Takeaways from Panthers Preseason Victory

The Carolina Panthers were able to squeak out a 25-24 victory over the Buffalo Bills Friday night. Now while a victory is nice, it certainly isn't the most important thing in the preseason. Brandon Croce breaks down his five takeaways from the Panthers' first preseason game

Cam Newton struggles with his accuracy early

One of the biggest talking points leading into training camp was the work Newton and the Carolina Panthers coaching staff put in to help his pass accuracy. Well if they are going to judge the franchise quarterback off the first preseason game, it would seem there is still a lot of work to do.

Newton started the game completing only one of his first six attempts which included an overthrown deep ball to Corey Brown who had a step on the opposing defense. If this was on target, it would have certainly been a touchdown. Then something clicked on Newton’s third and final drive where he finished completing his last four passes including a two-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin.

Now this was the first game action any of these Panthers have had since the NFC Divisional game against the Seattle Seahawks. There is going to be rust with these players and even though Newton did struggle early, he finished strong with some great throws. That is what is going to be important to take away from this game and it will be interesting to see how he performs in the coming games.


The Panthers are going to have tough decisions to make at wide receiver

There is no question that the wide receiver position has a great deal more talent at wide receiver than they did at this time last season. It starts with wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who looked very impressive in limited action. He had three receptions for 36 yards and one touchdown.

The Panthers had 12 different players catch passes today, including seven wide receivers. The one thing that stood out from this game was that this offense is going to challenge defenses more vertically this season. The Panthers have players like Ted Ginn Jr., Corey Brown and even Devin Funchess who can get over the top of defenses.

NFL teams generally only carry five, maybe six wide receivers on their roster. If this is the case, the Panthers are going to have to cut a pretty good wide receiver or two as they trim the roster to 53 men.


The running back position will be just as tough

With Jonathan Stewart being a late scratch it opened up opportunities for other running backs to shine in the first preseason game. Some rose to the occasion, while others struggled.

Fozzy Whittaker got the start for the Panthers tonight and in limited action was rather underwhelming. He carried the ball 5 times for three yards and his longest run was only for three yards. Fifth round rookie Cameron Artis-Payne got the most work though with only eight carries and was able to pick up 24 yards. The one thing that stood out with Artis-Payne, even though he didn’t have a great deal of running room, was when he was tackled he was always falling forward.

Another running back who was really impressive was Jordan Todman. The Panthers signed the former Jacksonville Jaguar this offseason for his special team experience but he looked really comfortable running the ball on Friday night. This is not even mentioning Brandon Wegher, who scored the game winning touchdown on a dump off for 42 yards.

This running back position is going to be another one that the coaching staff is going to struggle to determine who makes the team and who is on the outside looking in.


The Panthers defense struggled to stop the run

It seemed like the Buffalo Bills offense could do no wrong and were able to move the ball almost at will on the ground. The Bills finished the game with 206 rushing yards on 45 carries with Bryce Brown leading the way with 52 rushing yards and a touchdown on only six carries. Their rushing attack allowed them to dominate the time of possession, holding the ball for over 37 minutes.

One of the reasons for the high total was the Panthers defensive line struggled to contain the Bills quarterbacks. Tyrod Taylor, Matt Simms and EJ Manuel combined for 73 rushing yards and this was due in large part to the defensive line over-running the play. It seemed at times the Panthers defensive ends were just running to a point and running past the Bills quarterbacks and losing containment.

The Panthers defense struggled against the run last year dropping to 16th in the NFL after ranking 2nd in 2013 and this is an area they will have to improve. Now this game could have been a perfect storm of facing a good running team and missing three of their starting defensive linemen with Charles Johnson, Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short out with injuries. It is worth watching if this defense can improve in this category in the coming weeks before the regular season starts.


Offensive Line looks to be much improved

Last year, the offensive line was a train wreck and it wasn’t known from week to week what the starting five might be. As the season progressed though the coaching staff was able to find the right pieces and they are now entering this season in a much better place.

This offensive line had a stiff challenge in the first preseason game against the Bills impressive defensive line led by Mario Williams, Jerry Hughes and Marcell Dareus. Well this group certainly passed the test as they only gave up one sack, late in the game on Joe Webb, and kept Cam Newton upright with a pretty good pocket most of the game.

If the Panthers are able to get solid performance on a consistent basis from their starting five, it is going to be a huge boost for this offense. Not only will it help their run game but it will also give Newton time in the pocket to throw those deep passes to their speedy wide receivers like Brown and Ginn.

Follow me on Twitter @BrandonCroce.

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