Finding ways to move the ball and pick up big chunks of yards wasn’t the problem for the Panthers on Sunday. They actually averaged more yards per play than the Rams did, and they were nearly even in total yards. No, avoiding mistakes was the problem. The Panthers couldn’t get out of their own way on Sunday. Despite finishing strong and putting up 27 points on the defending NFC Champions, it wasn’t enough to kick off the season with a win.
It started on Carolina’s first drive when wide receiver D.J. Moore was stripped in Rams territory after a 15-yard gain.
The Panthers looked to be on their way to opening the season with a score on their first drive. But ball security did them in.
The next four drives did not go well either.
On their second possession of the game, the Panthers faced a 3rd-and-2. Focus on the trips bunch formation at the top of the screen. Greg Olsen and Curtis Samuel got their feet tangled, sending Olsen to the ground and eliminating his route.
The Panthers were forced to punt.
Joey Slye missed a 53-yard field goal on the next drive after Carolina decided to run it on 3rd-and-12 at the Rams’ 34 (They lost a yard).
A fumble deep in their own territory ended Carolina’s next drive. This came on a designed wide-receiver swing pass from Cam Newton to D.J. Moore. The ball was batted down at the line by Samson Ebukam (#50).
You could make the argument that left tackle Daryl Williams gave up too much ground in his pass set instead of being more aggressive and initiating contact sooner against his man. Focus on Williams on the right side of the screen.
He wasn’t close enough to Ebukam to knock his hands down as a result. The Rams recovered the fumble and scored a touchdown two plays later.
The Panthers’ next drive was thwarted after Aaron Donald and Dante Fowler perfectly executed a T-E stunt for a sack on 2nd down. Watch Donald (#99) and Fowler (#56) on the right side of your screen.
Okay, that wasn’t really a self-inflicted mistake from the Panthers’ perspective. That was more of the Aaron Donald factor. He ate up both the guard and tackle with his rush. Fowler did a great job of being patient with the stunt, selling the outside pass rush initially.
Carolina didn’t score until their seventh drive of the game. As mentioned earlier, they started to get going after this. Still, the mistakes would continue to haunt them throughout the remainder of the game.
With just over 10 minutes left in the 4th quarter, the Panthers trailed by 3 points and faced a 3rd-and-6. First, watch wide receiver Curtis Samuel’s release against cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman below (Enter your own Chris Berman “WHOOP!” noise as you watch this).
He damn near made Robey fall over! It doesn’t get any more wide-open than that in the NFL. Newton missed the throw, though.
If you’re a premiere quarterback, you have to hit those throws. That was a huge missed opportunity.
After the Rams scored to make it a two-possession game, the final nail was hammered into the Panthers coffin via a Cam Newton interception.
Newton forced that ball. You can see based on the flow of the defense above that he never really had an open throwing lane. Part of that was due to Newton’s eyes taking linebacker Cory Littleton right to the ball as shown below.
The route was never really that open.
The Panthers did do some good things offensively. Christian McCaffrey had a huge game, racking up 209 yards and two touchdowns on 29 touches. Despite the mistakes we showed, Cam Newton did make some nice plays. He has looked more and more comfortable playing from the pocket over the last couple of seasons. He had a very nice exchange in the 3rd quarter where he was able to identify and then pick apart a Rams blitz by using two hard counts in a row.
Additionally, the Rams weren’t able to get a ton of pressure on Newton. This is a good sign for the Panthers considering L.A. has some of the best defensive linemen and pass rushers in the game. In fact, two of L.A.’s three sacks came on blown plays, as shown below.
Someone went the wrong way on this play-action…
And there was a snap-count issue on this sack, as multiple players were late to move after the ball was snapped.
Those are the unnecessary hits you don’t exactly want your starting quarterback with a surgically-repaired shoulder to be taking.
The Panthers were able to finish strong in this game, which is a good sign. They scored on 5 of their final 7 drives and put up 27 points on the defending NFC Champs. A cleaner all around game, especially early on, and the Panthers easily could have won this one.