Are you not entertained?
This year’s version of the Carolina Panthers with the starters on the field looked exciting, sharp, and explosive in their second preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs. Led by their leaders quarterback Cam Newton, and linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, the Panthers started slowly, only to dominate down the stretch and win, 28-16.
As I mentioned last week, no one watches preseason games to see who wins or loses. Below you will find a quick recap and the highlights, along with my loves and hates.
Quick recap of the first team
With Newton, running back DeAngelo Williams, running back Jonathan Stewart, and defensive end Charles Johnson out last week, their debut felt incomplete. This one felt more like the real thing, only missing tight end Greg Olsen.
Like last week, however, the Panthers would start slow on both offense and defense. Newton and the offense would start sluggishly with three straight three-and-outs, unable to get any momentum going. The defense gave up yards in chunks, namely to Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith and wide receiver Dwayne Bowe. The Panthers would fall into an early hole, down 6-0.
Once the Panthers got to the second quarter, they got their second wind.
On the first drive of the second quarter, the Panthers would turn two Jonathan Stewart runs and a pass interference on Jason Avant into an easy 7. On their second drive of the quarter, Newton would hit Benjamin and Avant deep, and ride another Stewart run for a touchdown.
With the first teams in, the Panthers left with a comfortable 14-6 lead. The Panthers impressive subs would hold on to the lead, and eventually hang on to win, 28-16.
Like last week, here are the Panthers who impressed, and those that depressed.
Players I love
Cam Newton - Sure, he started slow. Sure, he overthrew Benjamin when he was wide open. But he is a playmaker, and when he is on, he is on. Bottom line, he led the team to a 14-6 "win" when both first teams were in. I’ve said this once, and I’ll say it again: as long as the Panthers have a dominant defense and game-changing quarterback in Newton, the Panthers will be in every game.
The defensive line - Johnson. Greg Hardy. Star Lotulelei. Kawann Short. Dwan Edwards. Wes Horton. Kony Ealy. Frank Alexander. Mario Addison. This front line looked GOOD tonight. Johnson and Hardy were their usual pressure generating selves. Edwards, Short, and Lotulelei looked like they were in the backfield every play. (Lotulelei, notably, had an incredible sack of Alex Smith). And the reserves of Ealy, Addison, Horton, and Alexander made it look like the first team D-line was always in. There’s plenty to smile about with this unit
Beauty and the Beast (Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis) - I am entirely taking credit for this nickname. Kuechly and Davis don’t need much explanation. They shut down plays in the backfield, blasted Chiefs in the middle of the field, fired up the fans. Best linebacking duo in the NFL.
Antoine Cason and Melvin White - 6 tackles combined, 2 for a loss. These two may not be flashy nor are household names, but they made statements tonight. They routinely made great open field tackles on Chiefs wideouts and running backs. They make the defense even more intimidating.
Jonathan Stewart - Okay, I’m biased. I am a HUGE Stewart fan. He did not do anything to lessn my opinion. In what seemed like forever, Stewart showed burst between the tackles and scored two tough touchdowns. If he is healthy, watch out.
The red zone offense - Seriously. Picture this. Huge Cam Newton under center. The massive offensive line with Bell, Silatolu, Turner, and Chandler. Hulking Stewart and Tolbert in the backfield. And tall, strong, and fast Olsen and Benjamin at wideout. Seriously? How do you stop that? This package looked like they enjoyed punishing people in the red zone. If Stewart is truly back, this line-up will beat defenses up.
Fozzy Whittaker - As I tweeted, is there anything that Kenjon Barner offers that Fozzy can’t? Unlike Barner, Whittaker was physical, powerful, and looked like he was fighting for a job. Dominated between the tackles, and broke a tackle on a dump-off pass. Even got a touchdown to boot.
Players that impressed
Byron Bell and Nate Chandler - Can’t believe I am saying this, but they looked GOOD. You did not even hear a peep from the fearsome pass rushers of the Chiefs. And these two were why. They worked overtime by playing in the second half, as they could benefit from as much game experience as possible. When they were in, they were more than capable. As I keep saying, they are good enough blockers to get this team to the playoffs.
DeAngelo Williams - Did not do much, but did not look terrible either. Between he and Jonathan Stewart, the Panthers rushing attack looked great and ready for the regular season.
Brandon Williams - Looks like an NFL player. Massive special teams tackle. One good catch. Just missed another touchdown reception. Jump on the bandwagon while you still can!
Derek Anderson - Still looking good. Looked sharp, made nearly all his passes, led the Panthers to a touchdown.
Joe Webb - Impressive yet again. Easy to label him as "just" a mobile quarterback, but he has shown nice pocket presence, escapability, and touch on all his passes. Also easy to say he’s Cam Newton-lite; he’s been playing more like Russell Wilson-lite.
Ed Dickson - With Greg Olsen out, Dickson filled in with the first-team offense. Good, but not great blocking. Caught an 11-yard pass from Newton to start the momentum on offense.
Brenton Bersin and Jason Avant - Just quality, dependable receivers that Cam never had outside of Smitty. Both showed savvy and strong hands en route to quality games.
Panthers that depressed
Kenjon Barner - He did not do anything terrible, but compared to Whittaker (and Reaves last week), he is an easy whipping boy. To his credit, he looked better than last week, but still not good enough.
Josh Norman - Seems like I am alone on this one, but I just don’t see the consistency I would want out of my cornerbacks. Cason and White (and Benwikere to some extent) look like safer bets with this front 7. Even got chewed out by Thomas Davis for taunting/trash-talking. If you're an enemy of Thomas Davis, you're an enemy of mine.
Benjamin and Ealy - Yes, they are in my love group, but they made some rookie mistakes tonight. Benjamin let his emotions get to him as his headbutt and shove of pesky Chiefs cornerback Chris Owens led to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Ealy had a late hit/roughing the passer penalty also lead to a 15 yard penalty. They did not hurt the team, so I am glad it got out of their system.
Panthers I Hate (harsh, I know)
Robert Lester - Still sour on him. Good hitter and tackler, but takes the wrong routes on nearly every run and deep pass. You don’t his name much in the broadcast, but if you keep your eyes on him, you’ll be disappointedd at what you see. Big liability.
Jordan Gay - He missed an extra point last week. Had an 8 yard punt this week. (Wasn’t blocked like that announcers said.) Not making this team or any team.
Zone coverage - I know it’s the result of the scheme, but it seems like the Panthers corners give up chunk plays without trying. I don’t know if this can be tightened up, but quarterbacks like Drew Brees, Tom Brady, and Alex Smith dominate against this soft coverage on the outside. But when they get to the red zone, and it is a totally different story.
Colin Cole - I want to pick on someone on the defensive line. He held up strong at point of attack, but did nothing of note. Short, Lotulelei, and Edwards (with Ealy and Hardy at times) are better off as defensive tackle.