I have found completing the report card this week a little difficult. When it comes to the Panthers offensive performance the stat line looks ‘pretty awful'. Yes, I use that oxymoron on purpose because though the stats were ugly it was still a tick in the Win column. So this report card may not look too good but hey, in the tradition of armchair QB's everywhere, I'm just pulling it out of my arse anyway!
The offensive running game: Grade B+
DeAngelo Williams got the bulk of the carries in the first half and he did nothing special. I credit the Bears defense for that. Once it got deep into the 3rd quarter though Jonathan Stewart pierced the Bears defense repeatedly, slowing down the Bears blitzes. Unlike last week, when the Panthers got inside the five yard line they went to the power running game and Stewart was money, going 2 for 2 on those runs for TD's. For that I had to add the (+).
The offensive passing game: Grade C
Starting with Jake Delhomme's stat line we're left scratching for positive things to single out. 12 for 21 for 128 yards, no TD's and 1 INT. The Panthers pass protection suffered at times, giving up three sacks. The longest pass completion was 33 yards. After watching their defense keep them close, the offense delivered in the 4th quarter with flawless protection and clutch catches. Though this grade is low we're not concerned right? Smitty will be back and all will be corrected.
The rushing defense: Grade B+
The Panthers have been sporting a classic "bend but don't break" defense in these first two games. Bears RB Matt Forte (23 rushes for 92 yards, 4.0 avg) ran loose at times early in the game but never broke one into the open (longest was 18 yds). Giving up 115 yards rushing is pretty good and I had to give the (+) for that 4th and 1 stuff to end the Bears last drive. Big props to Kemo, Brayton and Davis for that one.
The passing defense: Grade A
The passing defense could have easily been the goat this week as twice Bear receivers were open deep but were overthrown by QB Kyle Orton. Outside of a couple long completions to WR Brandon Lloyd the passing defense played well and as I said got lucky. The Panthers only registered a single sack but they did get some pressure on Orton on key 3rd downs. The A grade is mainly for not giving up a passing TD and the two forced fumbles on TE Greg Olsen. Chris Harris has taken the forced fumble to an art form, combining his tackles with a well placed punch at the ball. I hope he is coaching the rest of the LB's and DB's on his technique. Overall the Panthers pass defense worries me the most as the Panthers pass rush is still lagging.
Special Teams: Grade F
Anytime you give up a TD on a punt block you're going to get an F in my book. Talk about putting your team in a hole. It looked like Nick Goings was mostly at fault but I wonder if Landon Johnson wasn't sleeping too. On the positive side, PR Mark Jones had a nice return for 31 yards and the KO coverage team held Devin Hester to a 21 yard average. John Kasay hit all of his kicks too.
Coaching/Game Planning: Grade B
With yet another horrid 3rd down completion percentage (2 for 13) the Panthers earn their "Cardiac" nickname with self-flag-ulation (yes, it's a word) yet again. When you are constantly putting yourself in 3rd and long situations as the result of stupid penalties, tons of them, you are sandpapering your own ass. I have to fault the special teams coaching for the blocked punt though it's an isolated incident. I'd like to see more passes to the RB's in the flat but in the end the Panthers won so I have no basis for complaining about the play-calling. The key was the halftime adjustments as the penalties dropped off and the running game improved. I do give John Fox & Jeff Davidson props for sticking with Stewart in the 4th quarter and for giving him the rock on the goal line. With Smitty coming back I expect the playbook to open up a little more down field.