Welcome to Step UP or Step OUT, a new for 2017 series on CSR that is intended to look at players who are playing well, and highlight a few that need to step their game up. Think of it as a heat index for the Carolina Panthers; guys who are playing well are stepping up and those who aren’t need to improve their game or... step out.
This week we’ll look to identify who did their best in the loss to the New Orleans Saints and who crashed and burned. There were people on both sides of the ball who can bear some responsibility for the loss, and the Panthers will once again have to come together facing a tough Minnesota Vikings team this Sunday.
Heat Rating: Death Star Lasers
Despite a pedestrian stat-line, Cam Newton probably had one of his best games as a pro on Sunday. He ran effectively, threw accurately, and delivered the ball to his best option for most of the game. He was let down repeatedly by his receivers failing to hold up their end of the bargain, and that made a huge difference in this game. The best example was a third down play where the Saints sent the house and Cam delivered a perfect strike to Devin Funchess. It was slightly contested, but it hit Devin in both hands. Would have been a first down. Instead, it was a drop that led to a Michael Palardy fumble and turnover on downs.
Heat Rating: That hot soup that sloshes out of the bowl onto your wrist as you’re carrying it to the table
Mario Addison has been this teams most consistent defensive lineman for most of the season, and he continued his quarterback harrasing ways on Sunday. He has always been a very good pass rusher, but as I have stated before, his improvement defending the run is the best feather in his cap this year. The Panthers struggled to contain the Saints running backs on Sunday, but it largely was not something Addison could do anything about, there were other failures. Addison is on pace for about a 12 or 13 sack season, a bargain for what we paid for him.
Heat Rating: A branding iron sitting over hot coals in a Texas heat wave
Speaking of guys who have improved over the course of the season, Christian McCaffrey is another great example. Early on in the year, it didn’t quite look like McCaffrey was 100% comfortable after getting the ball, and his hesitation got him tackled earlier than it should have. In the second half of the season, we are seeing a much more decisive runner, and a bit of that open field elusiveness that everyone touted as he came out of college. Cam is looking for him in red zone situations frequently, and he should continue to do so as he keeps delivering. In the absence of Curtis Samuel and Greg Olsen, Run CMC has basically been Cam’s secondary target. The presence of Greg Olsen again should really help give him more room to work.
Cold Rating: Your beer in a cooler of dry ice
Alvin Kamara has made many a fool of people on the football field this year, and Kurt Coleman is probably his most posterized victim from the game on Sunday. In some regards, it is very unfair to expect Coleman to consistently make that tackle on a young talent like Kamara, but that is what he is paid to do. Kurt is one of the more highly regarded tacklers on our team, but he was thoroughly owned by the AlvIngram moving company.
Cold Rating: Frosty the Snowman
The most low-key disappointment of the day was the play of Star Lotulelei. He was the key to stopping this rushing attack, and he was beat at his own game all day. The Panthers expect a talent like him to be able to hold his ground even against a double team, but he was repeatedly unable to do so. Even in one on one situations, he often found himself getting driven back, and forget about pushing the middle of the pocket... it simply didn’t happen. It was by far the worst game i have ever seen Star play, and hopefully the coaches can motivate him as he watches the film of it.
Cold Rating: Ivan Halley’s seat at the Vikings game on Sunday
You can’t picture yourself as a number one receiver and drop the kind of passes that Devin Funchess did on Sunday. Sure, he made an excellent contested catch at the end of the game when it really didn’t matter any more, but we need him to make the catches more often when it does. Twice on Sunday he dropped a ball that would have been a first down that instead resulted in a turnover on downs or punt. Cam put the ball on his receivers with great accuracy on Sunday, Funchess and to a lesser extent Russell Shepard, let him down.