By Ted Fleming
If Sunday’s loss to the Seahawks was a reason to do it, the Panthers should entertain a promotion for their game against the Cowboys two weeks from now. Every fan that enters Bank of American Stadium should be given a Starbucks Double-Shot Energy Drink or a Red Bull so they can make it through four quarters of a football game.
A 16-12 score is a good indication of how boring the game might have been, but imagine what the announced crowd of 72,676 sat through. The Panthers’ offense offered little against the NFL’s second ranked defense and how they went about their business they might have had a tough time beating NC State. Seattle didn’t take them out of their game; Carolina did the job for them.
On the flip side, the Panthers’ defense was good at times, bad at times and mediocre most of the time against a Seahawks’ offense that has been a little bit offensive so far under the guidance of Russell Wilson. And despite rumblings that the team should pull the plug on the rookie quarterback experiment and turn the team over to their $8 million man Matt Flynn, Wilson is now 3-2 in the suddenly very tough NFC West.
Here is how the Panthers, now 1-4, graded out in Week 5:
Offense grade: F
Boring with a side trip to monotony. Unless head coach Ron Rivera has suddenly turned over the signal calling to his second-year quarterback, the failing grade falls squarely on the coaching staff.
Who drew up the game plan, a lucky (or unlucky depending on your point of view) fan? Cam Newton was your leading rusher in the first half, 37-yards, and had as many rushes, 5, as the rest of the team that included wide receivers Kealoha Pilares and Louis Murphy. He also threw the ball 15 times but managed just 40 yards on three completions. Three. Carolina managed just 93 total yards and just three points in the first 30-minutes.
You can understand the statistics to some degree because the Seahawks’ defense has given everyone fits but here is where the monotony came in – wide receiver Steve Smith was targeted nine times. That is 60% of Newton’s attempts. Smith caught exactly two and he did not have a great game overall dropping three passes, getting flagged for holding away from a play and should have had an offensive pass interference call when he just ran over a defender without ever looking back for the ball.
It wasn’t just the first half either. The ground game managed just 82 yards the entire game with the quarterback accounting for more than half with 42. But with Newton throwing to Smith 13 times when the rest of the team saw the ball coming their way just 16 times made no sense at all. Moreover, tight end Greg Olsen wasn’t found until 8:38 was left in the fourth quarter.
The offensive line did a reasonable job, but not even average allowed four sacks and even the 6-foot-5 Newton had a pair of his passes batted down.
Defense grade: C+
This would normally have been an “D” because the Panthers let a substandard offense beat them, but there were some good things that happened: getting three straight turnovers from the Seahawks at one point, Thomas Davis coming up with a key third down tackle for a loss and Sherrod Martin coming up from his safety position to make a tackle to prevent a first down, but the star was Luke Kuechly.
The rookie linebacker was all over the place making seven solo of his 11 combined tackles to lead the team, had one tackle for a loss, an interception and generally made himself a pest going from sideline to sideline. This was the kind of game that coaches and fans fell in love with during the preseason. It was a shame he was on the losing side of the score because he would have been heralded as the best player on the field.
Antwan Appelwhite and Greg Hardy each had a sack and if you wonder where Carolina’s only touchdown came from it was the defense, namely Captain Munnerlyn and his 33-yard Pick-6 early in the third quarter.
Special Teams grade: C-
Punter Brad Nortman boomed a 63-yarder early in the game–one of his seven on the–day but he did kick up a stinker with one going for just 39. Overall he averaged 45.4 including a pair inside the 20.
Jason Phillips made what could have been the biggest play of the day on the first play of the season half. Down by just three, the linebacker was on special teams and stripped Leon Washington on the opening kickoff. Unfortunately, the offense got zero points out of the turnover. Josh Thomas also tangled with Washington nailing him on a punt for only a one-yard return.
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Ted Fleming is a freelance writer covering all things Carolina Panthers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.