A collection of random thoughts stimulated by the Panthers recent victory over the flat Houston Texans in Reliant Stadium.
149 isn’t so bad
Although Cam Newton fell short in his quest for the rookie passing record by only amassing a meager total of 149 yards, his career-low for passing yard mars what was actually a solid game from Newton. True he didn’t have the gaudy numbers, but he stayed back, showed poise, and didn’t make any huge mistakes. That’s tough to do against one of the best defenses in the NFL, and there is one stat that I want to point out here. WPA measures how much a player helped his team win and is based on down and distance, time, situation, score, and other factors. Newton’s WPA of 0.31 was the 6th highest of the week, and his performance, in this game, went beyond any counting statistics.
That’s a sufficient title, as Smith played another excellent game. He was able to win the battle against one of the best cornerbacks in the league in Jonathan Joseph, and Smith caught 5 of the 7 passes directed at him for 82 yards and a touchdown (11.7 yards per target and 16.4 yards per reception). Smith and Newton both had the 6th best WPA’s and 8th best EPA’s at their respective positions, and this dynamic duo just keeps on rolling. It is reminiscent of the days when Jake Delhomme- before Tommy John surgery- used to hook up with Smith almost at will. He made Joseph look absolutely silly in coverage on the first touchdown of the game.
We got the LBs
I don’t think there’s much doubt as to who was the Defensive MVP in this game. Linebacker Jordan Senn is continuing to impress, and he wrapped up 14 tackles while also picking off a pass, tipping one, and forcing a fumble at the very beginning of the game. Senn had nine “successful” plays, and he and playmaking linebacker James Anderson- who also had a pick, a pass defended, and a tackle for loss- were stalwarts at the heart of the defense. The Panthers have the best and deepest stable of linebackers in the league, because we have seven quality linebackers when everybody his healthy. When Thomas Davis and Jon Beason come back, guys like Dan Connor and Senn will be relegated to backup roles.
It was never close
At no point in this game did it look like the Texans were ever going to be in it. If you look at the WPA chart on Advanced NFL Stats, you would see that the Panthers were clearly dominating their opponent. At half-time, the Panthers had a 95% chance of winning, and the Texans never really recovered from Arian Foster’s fumble at the beginning of the game. Despite 109 rushing yards on just 16 carries, Foster had a negative WPA due to the fumble. The turning point of the game may have come after just over a minute and a half of play, and that’s more credit to Senn and Anderson for forcing and recovering the fumble. And then, of course, the offensive stars hooked up.
Chud shows how much offense has changed
In the Fox era, the Panthers never did trick plays like this one. A third-string tight end would never run for a seven yard touchdown, but it is obviously a new era in Carolina; Rob Chudzinski just showed us that. Chud is one of the brightest and most creative offensive minds in the NFL, and I give him a lot of credit for the offense’s success this season.
I really thought Brandon LaFell would have a chance to have a solid game, and he did have the chances. Cam Newton threw it in his direction five times, yet LaFell wasn’t able to haul in any of them for a reception. His performance was even worse than the goose eggs that Lee Evans put up in Baltimore, because LaFell had one more target. He had arguably the worst game of any offensive player yesterday, and LaFell is one of those frustrating players who has talent but never shows it on a consistent basis. He’s always shown flashes of this talent, but LaFell really needs to put it together. He will never be as bad as Dwayne Jarrett, but this is a guy with No. 2 receiver potential who is playing himself into the No. 3 spot behind the mediocre Legedu Naanee.
We Shut Em Down
The Panthers defense didn’t hold down Arian Foster, but they were able to subdue the Texans passing attack and completely nullify it. They held rookie QB T.J. Yates to just 3.7 adjusted-yards per attempt, and no receiver caught more than two passes. Tight ends Joel Dressen and Owen Daniels, as well as receivers Bryant Johnson and Kevin Walter all caught two passes. Jacoby Jones had only one catch, so the team’s top two receivers were held down to just three catches on eight targets. Credit the cornerbacks for getting it done, as both receivers caught just 37.5% of the passes thrown at them combined.
Texans offensive line wins
Although the Panthers easily won the war, there was one battle that was lost that I want to focus on. The Texans offensive line got far too much push on the Panthers interior, and this led to a 6.8 YPC effort from Arian Foster. The Panthers did a good job of holding down Brandon Tate to a meager total of 3.7 yards per carry, but the interior was bested by the Texans in this one. That’s nothing to be ashamed of, considering how excellent Foster and the Texans offensive line is. The Panthers were better than the Texans in pass protection, but the defensive line needs to perform better against the run. Again, this is really just of minor note, seeing as the Panthers destroyed Houston in just about every other way. However, it is important to note that the Texans offensive line was only slightly better than the Panthers O-line in this game. Aside from another good display from Connor Barwin, the vaunted Texans pass rush was fairly mediocre in this one.