In the 11th hour of Sunday’s matchup against the Detroit Lions, the Carolina Panthers pulled a move that surprised many. They deactivated Pro-Bowl Defensive End Greg Hardy from the lineup in wake of what many would call the NFL’s worst week in their history. In the past two weeks, three domestic violence cases and a child neglect case surrounding some of the league’s best players has put a black eye on the shield that Roger Goodell has tried hard to protect since becoming commissioner 2006. It is still unsure whether or not Hardy will play on Sunday Night against the Steelers or if we'll ever see him in a Panthers uniform ever again, but there is light at the end of the tunnel--Mario Addison.
Addison, an undrafted four-year pro out of Troy University in Alabama, got the start last Sunday and played exceptionally well, recording 2.5 sacks and causing havoc for Matthew Stafford. If Hardy’s career is over in Carolina after this year, Addison’s career might be just getting started. While the “Hit-Stiq” bursted onto the spotlight Sunday, Addison has been a successful member on Special Teams and as a backup defensive end since coming to the Panthers in 2012. The organization liked him so much they gave him a two-year contract extension in June. While nobody is questioning how good Hardy is, he carries some conduct questions and will most certainly demand a hefty paycheck after being franchise tagged for 13.1 million dollars this past offseason. Addison showed Sunday that he can come in and can give a pro bowl effort without all the distractions and salary cap problems that Hardy presents.
The Panthers’ defense looked like they were on a completely different level than any other defense against a high powered offense with loaded weapons such Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate, and Reggie Bush. Although we can’t say if the production would have been the same or different if Hardy was activated, we do know that if we can get that production out of the same lineup every week, that Hardy could be as good as gone from the Panthers organization.
Without a doubt Addison’s future is bright and has earned a starting role, if not with the Panthers than another team would be more than happy to load their lineup with a dynamic end. So, if Coach Ron Rivera deactivates Hardy for the rest of the season, fans shouldn’t worry because GM David Gettleman saw pro-bowl potential when other teams didn’t and resigned an important part of the future Panthers’ defense.
What I Liked
When I said the Panthers secondary would be able to contain Calvin Johnson, I never pictured they'd hold him to six catches on thirteen targets for 83 yards and no touchdowns. This performance by the secondary is particularly reassuring considering they will be facing more of the NFL's best recievers in the coming weeks, including Brandon Marshall (Bears), AJ Green (Bengals), and Percy Harvin (Seahawks). The Panthers also held Golden Tate, who was signed from Seattle this offseason, to 57 yards on five catches. They were helped a good deal by the linebackers, as Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly combined for 23 tackles. And we can't forget about the D Line, either, who were given a fairly unpleasant surprise before the game when they were informed that Greg Hardy would be deactivated in light of his domestic violence conviction. However, this proved to be of little concern for them, as Mario Addison, Hardy's replacement, registered 2.5 sacks and two TFLs. The fact that these guys have been able to perform up to their usual standard despite the events surrounding one of their teammates is a good sign of things to come. If Hardy, who has appealed the charges, is found guilty by a jury, the Panthers will almost certainly be forced to release him in order to avoid a PR nightmare much like the one their Week 4 opponent Baltimore Ravens are currently facing. If the D Line can get used to playing without him, though, a potential parting of ways between Hardy and the Panthers shouldn't cause too much of a rift within the front four. The Panthers defense played a tough, gritty game today, repeatedly knocking the ball out of the Lions' hands, even though only one of those was counted as a fumble. They say defense wins championships, and what I saw in this game reminded me of some of the best Super Bowl-winning defenses of the past decade.
