Cam Newton's 85.8 QBR isn't an accurate reflection of his performance this game. Yes, he threw for two touchdowns and 263 yards, but he also had two interceptions (neither of which were to Darrelle Revis). If you're going to be a successful NFL quarterback, you can't be throwing interceptions to nobodies, because then you'll end up throwing interceptions to somebodies, and when you throw interceptions to somebodies, your chances of winning the ball game go down significantly. This type of thing may not seem like an issue right now, but if these creases aren't smoothed out by the playoffs, it could lead to an early exit.
Running Backs: C+
The absence of DeAngelo Williams (quad strain) didn't really make a difference one way or the other when it came to running the football in this game. Cam Newton took it upon himself to fill DeAngelo's spot, rushing for 68 yards and a touchdown. Meanwhile, Mike Tolbert had 48 yards and Jonathan Stewart had 39. The thing that I find very troubling is the fact that Cam had five carries, and Tolbert and Stewart had 9 and 14. Yeah, you read that right. 9 and 14. Last week I said these guys weren't making the most of their handful of opportunities. Well, this week they had a veritable PLETHORA of opportunities, and yet the longest run of anyone besides Cam was just 17 yards. So the question I have is, what does it say about our running backs when all of them are getting outdone by the guy whose primary job is to THROW the football?
Wide Receivers: B+
Tight End Greg Olsen played one of his best games of the season, catching five out of seven passes for 85 yards. Steve Smith had another good outing, catching three of four for 51 yards. Again, my primary concern is that two other receivers, Ted Ginn and Brandon LaFell, caught two of four and three of seven for 47 and 36 yards. If we're going to make a good playoff run, we need every one of our receivers to be able to make critical catches. I like what I see now, but I still think we have a little more work to do in this department.
Offensive Line: B+
These guys allowed one TFL and it wasn't even a sack? Who are they and what did they do with our offensive line? Actually, this may be a change for the better. Don't call the cops. We can only hope this performance keeps up, because a dominant O Line can turn a good offense (like the Panthers') into a great offense.
Defensive Line: A-
The Panthers' D Line registered three sacks and recovered a fumble. It was a good game overall, but this should be just another day at the office for these guys, as we've come to expect this sort of performance game in and game out.
It certainly was another day at the office for Luke Kuechly, who had nine tackles and helped shut down the Bucs' ground game. Thankfully, he wasn't the subject of controversy for yet another game. If he can maintain a good level of discipline, he'll be unstoppable for years to come. Oh, and shoutout to AJ Kline for getting the LBs' only sack.
Carolina's secondary was one of two units to pleasantly surprise me today. They held Mike Glennon to 180 yards and broke his record-setting streak of touchdown passes, giving him just his fourth interception this year. Like I've been saying, though, from here it's all about consistency. I'll be watching them VERY closely next week against the Saints.
Special Teams: B+
Ted Ginn needs to get better yardage on his kick returns. Seriously, if you can't make it to the 20, just take the touchback. Also, the Panthers allowed Tampa Bay to return one kickoff 26 yards. That's not terrible, but remember that this type of yardage is what sets up drives. Also, Brad Nortman saw a bit of a dip in his performance from last week, averaging 46 yards per punt with a long of 55.