The Carolina Panthers are 1-0 despite looking out of sync for much of the first half. Cam showed plenty of rust. The Panthers totaled 103 yards of offense on the team’s first six possessions, 40 of those yards coming on one play, the first half touchdown pass to Russell Shepard. After missing high and low to various receivers, and not seeing wide open receivers running free, Newton settled down and looked much more in sync with his receiving corps in the second half. Another component to the poor first half production by the Panthers offense was the struggles of the running game. The Offensive line had difficulty getting a push on the Niners defensive line. This made tough going for Stewart and McCaffrey when rushing the ball. Cam Newton and company were able to get the offense on track and put up 23 points. As hard as it was for the Offensive line to create space for the running backs in the first half, they excelled at protecting Cam Newton. Panthers fans have to be excited to see just how well the pass protection was throughout the entire game.
The Panthers defense was not without its own struggles. Albeit not to the degree of the offense in the first half. The first half the Panthers defensive line swarmed and harassed Hoyer to the tune of 4 sacks. But the defense was not without some early struggles. There were some breakdowns in coverage, players caught out of position, and some poor tackling by the Panthers. Give credit to the Niners Offensive line and RB Carlos Hyde, who came out attacking the Panthers defense. They came in with a game plan and early on stuck to it. Hyde coming into this season having lost weight and ready to play in a contract year once again proved to be a hard runner and refused to go down after initial contact on several runs early on Sunday. Hyde racked up 43 yards in the opening quarter. He showed he is giving it his all with hopes of landing that big deal. The Carolina run defense stiffened during the remainder of the game, only allowing paltry eight yards.
Something else that concerned me was how Carolina was force feeding CMC the ball. I know coaches and fans alike were wanting to see this rookie in action. But instead of allowing him to get the ball in the regular flow of the offense, Mike Shula tried making him the focus of the offense. This proved to be problematic because the Niners began focusing on McCaffery and this prevented him from being able to feel his way through the Panthers offense. Cam tried to get him the ball too much and this limited the touches for the other targets on offense, like KB and Olsen. Allowing CMC to get the ball organically through the natural flow of the offense would be the best way of seeing just how special this young man is and could allow for the other targets to have more space to work in. Shula will review the game film and adjust the focus of the offense accordingly in the weeks to come. Ball security was also a concern with McCaffery. Throughout the game, the Niners were ripping and tearing at the ball when CMC was carrying it. There were a few times when they did manage get the ball from his grasp but he had already been ruled down. Sometime in the second half, the Niners were able to get CMC to cough up the ball around the Panthers 32 yard line. Thankfully this did not lead to any points for the opposition. The coaches certainly will focus on ball handling for CMC this week.
The game was not all doom and gloom. Both the offensive and defensive lines went on to dominate the Niners lines. The second half of the game Julius Peppers and company persistently pressured Hoyer. The pressure came from all over the defensive front. Hitting him relentlessly, swiping and stripping the ball every time they were able to get near him. This is a sign of great things to come for this defensive group. The Offensive line proved to be a physical bunch as they bullied the Niners Defensive line in the second half. A fresh Jonathon Stewart pounded the ball behind the line to help Carolina run out the clock and seal the victory in Santa Clara.
Cam Newton overcame a rusty start where he went a terrible 5-16 in completion attempts and threw one interception in the first half, only to finish the game with nine consecutive completions. This is promising and should have fans excited about the health of Cam’s shoulder and the future of this offense. The defense showed the fans a glimpse of just how good the unit could be. Just as Peppers seemed to infer based on his post game comments this team not only as a chance to be good but with the excellent coaches they have and the effort by the players meeting the expectations of those coaches, this defensive unit has a chance to be the best. Panther fans certainly hope he is right.
The Panthers won the game and that is the most important thing here. I did point out a few things I saw that caused me some concern. I know the main cause for the issues are being week 1 of the season and Cam not getting any real time under game situations in the preseason. I know things will improve, and I can’t wait until the team is firing on all cylinders.
By Joey Riollano