This was Cam Newton’s first game back since suffering two broken bones in his back from a car accident last week. It certainly didn’t look like there was any lingering effects from the injury as he moved around well and was a threat both through the air and on the ground. Newton finished the game completing 18 of 31 passes for 201 yards, one touchdown and one interception and added 63 yards and one touchdown on the ground.
The glaring negative from this game, and this has been a trend most of the season, is the unnecessary turnovers that Newton will have during the course of the game. The one today came in the third quarter when Newton was flushed out of the pocket chased by defenders and decided to try and throw a pass. Unfortunately he wasn’t able to get enough power behind it, since he was rolling to his left, and ended up throwing an interception to Browns’ defensive linemen Billy Winn.
This is the type of play Newton needs to learn to throw it out of bounds and move on to the next play. If he can do that, he will be one step closer to taking his career to the next level.
Once again the Panthers running backs had a strong game, especially Jonathan Stewart. As a team, the Panthers ran for 209 yards with the majority of it coming from Newton (63 yards) and Stewart (122 yards).
The Panthers offense is the most effective when they have this balance between the run and pass. One of the problems with the offense earlier in the year was that defenses didn’t respect the run. They were able to drop more defenders into coverage and make Newton’s job much more difficult. Since Stewart returned from his injury, he has brought legitimacy to this part of the offense.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
The one area the Browns defense excels in is their pass defense (8th in the NFL entering this week) and that showed on Sunday. The Panthers’ targets in the passing game struggled to get open for most of the game and the Browns were able to do this without their best cornerback, Joe Haden.
The passing game was carried by wide receivers Kelvin Benjamin and Jerricho Cotchery on Sunday. Benjamin was the team’s leading receiver with five receptions for 47 yards on 12 targets but Cotchery also had five receptions for 46 yards but only had five targets. The past two weeks, the veteran Cotchery has become Mr. Reliable catching every single ball thrown his way.
One surprise was the lack of production by Greg Olsen who only saw three targets all game, catching one ball for 21 yards. The past two weeks the tight end has had 20 receptions, 182 yards and a touchdown but was a non-factor for most of Week 16.
The Panthers offensive line has really gelled over the past four weeks and are playing some their best football right now. Against the Browns, Cam Newton was only sacked once and over the past three games, Panthers quarterbacks have only been sacked four times. This is a vast improvement from the 37 sacks over the first 11 games of the year.
The biggest play of the game though may have come from Byron Bell in the fourth quarter. The Panthers were only up 10-6 at this point when Cam Newton was strip sacked by Scott Solomon deep in their own end of the field. However, the quick thinking Bell jumped on the ball and was able to recover it. If the Browns were able to recover it, this could have changed the outcome of the game.
The emergence of Kony Ealy has been a welcome sight to the Carolina Panthers and their pass rush. After having only one sack in his first 12 games, he now has had back-to-back games with a sack. The Panthers actually finished the day with three sacks with Charles Johnson and Kawann Short both adding one of their.
It wasn’t only the pass rush that look good on Sunday but they were also getting penetration on run plays too. This position group finished the day with six tackles for a loss. It wasn’t all good as Star Lotulelei continues to be stuck in a sophomore slump with only one tackle on Sunday.
The starting linebackers were going to be a man down with A.J. Klein inactive for this game due to an ankle injury. However, this created an opportunity for rookie Adarius Glanton to shine and he ran with it. He finished the day as the team’s second leading tackler with six total tackles. Glanton was an undrafted free agent after playing at Florida Atlantic University. He was cut at the end of training camp but has been a part of the organization either on the practice squad or the active roster. If Klein is forced to miss next week’s game, the coaching staff should feel confident with Glanton out there.
The one area this group, along with the defensive line, did a good job of in the first half was containing the mobile Johnny Manziel. One of the quarterback’s best assets is his feet and his ability to scramble. The Panthers did a good job of clogging the running lanes and not allowing him to scramble. He finished the day with only three rushing yards.
The Panthers secondary played nearly perfect for 45 of their 46 snaps on Sunday, however that one play almost decided the game. On a third down and six from the Browns 19, tight end Jordan Cameron ran a deep post right down the middle and safety Roman Harper was caught in no man’s land. He had to decide whether to target the wide receiver on the sideline or cover the middle.
He made an initial move towards the sideline but Hoyer found Cameron on the post and Harper was left flat-footed. At this point it was a foot race, which Cameron won.
Yes, this was a bad play but this group has improved tremendously the past four weeks and this game was no different. If that play is taken away the Browns quarterbacks combined to go 9 of 21 for only 85 yards and one touchdown. It is going to be interesting to see how they do against the Falcons duo of Julio Jones and Roddy White.
There really isn’t one positive that stands out from the special teams unit on Sunday against the Browns. Graham Gano went 1 for 2 on field goal attempts, missing a 49-yard field goal on the opening drive. Punter Brad Nortman had four punts, averaging 49.8 yards per punt but only had one downed inside the 20-yard line.
The biggest concern though has to be the team’s kick coverage units, both on kickoffs and on punts. The Browns kick returner Shaun Draughn returned one kickoff for 39 yards. Their punt returner, Travis Benjamin, had a long return of his own, returning one of Nortman’s punts 24 yards.
These returns can have a major impact on the flow of a game by changing field position in a blink of an eye. The Panthers will be going up against one of the best in NFL history next week, Falcons’ Devin Hester, and they are going to have to find a way to stop him.