Well, it was bound to happen. The Panthers, in the most important exhibition game of the preseason, was held scoreless for most of the game. They were bad on 3rd down, they were bad in protection, they were bad getting free from the Patriots secondary. The Panthers looked as bad as the national media declared that they would be. So now what?
The defense was as good as can be expected against last year’s 3rd most potent team scoring the ball. The final score’s 30-0 score isn’t a proper indication of the work the defense was doing. No offensive drive by the Panthers lasted very long, and eventually the defense tired and the dam broke. The deluge was official when 3rd string Patriots QB Jimmy Garoppolo completed an 11 yard pass to Taylor MCuller with 3:52 remaining in the game.
Tom Brady started a bit slowly, but started to gather chemistry with his receiving corps as the game continued. At midfield with 4:50 remaining in the 1st half, Brady connected with running back Shane Vereen on a wheel route for a 40 yard touchdown. Brady looked largely unbothered in the backfield, as the Panthers (the League leader in sacks last year with 60) couldn’t get in the backfield to touch The Matador. Brady was graceful and smooth under pressure as he led a 2 minute drive capped in a Stephen Gostkowski 60 yard FG. After missing his only other two attempts this preseason, Gostkowski was 2/2 in this contest.
Now that the preseason is all but over (the 4th preseason game usually showcases the backups and those competing for the last slots of the 53 man roster), what do we know about this Panthers team?
What was good?
The secondary looks much improved. After a season of mediocre defensive back play, the team appears to have some sound play coming up in the secondary. Melvin White has distinguished himself as a dynamic hitter; pinching the corners on running plays and stopping receivers from getting yards after catch. Thomas DeCoud looks to be rounding back into the form that earned him Pro Bowl honors two years ago. Antoine Cason has the closing speed and cockiness to be the ball-hawk the team has sorely missed, and Charles Godfrey (the lone returning player from last year’s back end) looks like his usual solid self.
Joe Webb led the sole scoring drive for the Panthers, he looks to have beaten out Matt Blanchard despite fewer playing opportunities. Everyone knows he is a phenomenal athlete (some speculated he may join the team as a Wide Receiver) but he seems more confident and poised in the pocket. He made the difficult back-shoulder throw on the scoring drive; a throw he wouldn’t have had the skill to attempt in his stint in Minnesota. It’s a 3rd string QB battle, but watching his maturation has been inspiring.
The Panthers have the best LB duo in the league with Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly. Take that San Francisco.
Kelvin Benjamin has been exceptional all preseason. Before he was drafted, he had a reputation as a raw prospect who struggled with drops. After a nearly flawless camp and preseason, he has taken the role of lead receiver—a desperate need that need to be filled. He and Greg Olsen will get plenty of action this year.
What was bad?
Cam Newton doesn’t look healthy. There was a drive in the first half where the coverage was tight down the field and Newton had the opportunity to run. Because the formation was an empty set shotgun, Cam Newton was the only skill position Panther close to the Line of Scrimmage. As the pocket broke down, the middle of the field opened up—primed for a Cam Newton scramble. Instead, Cam hesitated and was taken down 5 yards after a half-hearted attempt. No one but Cam knows if he was hesitant because he didn’t want to get hurt, or because he IS hurt. But between that play and some other questionable moves he has made this preseason, Newton hasn’t inspired a lot of confidence in his health.
The offensive line has been hit or miss. There were three sacks in this game, but a couple of those were because of down-field coverage. With Jordan Gross and Travelle Wharton both retiring, the entire left side has been trying to become acquainted with their replacements. Cam’s health (whatever it is) will depend on a consistent group in front of him.
While the Carolina Panthers may not season-ready, there is still a game vs the Steelers and they were coming off a short week. Hopefully they will show a spark heading into their first game against the Bucs Sept 7th.