Cam Newton had an average game against the Seattle Seahawks Saturday night. He finished the game 23 of 36 for 246 yards with two touchdowns, as well as 37 rushing yards. However, he struggled to protect the ball and had three turnovers (two interceptions and one fumble).
One interception came in the first half on a third down and long when Newton threw a deep pass to Philly Brown. It was intercepted by Richard Sherman and basically equated to being a punt for the Panthers. The other two turnovers though hurt, especially the interception that was returned for a touchdown late in the game.
The Panthers run game actually ran for 32 more yards than the Seahawks, who had the best run game in the NFL this year. The combination of Jonathan Stewart as the featured back with DeAngelo Williams as the change of pace back has worked well for the Panthers as of late. Stewart ran for 70 yards on 13 carries while Williams chipped in with 14 yards on only two carries.
The problem though was that the Panthers play calling went away from the run even though they were playing very well in the first half. After running the ball 19 times in the first half for 77 yards, they only ran the ball 11 times in the second half but gained 55 yards. The coaching staff should have tried to continue to rely on the run game and could have possibly kept them in the game a little bit longer.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
Kelvin Benjamin broke out of his slump in a big way and seems to enjoy going up against Richard Sherman and the rest of the Legion of Boom. On Saturday night he caught seven passes for 75 yards and two touchdowns. That brought his two game total against them to 11 receptions, 169 yards and two touchdowns in his rookie season.
The one concern that showed on Saturday night, and has been one for most of the year, is that the Panthers still lack that big play threat. The thought process was that Philly Brown could be that guy but he has been inconsistent this year. The offense does have two great receiving threats for Newton in Benjamin and tight end Greg Olsen but are still missing that player that can stretch the field.
It was not necessarily a great game for the Panthers offensive line, a group that was greatly improved since the bye week. Newton ended up being sacked two times and was hit an additional eight times. This group really struggled stopping Cliff Avril and Bruce Irvin, who each had a sack and two QB hits.
However, they continued to dominate in run blocking and allowed the Panthers’ running backs to be very effective against a solid run defense.
The Panthers defensive line had an excellent game, even without defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. The one player who did step up in his place though was Kawann Short who was getting steady penetration and finished the game with four tackles.
This group also did an excellent job of containing Russell Wilson in the pocket and not letting him scramble for big yards. Wilson had one run for 14 yards but was only able to gain eight yards on six carries.
Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly had another excellent game to close out their 2014 season. Davis finished the game as the Panthers’ leading tackler with nine tackles as well as one sack. Meanwhile, Kuechly had eight tackles and one tackle for a loss.
While the secondary and defensive line struggled for extended periods of time this year, the linebacker position was consistent from start to finish. Davis and Kuechly each had over 100 total tackles this year, while the third place person on that list was Roman Harper with 62.
The Panthers secondary played much better than the stats would show with Russell Wilson throwing for 268 yards and three touchdowns. One of those touchdowns though came on a one-handed 63-yard pass from Wilson to Jermaine Kearse. A play that was well-defended by Bene Benwikere but was just a great play by the Seahawks’ wide receiver.
The future is certainly bright for this group with rookies Benwikere and Tre Boston and second-year cornerback Josh Norman. Even nickelback Colin Jones had a strong finish to the year after making a switch from backup safety to cornerback. Against Seattle he had three tackles, one for a loss, and one pass defended.
The Panthers special teams has been a weak point for this organization all season. It seemed like one area of this unit would struggle each week however against Seattle they played pretty well. Graham Gano made his one field goal attempt and one extra point attempt. Punter Brad Nortman had four punts and averaged 39.3 yards per punt.
Even the Panthers’ returners, Brenton Bersin and Fozzy Whittaker, had solid games with no fumbles and did a good job of securing the ball. Even though they finished the year on a good note, this is one unit that should see an extensive overhaul in the offseason.