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Post game stat review: Panthers defense makes a statement
Even in a game where the Cowboys and Panthers failed to put many points on the board
, there were several statistical happenings worthy of note. The defensive side of the ball provided most of these. Luke Kuechly and Kawann Short repeatedly made their respective presences felt and that resulted in the duo being the top two ranked players on the Panthers defense according to Pro Football Focus. Kuechly amassed 13 tackles en route to his team high grade and sank several hundred thousand Carolina hearts as he hobbled off the field with a lower leg injury. Thankfully, he was able to return to the field to finish his bidding and now sits second in the league in total tackles. For his part, Kawann Short terrorized the shaky interior of the Cowboys offensive line and finished the day with a game high two sacks and four quarterback hits. He was one of eight players to tally a pair of sacks in the NFL’s opening weekend. He was joined in the sack column by Mario Addison and Wes Horton, who each had 1.5 sacks, as well as Shaq Thompson who had a sack of his own to go along with his 9 tackles. All of that culminated in a Panthers defense that finished week 1 ranked third in both yards and points allowed. The offense was unsurprisingly led by quarterback Cam Newton, who accounted for nearly 75% of the Panthers’ total yardage. Newton put up ho-hum numbers as a passer but did a lot of damage as part of the Panthers main triumvirate of runners alongside Christian McCaffrey and CJ Anderson. The trio combined for 143 yards on 30 carries, a healthy 4.77 yards per tote. McCaffrey also reprised his role earning the team’s most targets, finishing the contest with 6 catches on 9 targets for an additional 45 yards receiving. Devin Funchess led the Panthers aerial attack in the second half after tight end Greg Olsen left with a foot injury. After failing to secure either of his two official targets in the first half, the third year pro hauled in all three of his targets for 41 yards in the game’s second half.Notable Snap Counts9 players were on the field for 100% of the team’s snaps: Cam Newton, Taylor Moton
, Greg Van Roten, Ryan Kalil, Trai Turner, James Bradberry, Donte Jackson, Mike Adams, and Shaq Thompson.McCaffrey dominated the backfield snaps, taking the field for 57 snaps compared to Anderson’s 12.Rookie DJ Moore was on the field for 17 snaps, fourth among the team’s wide receiversColin Jones got all 21 of the snaps missed by starting safety Da’Norris Searcy. Rookie Rashaan Gaulden did not see the field on defense, but did get 9 snaps on special teams. Ron Rivera is going on eight years of trying to establish the run in the Carolinas and it is past time he gave it a rest. If I thought he knew who I was then I would think he opened the game yesterday with five straight runs just to spite me. This is the part in the Optimist where I am supposed to point to the Panthers’ 3-2 record. I should say that there is still plenty of season left and that the Panthers are only getting healthier as they approach the meat of their divisional schedule. All of that is true. But can you really look at the rest of the schedule and tell me you trust Rivera to lead the Panthers into the playoffs?I have long been critical of Ron Rivera’s conservative decision making as head coach of the Panthers. I have also long been one of his biggest supporters. He has led the Panthers to their best successes. Records of 12-4
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, 15-1, and 11-5 are no accidents in the NFL. That they haven’t had those successes in back to back seasons was always, to my eyes, a testament to how close Rivera is to being great and not damning evidence of his flaws.I started a weekly column on this blog to point out the critical moments in games where he routinely and intentionally makes choices that lessen the Panthers chances of winning football games. These are moments that we have all seen game in and game out since his first season here. He doesn’t do this because he wants to lose, just as I didn’t point out the errors because I wanted him gone. He did what he thought was right. I wrote because I believed he could be better. We were both wrong.We can stop pretending now. Rivera will only ever make the playoffs in the NFL on the strength of a great quarterback performing Sisyphean tasks. He is a brilliant coach. His teams are good. His decisions are bad. I have said time and again that punting a ball at midfield on 4th and 1 with Cam Newton as your quarterback should be counted against the Panthers as a turnover. Yet that is exactly what Rivera elected to do in the first quarter yesterday. The Panthers might have been able to overcome three turnovers in the first half but four was too many.I won’t ban the first person who jumps in the comments to tell me I am overreacting “because we have a winning record,” but I will think about it. If that’s the level of analysis you are looking for then I invite you to read a box score and get on with your morning. Numbers can be informative but they are not, in football, determinative. Not until the end of a season at least. The Panthers are 3-2. They are winning more games than they are losing, but they are not playing winning football. They are playing the same brand of listless, passive ball that Rivera praises every time he is in front of the press. The win-loss record says more about the teams the Panthers have played than it does about them.
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