What I Didn't
A great showing by the defense helped to mask the Panthers' offensive struggles in this game. Unlike some other games, no one position group could be blamed for it. At times, it was Cam Newton's inaccuracy. At other times, it was Jonathan Stewart's seeming inability to find a hole in the line. And, yes, sometimes the offensive line was inadequate in providing security for Cam, who was sacked five times, and making holes for Stewart, who had 37 yards in 15 carries (15 in 14 if you take away his 22 yard run in the 4th Quarter. Whatever the case, this was a disturbingly poor outing by the Panthers offense, and it's definitely something they'll want to fix immediately. Whether they were flatlining in the form of a three-and-out or making a nice drive down the field only to settle for a long field goal, they looked shaky, indecisive, and occasionally inept. They were only able to find the end zone twice against a mediocre Lions secondary, and one of those touchdowns may not have happened if it weren't for the help of penalty flags. Hopefully, this performance is just a fluke, and we won't be seeing anything like this again. If we do, the Panthers may not be as lucky as they were this time.
The Tipping Point
Melvin White's Interception
It was 13-7, there were about twelve and a half minutes to go in the game, and Matthew Stafford had Calvin Johnson just outside the end zone. If he had scored, the Lions would have taken the lead, and the game would have been placed into the hands of the struggling Panthers offense. It looked like he was going to make the catch...until the ball was tipped by Thomas DeCoud and fell almost perfectly into the hands of second-year cornerback Melvin White. White, who went undrafted out of Louisiana-Lafayette last year, ran the ball back to the Panthers 30, which set up the team's second touchdown. After that, the Lions would never threaten again, and the Panthers simply ran out the clock.
TCSB Game MVP
Not only did they shut down the best wide receiver in the world right now, these guys played a tough, physical game, repeatedly knocking the ball out of the receivers' hands (even though only one was counted as a fumble) and never leaving anybody open. They picked off Matthew Stafford once and almost had him several times, keeping him on his toes pretty much the whole game. This is the best game the Panthers' secondary has had in quite a while, and it should effectively erase any doubts about them.
What I Liked:
In his first NFL game, Kelvin Benjamin led the team with six receptions for 92 yards and a very, very nice touchdown on the first play of the 4th Quarter. He showed us just how big of an advantage his height can be as he made a few catches in traffic that guys a few inches shorter might not have been able to reach. I also liked what I saw from Philly Brown, who may go down as one of this year's biggest undrafted steals, on punt returns. If the guys around him could have held their blocks just a few seconds longer, he might've averaged a bit more than 12 yards per return. Oh, and we can't forget about 5th-round pick Bene Benwikere, who in addition to recovering the fumble that more or less sealed the game had three solo tackles. They may be in need of some development, but the guys with potential on all sides of the football are giving the Panthers a reason to celebrate.
Being On The Right Side of Turnovers
If you were anywhere near the city of Charlotte during the year 2010, you almost certainly know about the Panthers' historic struggle with turnovers. That's what makes finally coming out on the right side of the INTs and FUMs on a regular basis so satisfying. Interceptions from Antoine Cason and new guy Roman Harper have boosted my confidence in the new secondary, and the ability of the defense to knock the ball out of Josh McCown's hands bodes well for the rest of the season. It will be considerably harder for these guys to duplicate today's results against the likes of Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson next weekend, but what I saw today leads me to believe they can do it.
What I Didn't:
The 4th Quarter
The most important quarter was the one where the Panthers looked the most shaky. First, Graham Gano missed a 48-yard field goal, which gave Tampa Bay the ball on their own 38 yard line. They were then able to score a touchdown on the next drive. After Carolina punted on the next series, the Bucs again marched down the field and scored, closing the gap to 17-14. As if that wasn't enough the Panthers then picked the worst possible time to go three-and-out, giving Tampa Bay the ball back with just over 1:30 to go. Fortunately, the Panthers were able to force and recover a fumble on the very next play. But they just had to give the other guys one more chance to win the game by failing to secure a first down which would have allowed them to kneel out the clock. With their seeming inability to finish the ball game, the Panthers were very fortunate to come away with this one, and it's an issue that Ron Rivera will certainly want to address this week.
The O Line
I had hoped that the shoddy preseason performance of the Panthers' O Line was just a fluke of some sort and that it wouldn't carry over into the regular season. Based on today's result, it appears my concerns were warranted. This game saw the offensive line give up six tackles behind the line, and the run game suffered as a result. The Panthers carried the ball 33 times for 113 yards, while Tampa Bay was able to accomplish almost as much with about half as many snaps. Also, Derek Anderson was sacked once and was forced to scramble a few too many times for my liking. Someone tell these guys that they're supposed to be pillars, not turnstiles.
