The Carolina Panthers are now 3-3 after winning an extremely heated game against the St. Louis Rams, and there were a few scrums that took place. The Rams lost Sam Bradford to an excessive shove out of bounds by Panthers safety Mike Mitchell, but it would be a fool’s errand to blame the refs or one specific team; tempers flare sometimes, and this was one of those games. Below are some takeaways that I have following the Panthers 30-15 win.
1. Liking Cam
I like this version of Cam Newton that has come out these past two games, and he has bounced back exceptionally well following a putrid performance against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 5. Newton is taking what the defense is giving him, and he is playing some incredibly efficient football. I still really want to see the Panthers allow him to take shots deep to guys like Brandon LaFell, but a controlled Newton is a recipe for success against many opponents. He went 15-17 with no picks, a terrific 136.6 QB Rating, and he averaged 12 yards per pass attempt. When your quarterback is averaging 12 yards per pass play, then you are well on the road to victory. He did a great job of spreading the ball around to Steve Smith, Greg Olsen, and Brandon LaFell, and it’s great to watch Newton play efficient football while still taking some shots downfield. I was honestly more impressed by his performance this week than how he did last week, and he was very consistent yesterday.
According to ESPN Stats and Info, Cam Newton has completed 81.4% of his passes for an average of 10.4 yards per attempt with four touchdowns and no interceptions over the past two games. In the four games before that, he had five interceptions and a completion percentage of just 57.5%.
2. An active run defense
Unlike the Carolina Panthers defenses of the past two years, this year’s run defense can shut down the opponent’s running game and is a lot more active. Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short have quickly become massive upgrades over the scrap-heap DTs of the near past, and both highly touted rookies ended up with two tackles for loss apiece. Not including sacks, the Panthers had five tackles for loss against the Rams, and they held a solid rookie running back in Zac Stacy to just 53 yards on 17 carries. Daryl Richardson couldn’t do much as the change-of-pace back behind Stacy, and Stacy came into the game with plenty of momentum after tearing through the Houston Texans last week.
3. Josh Thomas gets burned
Josh Thomas was one of the few bad spots on the Panthers in yesterday’s win, and he was burned on a 73-yard pass to Brian Quick. Although Quick caught just two passes, the manner in which Thomas was beat on both plays is extremely concerning. Allowing 97 yards of receiving in one game is deserving of a thumbs down, and the Panthers are a bit lucky that Sam Bradford had to leave the game with a severe injury. Despite a pick six to Captain Munnerlyn, Bradford also completed 70% of his passes and averaged 8.5 yards per attempt before a wildly ineffective Kellen Clemens stepped in.
4. Shouldn’t mess with Steve Smith
Welcome to the NFL, Janoris Jenkins. You played here last year, I know. But you have finally learned an extremely valuable lesson as a cornerback in this league; do not mess with Steve Smith. Do not try to talk smack about his family, because that’s a sure way to get him angry. Smith is probably the last guy in the league you want to mess with, as many defensive backs have learned the hard way in this league. He may have added another untimely drop to his resume yesterday, but he had five receptions for 69 yards and an amazing touchdown catch that included an even more amazing touchdown dance. Smith had some strong words for the young, Rams CB following the game, and Jenkins probably deserved those words if he indeed did what Smith accused him of.
5. Graham Gano earning everyone’s trust
The Panthers really needed Graham Gano to become a reliable kicker for this team, and he has done just that. Gano had another strong performance on Sunday by knocking down all of his field goal attempts, and he continues to show a strong leg on both kickoffs and long field goals. The former Washington Redskin nailed a 50-yard field goal and was 3-3 overall. He’s been as solid as it gets so far this year, and the Panthers can definitely feel safe with him.