had his fair share of miscues and was never really able to get into a consistent rhythm because of it. Newton completed 20 of 32 passes for 225 yards and one score and was essentially a non-factor in the run game with just 16 yards on seven carries. Newton’s inaccuracy reared its head in this one as he had more than a few would-be completions miss their mark. Only part of this can be blamed on Newton though as he was constantly under duress from the Los Angeles defensive front that sacked him five times and were a consistent presence in the backfield.
As hard as they tried, the run game just could not break through and break off any consistent runs against the ferocious front seven of the Rams. Jonathan Stewart rushed 15 times gaining just 42 yards with 17 of those coming on one run. Establishing the ground game is an essential factor in a successful Panthers offense and as such, the entire unit struggled due to their inability to break any big runs and make their rushing attack a legitimate threat.
WIDE RECEIVER & TIGHT END
Even with a subpar, so-so day from Newton and the offense as a whole, the Panthers pass catchers did their job and provided the offense with as much production as they could. Newton went to his top three targets regularly on Sunday with Kelvin Benjamin, Greg Olsen and Ted Ginn Jr. catching 75% of Carolina’s receptions. Benjamin paced the group in yards with 76 and more than a few of them coming on some big time grabs to help move the Panthers late in this contest. Olsen’s came up with a few big plays of his own in this one including his touchdown grab on Carolina’s second drive of the game and another big time grab to move the chains early in the second quarter.
After a few weeks in a row of consistency and providing Newton with a solid pocket and Stewart with rushing lanes, the Panthers offensive line regressed and had another shaky performance. With All-Pro center Ryan Kalil out with a shoulder injury, Gino Gradkowski stepped in at center to give Carolina yet another shakeup along their line that didn’t work out the way they were hoping. The Rams’ prolific front four were constantly getting into the backfield and disrupting Newton’s rhythm. Aaron Donald’s two sacks led the way for Los Angeles who notched five on the day and held the Panthers to just 59 yards rushing.
With eight sacks coming off the bye against Arizona last week, hopes were high that the pass rush could continue its impressive play and on Sunday they did just that. Carolina logged four total sacks on the day with three coming from the defensive line including two from pass rushing specialist Mario Addison and the first of the season for Kony Ealy. The L.A. offensive line struggled all day long to keep the Panthers’ front four at bay and they were able to disrupt Rams QB Case Keenum throughout Sunday’s contest with seven total QB hits.
Not surprisingly, with the pass rush as effective as it was, the Panthers stud linebackers dominated as well putting in another tremendous performance to help pace this defense that allowed just 10 points on the day. Thomas Davis was arguably the MVP of the day as he was all over the field doing everything for this defense logging 11 total tackles, one strip-sack and a key late-game interception to kill a promising Rams drive. Luke Kuechly was a bit quieter in this one but still provided a punch with six total tackles and helping to shut down L.A. running back Todd Gurley and the Rams rushing attack as a whole to just 59 yards.
The Panthers secondary finally was back to full strength with the return of James Bradberry from a turf toe injury and played an overall solid game in this one. With the pass rush as dominant as it was the defensive backs had a relatively easy job as many of Keenum’s passes weren’t even catchable by the Rams receivers. Bradberry and fellow rookie Daryl Worley started on the outside were solid until a few miscues from the former late in the game including giving up the Rams lone touchdown score and nearly giving up another after biting on a double move. The secondary still has its issues to address in pass coverage but made more positive strides overall in this one.
Panthers’ kicker Graham Gano continued his shaky play this season missing another field goal late in the first half when points were at a premium. He redeemed himself late in second half though when he knocked two more through the uprights to help push Carolina’s lead when the Rams finally started scoring. Punter Andy Lee continued his incredible punting with three of his six punts landing inside the 20-yard line to help out the defense and pin a struggling L.A. offense back deep.