The Tipping Point:
Luke Kuechly's forced fumble and Bene Benwikere's recovery
It was crunch time for the Panthers defense. After surrendering two consecutive touchdowns, they hoped to stymie the Buccaneers' effort to complete the comeback with 1:36 left on the clock and the ball at their own 32 yard line. It started with a relatively simple play: Josh McCown with a short throw to running back Bobby Rainey. But then, in swooped Luke Kuechly, the NFL's reigning Defensive Player of the Year, and suddenly the ball was on the ground and Bene Benwikere, a rookie cornerback from San Jose State, had picked it up and was running the other direction. This play not only allowed the Panthers offense to run some time off the clock, it gave the defense the confidence they needed to come in and seal off the game. Had it not happened the way it did, there's no telling what Tampa Bay could've done, and the "What I Didn't Like" section of this wrap up probably would've been a lot longer.
The Charlotte Sports Blog Game MVP:
While all the skill positions were generally superb, I have to single out Derek Anderson as this week's MVP. Not only was he able to start his first game in four years on less than 24 hours' notice, he put on a performance reminiscent of Cam himself, throwing for 230 yards and two touchdowns and earning a 108.7 QBR. He also demonstrated a keen ability to work outside the pocket, which helped him avoid being sacked more than a few times. The Panthers are fortunate to have one of the best backup quarterbacks in the NFL, and Ron Rivera can certainly rest easy this week knowing Anderson will be ready next Sunday if Cam isn't quite there yet.
Well, it’s that time of year again--football’s finally back. And thank God it is, for baseball is getting old, and there’s nothing better than sitting on couch for twelve hours with nothing but football on your mind.
To be honest, this looks to be a season with tons of uncertainty for the Panthers, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Can a completely new group of wide receivers match the production of seasoned veterans such as Brandon LaFell and Steve Smith? Can an inexperienced offensive line provide enough protection for Cam Newton? While there were some encouraging signs in preseason especially in week two’s matchup against Kansas City, this week one game against Tampa should give us fans a good indication on how this season will turn out.
Another huge point of emphasis week one for Carolina is the health of Cam Newton. Of course, this issue arose due to the fractured rib that Cam suffered in a preseason game in New England two weeks ago. Since then, the Panthers’ star has been forced to miss numerous practices until minor participation on Thursday and then finally full participation Friday. It was also reported late last week that the Panthers would prefer that Cam sat out in order to let his rib fully heal before playing again. **It is now being reported that Newton is "unlikely to play in season opener" via Bleacher Report.
For the Bucs, the most notable change to their team is the hiring of former Bears’ coach Lovie Smith. Player wise, the team draft former Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans with their first round pick and brought over QB Josh McCown from Chicago. When looking at their roster, this Tampa team is surprisingly dangerous offensively with the likes of Evans, McCrown, RB Doug Martin, and WR Vincent Jackson. Despite only winning four games last season, this Buccaneers team certainly appears to have the ability to surprise a few teams this season.
Matchup To Watch For: G Trai Turner Vs DT Gerald McCoy
As I mentioned earlier, the offensive line is one the biggest question marks for this Panthers’ team in 2014. This is mostly due to some relatively inexperienced starters on the line, including rookie guard Trai Turner. Turner, who was drafted by Carolina with the 92nd overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft, will not only be the starting lineup despite the fact that he’s the youngest player on the Panthers’ roster, but will also be matched up again one of the best defensive tackles in the league in Gerald McCoy. While this seems to be a recipe for disaster for the defending NFC South Champions, hopefully Turner can stand his ground against a difficult matchup.
Based upon the fact that Cam Newton will likely sit this season opener out, I'm going to have to say that I'm going with Tampa in today's contest While Derrick Anderson is certainly an experienced backup quarterback, he's not the playmaker that Cam is and the Panthers' offense could struggle to move the ball throughout the game. Bucs win 14-6.
Who: Kansas City Chiefs Vs Carolina Panthers