The Carolina Panthers got their first victory of 2013. If you're the kind who likes to hang your hat on semi-meaningless wins, congratulations. It's far more important to dig into the individual, and positional performances to better understand where this team's strengths and weaknesses lay.
It's safe to say that you wont need to worry about the Panthers' defense in 2013, at least their line and linebackers. The amount of pressure the defensive front were able to generate was overwhelming. Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short look as good as advertised, and I'd be stunned in Short doesn't quickly pass Dwan Edwards on the depth chart. It was a great night for depth defenders to get feelgood sacks, as Mario Addison, Louis Nzegwu, Criag Roh, and Chase Blackburn all added big plays.
Offensive line play was the area open for the most criticism, as an abysmal training camp gave way to plenty of reasonable doubt whether this unit were an NFL caliber line. Friday didn't help decode exactly how good, or bad this unit could be. While they only allowed one sack on the night, there was a lot of pressure in the pocket. Mike Shula tried to shift the protection to assist, keeping in multiple blocking tight ends -- and it helped a little. Dig deeper into the personnel groupings and you'll see there is reason to worry. Neither Julius Peppers, nor Henry Melton (concussed early in the game) had an opportunity to test the line, and when Chicago moved to their third-string defense the Panthers still had two starters in the game -- Byron Bell, and Amini Silatolu. Here's hoping first cuts are plentiful.
Josh Norman -- Extremely Optimistic
Quietly one of the most improved players in camp, Norman really flexed his muscles in the preseason opener. Intercepting two passes, taking one for a touchdown -- he looked like an NFL starter. Playing close to the line of scrimmage definitely helped him a lot, and he did an excellent job diagnosing his receiver's route, allowing for those INTs. On a night where Captain Munnerlyn struggled, a battle for cornerback could be brewing.
Armanti Edwards and David Gettis -- Extremely Optimistic
The depth wide receivers both had an excellent game after entering it from two sides of the spectrum. Edwards showed why there was so much excitement surrounding him in training camp, as he worked against a still-talented Bears' second-team defense, and made plays. Gettis, on the other hand, had arguably the worst camp of any receiver -- but turned up on Friday when it mattered. The battle at the back-end of the roster will be fascinating.
Anderson Russell -- Extremely Optimistic
I love preseason, because guys like this emerge from nowhere. Russell was all over the field on Friday. He led the team in tackled, forced a fumble, and recovered another. It's not going to be easy for him to make the roster, but play like that will put him in the conversation.
Joe Adams -- Extremely Optimistic
A stint in the doghouse seemed to help, because Adams was a reliable punt returner on Friday -- with no fumbles! His first was the best of the night, a 23-yard scamper as he made the first man miss, before angling up the field for more yards.
Brandon Williams -- Somewhat Optimistic
One of this year's best stories in camp, Williams will likely make the 53 man roster and backup Greg Olsen. His night on Friday was a little bit of everything. He made an excellent leaping catch for 24 yards, the longest of the game -- but didn't look quite as good blocking as you'd expect him to be. Williams is a work in progress, but had a good game.
Mike Shula -- Extremely Pessimistic
This is one of those situations where I felt okay about everything until I dug inside the numbers. I reasoned away the short-range offense as 'vanilla', and wanted to thing he's hiding a bevy of tricks -- but there's really no excuse. Shula ran a far too conservative offense that focused on intermediate passes and no big plays. If that's a sign of the future, the Panthers will be in trouble. This offense works because the team has speed on the outside, and the ability to throw deep.
In Rob Chudzinski's first preseason game with Carolina in 2011 it was clear that deep passing would be part of the organization's makeup. Four passes were completed for over 30 yards, and each quarterback had the opportunity to throw deep. With Shula on Friday the team's longest pass was 24 yards, and only a handful of completions were more than 15. Overly conservative offense will kill this team. Here's hoping it was just game one jitters.
Derek Anderson and Ted Ginn -- Extremely Pessimistic
It's hard to know where the blame should be placed, but both were utterly terrible on Friday night. Anderson's accuracy was all over the place, to the point where it didn't look like the receivers were running the right routes. Ginn was a non-factor, and one has to imagine that some of the blame for the lack of communication is on him. This needs to get better.
Depth secondary -- Extremely Pessimistic
The defense played so well as a whole that it's easy to overlook the back-end of the roster. The guys fighting for spots allowed Matt Blanchard to complete 15-for-18 of his passes, totaling 197 yards. They were bailed out by excellent pressure, but didn't do a lot to show they should make an NFL roster.
Any offensive tackle not named 'Jordan Gross' -- Extremely Pessimistic
Boy, was that ugly. Byron Bell, Bruce Campbell, and Nate Chandler all looked abysmal when it came time for them to play. Early in the game Bell was helped by a tight end, but his deficiencies were clear when he was asked to move to left tackle. The quarterbacks did a good job avoiding the pressure, but it was a sad state of affairs.
Heading into next week
The Panthers face Chip Kelly and the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday. The Eagles lead in the NFL in preseason passing, and Kelly's offense looks every bit as dangerous as its Oregon iteration. They can't really run the ball, but it will still be an excellent test for the new-look offensive line.