Newton not to blame for Panthers' mediocre start

Oct 22, 2013 3:10 AM

Welcome to Teddy’s unique look at the NFL. Teddy watches games all day on Sunday, typing furiously on his laptop while giving you the key info that the box scores and game recaps don’t necessarily have. This week: NFC thoughts and opinions from Week 7.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The personnel is just fine. Linebacker LaVante David was amazing, notching 3 tackles for loss including a sack, knocking away passes downfield and stuffing the run repeatedly. WR Vincent Jackson was unstoppable, developing nice chemistry with the rookie QB Mike Glennon. After Glennon’s early pick six, he made some great throws on an inconsistent afternoon. Right now, Glennon falls into the serviceable category and not one labeled “developing a future franchise QB.”

Dropped passes continue to kill Tampa Bay – three in the first quarter alone. Penalties have been a problem, entering the contest averaging 8.6 per game (2nd worst in the NFL) and committing 11 more penalties. As the Bucs were trying to rally back from a 2 TD deficit in the fourth quarter, they drove down for a first and goal at the 5.

After a series of miscues and a TD wiped off the board via penalty, Tampa ended up settling for the field goal on fourth and goal from the 23. A stupid personal foul penalty set up Atlanta’s lone fourth quarter score, turning a 1 TD deficit into 2. The Bucs just can’t seem to get out of their own way.

Atlanta Falcons: Lots of very positive signs, but not convinced their troubles are solved just because they beat up on the self-destructing Bucs. Atlanta had a pass rush with Osi Umenyiora and Peria Jerry eating up the Bucs offensive line. Rookie cornerback Desmond Trufant got picked on, but made a handful of nice plays. For the umpteenth time, the defense played poorly while protecting a second half lead, allowing Tampa scores on three of their last four possessions.

Matt Ryan looked great despite playing without his top two receivers. Harry Douglas is about to become a star in this offense. The former slot receiver has been forced into the No. 1 WR role and enjoyed a huge afternoon. Tony Gonzalez was relatively quiet, but he made a pair of big catches. Jacquizz Rodgers made people miss catching dump-offs out of the backfield.

Atlanta’s fundamental flaw on offense hasn’t changed – they still can’t run the football. The Falcons failed to get a single first down twice on their three ‘let’s burn some clock’ drives in the second half. They did punch in a couple of short yardage TD’s, but still converting red zone opportunities into touchdowns less than 50% of the time. Penalties were simply inexcusable, racking up more than 100 yards.

Detroit Lions: This secondary had one guy to stop (AJ Green) and couldn’t do it, allowing multiple big plays. Cornerback Chris Houston was burned for an 82 yard TD on the Bengals second play from scrimmage and it didn’t get any better. For as strong as this defensive line is supposed to be, the back seven aren’t getting maximum benefit from the pressure that unit creates.

The pass rush wasn’t that great. Detroit constantly put Cincy in third and longs, allowing only four conversions. The Lions lost on a shanked punt, not a defensive meltdown. On a day where a blocked field goal against David Akers resulted in a huge momentum swing before halftime, the Lions’ unstoppable passing game wasn’t good enough to overcome their miscues on their other two units.

Carolina Panthers: None of Carolina’s mediocrity this year is related to poor play from Cam Newton, who was absolutely phenomenal against St. Louis. He threw only two incomplete passes while averaging 12 yards per attempt. If Cam actually had some good targets to throw to besides Steve Smith, the sky is the limit for his passing ability.

The receiving corps is so weak that St. Louis stacked the box and all three Panthers rushers (including Newton) were held under 3 yards per carry. I’m not impressed at all with Mike Shula’s play calling, particularly in short yardage and red zone situations. With a second half lead, Carolina showed no interest in going for the jugular; quite content burning a little bit of clock and then punting.

While the offense is mediocre, this defense has allowed the fewest TDs second lowest points in the NFL. They are an elite level stop unit and were dominant against the Rams with 4 sacks, 9 tackles for loss, 3 turnovers forced (including a pick six on the first pass attempt), and a consistent run stuffing effort.

Let’s not forget that no team in the league has faced a weaker slate than the Bills/Giants/Cardinals/Vikings/Rams quintet that Carolina has played since losing to Seattle in Week 1.

St. Louis Rams: This front seven on defense is head and shoulders better than it was a month ago when getting gashed on every play. It looked like a significantly improved unit even after sackmeister Chris Long got tossed out for fighting. There are four former first rounders in that group, along with their best defensive player, LB James Laurinaitis (an early second rounder).

St. Louis blew up the line of scrimmage for a first quarter safety and spent the entire afternoon stuffing the run. The young, struggling secondary is another story entirely however, forcing only 2incomplete passes while getting picked apart all afternoon.

Sam Bradford was taking shots downfield to his playmakers. Tavon Austin had a 63 yard TD grab called back on a penalty. Brian Quick had a 73 yard catch and run. Bradford has done a much better job avoiding turnovers, throwing only 2 INTs in his last five games. But the offensive line couldn’t protect him here and he left with what looked like a very serious knee injury. Backup QB Kellen Clemens has been in the league since 2006 without ever earning a starting job. His career QB rating is 62.2. If Clemens is forced into action for the weeks to come, the Rams drop-off could be quite significant.

Washington Redskins: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a team look so good on defense in August and so bad once the regular season started. Not much is working right defensively for Washington these days, allowing 4 TDs and a missed field goal on the Bears’ last six drives. Their pass rush is anemic and coverage in the secondary is dismal. The linebackers are slow. Facing a backup QB playing behind a banged up offensive line, this stop unit got gashed on drive after drive.

Brian Orakpo’s pick six was the first significant play this defense has made in weeks, and that came via a lucky bounce. If you can’t stop the run against a team playing their backup QB, the finger needs to be pointed at defensive coordinator Jim Haslett. And when your team allows a special teams TD for 3 consecutive games (two punt returns and a blocked punt), that’s on the head coach!

This was the first game that RG3 2013 looked like RG3 2012. He was dynamic with his feet in his best rushing game of the season. He extended plays with his legs, delivering passes to his receivers after buying extra time. And he made plays in the red zone, in sharp contrast to the loss at Dallas which scored 4 TDs on 5 red zone opportunities.

Ted Sevransky is one of the nation’s premier sports handicappers and analysts. Follow Teddy on Twitter @teddy_covers or visit his page at experts.covers.com. Contact Ted Sevransky at [email protected]

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