Panthers vs. Steelers: Key Takeaways

The Carolina Panthers ended the four game preseason on a high note with a 23-6 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. They finished with a record of 3-1 and will now get ready for the regular season. Publisher Brandon Croce takes a look at his key takeaways from the team's final preseason game.

Carolina Panthers Run Game Dominates First Half

The Panthers decided to rest a number of their starters, which included running back Jonathan Stewart however that didn’t slow down the team’s run game. Rookie running back Cameron Artis-Payne had his best game of the preseason with 12 carries for 67 yards and averaged 5.6 yards per carry.

He was impressive running the ball, looking decisive and seemed to pick up positive yards on every carry. If he hadn’t before tonight, he has pretty much locked up the back-up running back job to Stewart.

He wasn’t the only player who ran well as Jordan Todman broke a 49-yard touchdown run midway through the second quarter. He showed off his elusiveness, as well as his quickness, as he ran away from the Steelers defenders. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone who has seen him run this preseason.

The Panthers are going to be relying heavily on the run game this upcoming season and they certainly have the talent to do so with Stewart, Artis-Payne and even Todman.

 

Devin Funchess Gets Back On the Field

The loss of Kelvin Benjamin has added pressure to rookie wide receiver Devin Funchess to step up this season. Unfortunately he hasn’t been able to get on the field the past two games due to a lingering hamstring injury.

Well the hamstring has healed up enough that he was able to get back onto the field against the Steelers and he had a solid performance. He finished the game with two receptions for 22 yards on three targets. The first catch came on an out route that he was able to secure the pass with his hands and get both feet inbounds before back pedaling out.

Later in the drive, Funchess had a chance to catch his first touchdown of his career but the pass was a bit overthrown by Derek Anderson. He was only able to get one hand on the pass while battling the Steelers’ cornerback.

Then later in the second quarter Funchess’ probably had his best catch of the night. On the play he came back across his body to pick the pass out of the air, which was thrown a bit behind him, and was able to hold onto the ball even though he was hit in the back by the Steelers’ defender.

This is exactly the kind of game Funchess needed heading into the regular season. It allowed him to get into the rhythm of the game, make a few catches and get ready for Jacksonville. It is expected the rookie out of Michigan will be a big part of this offense this season.

 

Panthers’ Pass Rush Shows Some Life

The Carolina Panthers defensive line had a great performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers. They finished the game with five sacks, two of them coming early in the game and stopping the Steelers’ offense first two drives. The first sack was by defensive tackle Kawann Short, who made his first appearance of the preseason. Short has been battling back issues for a majority of preseason.

The second sack was by Mario Addison, who basically picked up the Steelers’ left tackle with a bull rush and drove him all the way back into Michael Vick. It was an impressive play by Addison showing power that usually isn’t associated with his game.

The Steelers have had some issues with their offensive line but it was good to see the Panthers control the battle in the trenches. They were the more talented group and they showed it Thursday night.

 

Panthers Are Going to Have Tough Decisions to Make in the Final Round of Cuts

There is no question that this Panthers team is much deeper than the one that took the field a year ago. This certainly presents a problem, a good problem to have, when the team has to make their final round of cuts. They are going to probably have to cut some good football players.

The running back position is one that immediately comes to mind. The Panthers have five solid running backs and the one back that is squarely on the bubble is Brandon Wegher. The undrafted rookie has looked very solid this preseason but it may be tough for him to surpass a veteran like Fozzy Whittaker. Whittaker has not played exceptionally well this preseason but he does a lot of the little things that make offenses successful.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Panthers have great depth across every level of this defense with the linebacker position probably the deepest. The front office has added a number of pieces at the position this offseason and it will be interesting to see who makes the final 53-man roster. The team already released linebacker Kevin Reddick earlier this week, who was on the team’s active roster for two playoff games last year.

Follow me on Twitter @BrandonCroce.

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