Panthers Need to Learn How to Close Games Out
The Carolina Panthers are 8-0 but it is hard to say they won their last two games in convincing fashion after blowing a 17 point lead against the Indianapolis Colts on Monday night the Panthers almost blew a 37-14 lead against the Green Bay Packers. Over the past two weeks, the Panthers have been outscored 32-13 in the fourth quarter. The biggest takeaway from this game is that the Carolina Panthers need to learn how to play with a lead and close games out.
Now, this defense did face two of the better quarterbacks in the league in Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers who should never be counted out and can score points in bunches as evident of these two games. However, the Panthers need to learn how to play with a lead and close games out. This is a lesson that both the defense, and the offense, need to learn.
Against the Packers, Cam Newton had a great game (297 passing yards, 57 rushing yards, four total touchdowns) that could have been quickly erased with an errant pass that was intercepted by Damarious Randall at the end of the fourth quarter. Newton has made tremendous steps forward with his development and has been the catalyst for this offense but these type of plays can't happen.
Devin Funchess: #1 Wide Receiver?
When the Panthers drafted Devin Funchess these were the kind of games they envisioned him having, they just didn't expect it to come in Week 9 of the season. Entering this game, Funchess had season totals of seven receptions for 90 yards and had almost as many drops (6) as receptions, according to Pro Football Focus. He also didn't have more than two receptions or 24 receiving yards in a single game.
Fast forward to today, and Funchess came up with a huge 52-yard reception in the first half that set up a touchdown pass from Newton to Greg Olsen. He followed that up with a touchdown catch at the start of the fourth quarter, which turned out to be the deciding factor in the game today. He finished the day with three receptions on four targets and 71 receiving yards.
The Panthers have to hope this is a sign of things to come for as the team has struggled at the wide receiver position. The team has yet to find a player to step up as the lead wide receiver and if Funchess can build off this game, the offense will be that much tougher to stop.
Pass Rush Looks Dominant
Against the Packers, the Panthers' defense dominated the opposing offensive line and constantly put pressure on Rodgers. The Panthers' had five different players register sacks (Thomas Davis, Star Lotulelei, Kawann Short, Kurt Coleman, and Kony Ealy) and hit Rodgers 14 times.
The Panthers found a majority of their success bringing pressure right up the middle and into Rodgers' face. It was pretty common to see the Panthers' line up Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly right up over the center and created confusion for the Packers' and their blocking assignments. This meant that generally one player was coming through unblocked.
Another positive sign from this game was the play of Kony Ealy, who is back to playing like he did at the end of 2014. Many thought that Ealy would be a breakout player because of the way he finished last year but he struggled in training camp and at the start of the season. Well the past two weeks, Ealy has registered a sack and forced fumble in each game and led the team in QB hits with three against the Packers.