Start by watching the highlights on NFL.com that I have linked here. In this game several things stand out as reasons the Panthers lost this game. In my post game write up I lamented how little the Panthers did on the ground:
The offensive line has to be the biggest disappointment as they got abused all day. Rookie LG Amini Silatolu seemed to stand out the most as Gerald McCoy ran over him constantly. The running game was seriously non-existent as the Panthers only ran for...check this out: 10 total yards. Yes, I said that right...10 total yards FOR THE ENTIRE GAME!
Though the 10 yards is pitiful looking back at it the Panthers simply didn't try to run the ball. They only had 6 rushing attempts in the first half (13 for game) and instead opted to throw the ball to short routes from the shotgun. Throw in some ill-timed penalties and the result is the Panthers were out-gained 102 yards to 171 in the first half while getting shut out 13-0.
On the other side of the ball the Bucs offense, while not really lighting it up was able to control the clock, limit their mistakes (no turnovers) and pound the ball with Doug Martin. The best that can be said is the Panthers defense did not give up too many big plays but instead got pounded enough in the run game to open up play action.
To make my points I've picked a few plays to GIF starting with this 1st and 10 at 3:47 in the 1st quarter. The Bucs already up 7-0 and got the Panthers to bite on the play action.
The Panthers on the other hand abandoned the run allowed the Bucs to sit back and pick their shots at Newton’s passing. All it took was for WR to not secure the pass to kill the Panthers momentum:
In spite of all that the Panthers still had a chance to win despite being dominated in most phases of the game. They rallied from a 13-0 halftime deficit to cut the lead to 6 points yet in the end the Panthers could not overcome two things. The first was turnovers. If you watch the highlights of this game you will see both of Newton’s INTs and you will quickly notice both were passes that should not have been thrown.
The first pass was into triple coverage when he had Williams’ wide open in the flat to his right. The second INT was due to Newton not looking the safety off before throwing the ball and then putting too much air under it allowing the safety to make the play. Both of the INTs came at points when the offense had momentum and had a chance to pull this game out. Throw in a blocked punt and it’s amazing the Panthers actually had a chance to pull it out.
The 2nd key to this loss was the defenses’ inability to stop Bucs RB Doug Martin down the stretch. Martin rushed 24 times for 95 yards with 67 of those yards coming in the 2nd half. In particular with 2:41 left on the clock and the Panthers stalled at the Bucs 3 yard line Rivera elected to kick the FG and hope his defense could get the ball back for the offense. Instead the Panthers could not stop Martin or Josh Freeman for that matter as the Bucs ran out the clock. Here's the dagger and notice who got run over trying to stop Martin:
So what went right?
The Panthers were able to move the ball throwing it even after giving up on the run altogether. I would also add that the defense did keep the game in front of them and didn't give up many big plays.
So what went wrong?
As we so painfully found out over the first half of the season the shotgun-based offense weakened the running game and thereby put too much pressure on Newton. The offensive line in front of Newton also had no answer for Gerald McCoy who was a force on practically every play. Overall the offensive game plan left a lot to be desired given OC Rob Chudzinski had all offseason to plan for that game.
Obviously getting a punt blocked is never good either. A terrible start for a rookie punter for sure. The six penalties for 65 yards is not the worst penalty performance but several were drive killers.
So could the Panthers win a similar game against the Bucs in 2013?
For that to happen the first thing needed is for Newton to protect the ball better and not throw into coverage like he did week 1. With another year under his belt and a seeming leap in maturity at the end of last season I think this scenario is very likely. Secondly with the Panthers returning to a Pro set versus the shotgun I think we will see the kind of running game we are used to seeing from the Panthers. With Mike Shula at OC I think the Panthers will be able to run against the Bucs in 2013 more like we did in week 11 (97 yds rushing) of 2012.
Another key to winning a game like this is for the run defense to hold Martin to less than 4 yard per carry. If the two rookie DT draft picks live up to their billing then I see this as very likely though I will say the Bucs boast a very good set of guards. One last positive for the Panthers is they do not play the Bucs until week 8 (TNF) so they will be able to better game plan for them this time around versus the 2012 season opener. We saw the Panthers play them much tougher in week 11 though they still lost that one (in OT). In the end I think it’s safe to say both games with the Bucs will be tight as too fairly evenly matched teams will duke it out. I’m very hopeful of winning at least one of the games with the Bucs.
This year’s opener against the Seahawks could play out very much like last year’s opener against the Bucs. We know the Seahawks defense will be stout and scoring points for the Panthers will be a luxury. Yet don’t forget the Panthers came close to beating the Seahawks last season (flashback to come) so we know we can play with them. On paper the Seahawks got better on offense but they still have to prove it on the field. QB Russell Wilson will be facing his own version of the sophomore slump as well.