Sunday, September 11, 2011

Panthers fall to Cardinals

It will go into the record books as a 28-21 loss to Arizona, but the Carolina Panthers did more in their opening 60 minutes than they did throughout, arguably, all of 2010.
First the obvious. Cam Newton had a ridiculous NFL debut. 24 of 37, 422 yards, 2 TD's, 1 INT, and a QB rating of 110.4. His counterpart, Kevin Kolb put up a big day of his own, 18 of 27, 309 yards, 2TD and a rating of 130. Statistically, Kolb won the matchup, but Newton is a rookie, and looked as comfortable as he could be, given the compressed training camp schedule. He was pretty darn good.
While many are touting Newton's start (and they should), more cause for concern is the Panthers rushing attack, which mustered just 74 yards on 27 attempts. Eight of those attempts belonged to Newton, so the running backs (DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart) came home with this: 19 carries for 56 yards. The Double Trouble tandem never got on track for a number of reasons. First, the cards loaded up for the run, mainly because the Panthers had killed them with it in the past, and second, they appeared to be blitzing on two of every four dons. I'm just offering that up as a reason why the ground game struggled. End of the day, it has to improve.
Defensively, the front line bent, but didn't really break, as Cardinal runners totalled 100 yards on the day. Officially, they got credit for 99 yards, with Kolb coming in at -1. Still, the birds didn't gash Carolina as many had feared coming in. What they did, however, was take advantage of the Panthers willingness to bring pressure, as evidenced on the Early Doucet touchdown. Five wideouts, covered by 4 with safety Jordan Pugh playing centerfield. Pugh needed to be playing short center (you softball players know that position), and Doucet simply outran everyone to the paint.
The Doucet TD was the first big gaffe, the second was the punt return for touchdown from Patrick Peterson. It looked like 4 players had Peterson surrounded when he caught the kick, and he just ran away from everyone. Special teams needs to be just that-special. They weren't on that one play, and that was the difference in the game. Please don't flood me with "bad blitz pick ups," because I'm not buying it. Arizona brought heat the whole game, and Carolina did a good job to pick them up most of the time. To Newton's credit, he held the ball, rather than make an ill-advised throw and possibly a pick.
The loss stings, but after last season, this game provided more than a glimmer of hope. It was one of those huge spotlights that car dealers in Chicago would use when they wanted to attract attention to their lots for sales. It was a massive searchlight in the sky. After a 2-14 campaign last year, Panthers fans have reason to believe this team will be competitive. They may not win much, but they will come out and battle each week. They'll need that same mentality next week, when Green Bay rolls into Bank of America stadium.
My guess is, they will bring that with them.
Mike Solarte

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