The Panthers had a rather up and down outing offensively last week. The ups including Derek Anderson's bomb to Kelvin Benjamin for the rookie's first catch and TD in the NFL (granted it was preseason) and the surprising emergence of Joe Webb in the second half. The downs of the game included the offensive line play at times, the running game as a whole, and, well, poor Matt Blanchard. While the team ultimately fell short, losing 20-18 to the Bills, there was plenty to be pleased with on offense, and the team will look to build upon that this week against the Chiefs, whilst also making up some ground on some of the more lacking parts of the offense. They will face an interesting test in the Kansas City defense.
The Chiefs had, well, let's say an interesting game last week against the Cincinnati Bengals, as the two teams had perhaps the most exciting preseason game in recent memory. The Chiefs would score, not only offensive TD's, but also would return both of their interceptions back for TD's, as well as returning a kickoff 80 yards. The Chiefs have a deadly defense, even without former Pro Bowl CB Brandon Flowers. Another stout defensive test will be a good indicator of how far along our offense really is.
With that, let's take a closer look at the two sides of the offense.
Panthers Pass Offense vs. Chiefs Pass Defense
The biggest headline for this game will be the return of Cam Newton to the field. While he may only play a series or two, it will be good to finally see #1 out there. What will be even better is to see him out there with WR Kelvin Benjamin, as the two will look to create some in game rhythm and chemistry. Back up Derek Anderson did a good job running with the one's last week in place of the franchise QB, so look for the team to make more strides forward in the passing game with Newton back in the saddle.
Now, one reason to only keep Newton on the field for a series or two will be the play of the offensive line. Last week against the Bills, the offensive line bent an awful lot, and even broke a few times. LT Byron Bell still appears to be getting used to playing on the left side of the line, while RT Nate Chandler got abused several times, including a big whiff that led to a Matt Blanchard strip sack and turnover. If it were up to fans, we would have already signed another tackle that can solidify either the left or right side. As it is, the team will continue trying out both players at both positions.
Another surprise from last week was the play of 4th string QB Joe Webb. The 4th year man from UAB nearly brought the team back to a win had it not been for an unfortunate pass deflection off WR Marcus Lucas that turned into an interception. After Blanchard's terrible play in the second quarter, Head Coach Ron Rivera elected to bring Webb in, who immediately channeled his inner Cam Newton, running for first downs, trucking tacklers, and throwing fast balls to his wideouts. Webb would form solid chemistry with WR Tavarres King, and would hit TE Brandon Williams for a late TD. This not only helps increase his stock, but also gives the team a quality look at what depth guys like King and Williams can really do. Webb's impressive outing has given him a chance to earn a roster spot, however it is hard to imagine him unseating Anderson as the #2 man. If anything, this will be another chance for him to tryout for another team after the preseason is over.
The Panthers will have to do their best to neutralize the pass rush of guys like LB's Justin Houston, Derrick Johnson, and Tamba Hali, who can wreck havoc in the Chiefs 3-4 defensive scheme. It will be another chance for Bell and Chandler to prove they deserve to start for this team by holding their own against the elite talent the Chiefs have. All-Pro S Eric Berry suffered a minor injury this week in practice, so it remains to be seen if he will play as he was held out of action against the Bengals last week. This will be a mini bath of fire for Cam Newton, but as previously stated, it will be a good test to see where the team is at after last week's loss.
Panthers Rush Offense vs. Chiefs Rush Defense
So, what words can we use to describe the Panthers running game last week? Poor, dreadful, inadequate, paltry, ineffective, unsatisfactory... I could go on for a while. Suffice to say, it was bad. Averaging only 2.9 yards per carry with QB Joe Webb as the leading rusher with 30 of the net 60 yards gained on the ground, the Panthers need to show up better this week. With the team transitioning to a more of a run first offense, it makes it difficult to do so when you can't, you know, run the ball. It was surprising to see guards Amini Silatolu and Trai Turner get little push in the run game against the Bills last week, and it doesn't get easier this week. The Chiefs employ the services of one, DT Dontari Poe, who is a powerful force in the middle of that 3-4 defensive line. Silatolu, Turner, and C Ryan Kalil will have to get some room opened for whoever is carrying the ball at the first level against Poe before they can even attack the second level LB's.
Now, it is fair to say the Panthers were without their top three backs last week in DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, and Mike Tolbert. The team instead elected to see what Kenjon Barner and Darrin Reaves could do. In short, not much, as neither one could muster even 20 yards on the ground. This week should be a bit different, as Cam Newton is back, Williams might play, and Tolbert should get a few more carries. The Panthers got another boost this week, as Stewart returned to the practice field during training camp, which is an extremely rare sight to see, although he will likely not suit up for this game. It is encouraging, however, to see him back on the practice field.
The main battle here will be if Barner will continue to do his level best to lose his roster spot with poor play. The team needs to see more out of him if they are to keep him on the roster. Both he and Reaves will likely split the carries in the second half yet again, and hopefully the team will give Fozzy Whittaker some carries as well in between.
The return of Cam Newton will give the team a boost on the outset, however, it is only a preseason game and he likely will only be out there for a series or two. So yet again, the main position battles will be at TE, and the depth WR and RB positions. The Panthers passing attack appears to be on the right track, but the run game definitely needs work. We should see some strides forward against the Chiefs this week. While it won't be time to panic if we don't, it will be concerning nonetheless. Anything will likely be an improvement over last week's performance on the ground.