Panthers Thoughts – Week Two: A Little More Like It

Thoughts on the Carolina Panthers week two win against the New Orleans Saints.

Last week was the time to overreact. The Carolina Panthers and last years high powered offense couldn’t get anything going against a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that lost 10 straight games at the end of last season. There was no running game and Cam Newton threw a couple of bad interceptions. The defense wasn’t much better, making Josh Freeman look like Steve Young and failing to come up with a big stop. It looked to be doom and gloom for a team that a lot of people thought would be ready to take the next step.

It wasn’t the end of the world though.

This week is the time to realize that things change in the NFL on a week to week basis and if you don’t realize that by now, then you haven’t been paying attention very long. The Panthers bounced back with a 35-27 victory over the New Orleans Saints to improve their record to 1-1.

The offense looked more like it should this week. The return of Jonathan Stewart, who was inactive last week, definitely boosted the run the game. It can’t be understated just how much Stewart means to the run game. He and DeAngelo Williams combine to make a tough tandem in the backfield that keep defenses off balance due to their differences. After putting up negative yards last week on the ground, the Panthers rushed for over 200 yards in this game. They still ran a ton of zone reads, but Cam was much quicker in his decision making this week, which allowed Williams or Stewart to get the ball with some momentum. They also didn’t completely abandon the run game like they did last week either. Against the Buccaneers, the Panthers ran the ball 13 times. Against the Saints, they ran the ball 41 times. It’s not like the team was playing from behind all last week either, they just didn’t commit to the run like they should’ve. With Newton, Williams, Stewart, and Tolbert, the team should be running the ball at least 25-30 times per game.

A good run game translates to a good pass game, and Cam was extremely effective in the pocket this week. He only threw the ball 20 times, but went for 243 yards and a TD. The biggest thing he did was not turn the ball over. In fact, I can’t recall a single bad throw from him all game. Steve Smith only had 3 catches but ended up with over 100 yards and Brandon LaFell is quickly becoming a legit #2 receiver. I’ve never been too high on LaFell but in the first two weeks of the season he’s stepped up nicely. He’s in his third season now and is proving to be a very good route runner who can get open and take pressure off of Smith. If LaFell continues to play this well, the offense should be even better the rest of the season.

Now, despite what that Verizon commercial may tell you, this Saints defense isn’t the best in the league, and I’m not going to go crazy and call Cam Newton the best player in the league right now because he made it look easy against a pretty bad Saints defense, but this is what a good offense should do against a bad defense. When a well-oiled offense goes up against a rusty defense, the offense should pedal their way to an easy victory. In fairness to the Saints, they were without their best player on defense, which was a replacement ref who was discovered to be a Saints fan before the game started. Had he been in their line up, I’m sure the Saints defense would’ve limited everything the Panthers did.

My only complaint about the offense is that they went for it on 4th and 1 from the Saints 4 and failed to convert. At this point it was a 10-7 game and a Panthers field goal, which would’ve been a chip shot, would’ve tied the game. You never want to leave points on the board against the Saints, because chances are you’re not beating them unless you put up at least 30 points. Luckily this decision didn’t come back to haunt the team, but had they lost by 3, this decision would’ve gotten a lot more attention than just this short paragraph.

The defense is still a concern though. Now I’ll cut them a little bit of slack because they were going up against a very dangerous Saints offense, but the lack of pressure the front four puts on the quarterback is extremely troubling. Charles Johnson has been very quiet for the first two weeks and that’s got to change if the team is going to have success. The defense gave up 486 total yards, but they forced two turnovers, including a late game pick by Jon Beason that sealed the victory. It felt really good seeing Beason make the winning play defensively after everything he went through last year. He’s a huge part of the defense and if he can stay healthy, the defense should slowly but surely improve.

I have to give a lot of credit to Chris Gamble, who took away Marques Colston for pretty much the entire game. Brees usually does a good job spreading the ball around but he was pretty much limited to Darren Sproles and Jimmy Graham all game. Don’t me wrong, those two killed the Panthers for much of the game, but not every team has two weapons like that. If Gamble can continue to shut down the top wide receiver on the opposing team, then the secondary should benefit in the long run. Gamble also had a huge pass break up in the 4th quarter that would’ve been a touchdown had he not gotten a hand on it. Gamble’s deflection brought up a 4th down, the Saints failed to convert, and the Panthers took over on downs.

Overall it’s tough to find too many things wrong with this past Sunday’s performance. Last weekend against the Buccaneers, who might be a lot better than people thought if two weeks is any indication, feels like a distant memory now after the way they played against the Saints. All of a sudden they’re 1-1 and looking good heading into a big Thursday night showdown against the defending champs. The team still has their problems, especially on defense, but at home against a division rival, all you can do is ask for a win.

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