Big play after big play fell into the Panthers’ defensive hands as the team took the ball away four times en route to a narrow 34-27 win last night in Baltimore.
In a game that seemed like it was never really “that close,” the Carolina Panthers scored multiple times on defensive turnovers – including 2 pick-sixes and a sack/fumble by budding superstar Luke Kuechly that was recovered in the endzone by Thomas Davis.
Kuechly also had the lone interception NOT returned for a TD – on the very next play after being flagged for a HIGHLY questionable personal foul for unnecessary roughness. Fitting response to a bad call!
On a side note here, there were a TON of personal foul penalties on BOTH sides. It appears that the NFL is taking these “safety” guidelines a bit TOO far as any good, clean hit was about as likely to draw a flag as not.
Having said that, my thinking is that officials are instructed to REALLY crack down on anything even close in the preseason in order to get players used to the “kinder, gentler” (BLEAH!!!) NFL and then when the regular season starts, they’ll back off the threshold a bit in hopes that the players will be more “prudent” in laying the lumber in order to get the players acclimated to the continued emphasis on safety.
Kuechly was just a monster in this game. I was talking with a couple of friends online on Google-plus, one of whom is a writer here, and Joey had said Kuechly had 7 tackles, 2 passes defended, an interception and a forced fumble. In the first half.
If Luke plays this way in the 2013 season, he’s headed for All-Pro status. I’m not even sure that the sky limits his ceiling. He’s got incredible football instincts, diagnoses plays immediately, and comes rocketing in like a lightning bolt but manages to stay under control. He goes after the ball and, failing that, hardly ever misses a tackle and dominates the ball carrier to the ground with his brute strength.
Folks, if you wondered about him at ALL last year, he looks even better this season. That’s a scary thought since he led the entire NFL in tackles as a rookie.
Yes, the defense played in a manner that would make the opportunistic Chicago Bears or Seattle Seahawks defenses jealous as all get out. That’s’ a great thing, because the offense sputtered all night, scoring only 6 points on two field goals.
Carolina got the ball to start the game, and it looked like a train wreck in the making. Here are the first few plays:
1st and 10 – RT Byron Bell is driven back into Cam Newton’s face on a play-action pass, forcing him to throw early to Brandon LaFell and incomplete.
2nd and 10 – D-Will runs right for no gain, although Byron Bell blocked his guy into the ground – swarming defense stopped the play.
3rd and 10 – Byron Bell’s assignment pressures Newton, nearly whiffing him on the speed rush and forcing Cam to scramble for an apparent first down, but an illegal formation penalty ixnayed that. Byron Bell had cheated back so far that he was no longer on the line of scrimmage.
A bit later in the first half on third and one, there was NO line surge AT all, forcing a 4th and 1.
Brandon LaFell had a key drop on a two-minute drill at the end of the first half, and even David Gettis was playing like a more average receiver with an easy drop.
You might want to go back and read my article from a few days ago called “Carolina Panthers have Multiple Issues on Offense”. Clicking on it will open the post in a new window.
Pretty much most of what I said in that analysis was on display last night. Despite the outstanding defensive performance, one which clearly made the difference between winning and losing the game, the offense never did put things together. The offensive line still hasn’t gelled and time is running short. The ground game never did get untracked with Tauren Poole being the team’s leading rusher with 36 yards…on 15 carries. Olsen and Gettis had three catches each.
Winning preseason games isn’t the main goal of NFL coaches, no matter what anyone might think. Sure, they’d rather win than lose anytime, but the preseason is the time to take the 90-man roster and get your twos and threes (second, third-string players) enough playing time on the field to see who “has it” and who doesn’t, who might make the final 53-man roster, who they might want for the practice squad, and who they want no part of.
Few questions about the offense were answered last night. If this team is going to make noise, the defense will HAVE to carry the team, especially in that brutal opening month of September, while the offense finds their identity. Cam gets pressured way too much even on short/intermediate passes and if I had to describe the O-line play in one word, it would be “sieve-like.”
As for the special teams, they looked weak in coverage – again – but gave up no scoring plays.
Ted Ginn, jr. showed why the team picked him up and put his own exclamation mark on what I have been saying about him all summer. Average at best receiver, but potent weapon on returns. After being down 7-0 and having given up a long scoring drive to start the game down 7-0, Ginn took a Ravens punt 74 yards to the house.
I’ve said all along he’s the return man they’ve lacked for years but won’t be much of a receiving threat in the grand scheme of things. For the price he was acquired for, I’m fine with that. The Carolina Panthers haven’t returned a punt for a TD in a regular-season game in 10 years.
However, my worries about the offense weren’t put to rest at all last night. If anything, they were reinforced.
That clock is ticking louder and louder, counting down to Sept. 9th.