Cameron Artis-Payne Plays Well in Place of Stewart
Entering Week 15, the Carolina Panthers knew they were going to be without running back Jonathan Stewart however they didn't know which running back would step up to replace him. The coaching staff had plenty to choose from with Mike Tolbert, Fozzy Whittaker and even rookie Cameron Artis-Payne, who had played one snap since Week 4.
Head coach Ron Rivera made it clear that the team would go with whoever had the hot hand and after Tolbert struggled on the first two drives the team turned to the rookie Artis-Payne. He was by far the most effective running back on this team today and put together the best game of his career. He finished the game with 14 carries for 59 yards and added 34 more yards through the air on two receptions.
This may not jump out to anyone on the stat sheet but there is plenty of positives to take from this. The fifth-round rookie proved that he could carry the load if Stewart is out for an extended period of time, which doesn't seem the case, but even when Stewart returns, Artis-Payne could have earned himself some carries to keep Stewart fresh.
Entering this game, the Panthers' had questions about who would step up in Stewart's absence and at the very least if they have this situation again, that is one question they will already have answered.
Cam Newton Dominates from the Pocket
The Panthers' quarterback had a season high on the ground, running for 100 rushing yards including a 47-yard scramble in the first quarter, but the thing that really stood out is how Newton picked this defense apart from the pocket.
He finished the game with a season high 340 passing yards and five touchdowns. What was more impressive was that aside for an errant pass that was caused by a Giants' defender hitting Newton under his arm, he didn't throw many passes into coverage or near a defender.
The former first overall pick is in complete control of this defense and looks extremely comfortable in the pocket. He is working through his progressions and knows the right throw as evident of throwing touchdown passes to four different wide receivers.
This was Newton's third game with five touchdown passes in the past five games and since Week 9 he has thrown 22 touchdowns and only two interceptions. If Newton can continue to make defenses focus on the passing game, it will make his scrambling that much more effective.
Panthers' Pass Rush Disappears
Entering Week 15, the Carolina Panthers had the third best pass rush in the league with 40 sacks but against the Giants was almost non-existent with zero sacks and only four QB hits. This allowed Eli Manning to lead a furious comeback and throw four touchdown passes.
This defense looks drastically different when the Panthers' are not able to get pressure on the opposing quarterback and this is not something the Panthers are accustomed too. Similar to what they are able to do on offense by beating defenses with a number of different wide receivers, the strength of this pass rush is that there is not one player carrying it. The Panthers have four players with five or more sacks with defensive tackle Kawann Short leading the way with nine.
The thing that is most impressive is that their best pass rusher, Charles Johnson, isn't even in this group. The team is able to provide pressure across the line and even at different levels with Thomas Davis.
This is probably not a major concern and this game can be just chalked up to good quarterback play by Manning and a strong offensive line. However, it is worth watching next week against the Atlanta Falcons and into the playoffs.