Offense Desperately Needs Ginn
The Carolina Panthers lost Ted Ginn Jr. early in this game due to a knee injury and he wasn't able to have any kind of impact from that point forward. This had a major effect on this offense. Cam Newton struggled to provide that explosive play through the air that helps open up the underneath routes for Greg Olsen and the rest of the throwing lanes.
Entering this game, Ginn Jr. had six touchdowns the previous three weeks and was averaging 21.92 yards per catch over that stretch. The veteran wide receiver only had one reception for nine yards on three targets and the Panthers' longest reception only went for 19 yards.
Many thought this passing game would take a step backwards when Kelvin Benjamin went down with a knee injury. While Ginn Jr. may not be the same wide receiver as Benjamin, he has played like a number one in this offense. He has developed great chemistry with Newton and been the catalyst to making this offense explosive.
This was the first time all season the Panthers' have failed to score over 20 points and it is clear that Ginn Jr. is vital to Newton's and this Panthers' offense success.
Panthers' Pass Rush Continues to Struggle
Entering Week 15, the Panthers' defense had 40 sacks on the season and was averaging just over three sacks per game. However, the past two weeks they have only been able to bring down the opposing quarterback twice. Both sacks came against the Falcons and were by defensive tackle Kawann Short, who now has 11 sacks on the season.
The Panthers have not been getting much push from their defensive ends with Charles Johnson, Jared Allen, Kony Ealy and Mario Addison accounting for only 13 sacks this year. However, these four have only .5 sacks combined over the past four games, with Addison getting the half sack.
The Panthers are going to need to find a way to help their defensive ends to get pressure on the quarterback to return to being a dominant defense.
Cameron Artis-Payne Needs More Touches
The biggest positive that came from this game is the fact that rookie Cameron Artis-Payne needs to get the ball more next week and into the regular season. After gaining 93 yards from scrimmage against the NY Giants, he responded with 49 rushing yards on only five carries and led the Panthers' in rushing.
The rookie has shown an ability to break off long runs with a 31-yard carry in the first half against the Falcons, after having a 26-yard carry against the Giants.
The offense has relied heavily on Jonathan Stewart most of the season but he has not shown this big play ability this year with only two runs over 25.
The team's primary back-up was Fozzy Whittaker but he left today's game early due to an ankle injry and ESPN's Britt McHenry reported he was in a walking report.
When Stewart comes back, the team should use Artis-Payne as the primary back-up and find a way to work the rookie into the game plan.