Re-Focused: Panthers @ Falcons, Week 6

| October 17, 2011

Another week of coming close for the Panthers.  This game reinforced what we already knew, in that Cam Newton does not like losing. Unfortunately, as impressive as he has been for Carolina so far as a rookie, he is starting to have to get used to it.

In an all-NFC South encounter, the Falcons traded punches with the Panthers for most of the game before pulling away in the fourth quarter, with a final score of 31-17 that flattered the victors.  Indeed a few plays here and there is really all that separated these two teams, as the gulf between 2010’s owner of the best and worst records in the NFC never materialized.

So we, much like Carolina, are left to reflect on this game.  For Cam Newton himself, the reality is he does an awful lot of things well, but this game showed his less refined side.  Poor accuracy and decisions with the football cost his team, and though he made some plays with his legs, it wasn’t enough to get it done.

Carolina – Three things of note

Missing Otah    

With Jeff Otah missing the game hurt the Panthers started Byron Bell (-5.8) at right tackle.  Bell did not have a good day.  He was beaten for a sack, a hit and three more pressures, gave up two penalties and didn’t fare any better as a run blocker.  Ray Edwards has had a mixed start to his season as a Falcon but he was feasting on Bell all day long, especially around the edge.  Bell left the game for two snaps on the Panthers’ final drive and his replacement Lee Ziemba managed to give up a pressure to Edwards too in that time, so perhaps Edwards was back to his best form.  On the other hand, perhaps neither Bell nor Ziemba were capable of manning the right tackle spot.

 

Soft Middle

The Panthers have been struggling at the defensive tackle for a few seasons now, and this year they elected to go with youth and take their lumps.  Unfortunately, they are still taking them, as neither Sione Fua (-2.7) nor Terrell McClain (-1.2) have really shown they can get the job done inside.  The pair combined for a single hit and no other pressure on 33 total pass-rushes.  They didn’t manage to record a tackle in the run game either, though McClain did net a missed tackle.  The pair are both rookies, so you have to expect some growing pains, but at some point the Panthers have to expect some better returns or they need to start looking for a Plan B.

 

Ryan Kalil “establishing himself”

At the top of this broadcast John Lynch made the comment that Ryan Kalil (+3.1) had “established himself as the premier center in the NFL”.  I wondered how many other NFL centers we had tragically lost without my knowledge earlier in the day for this to be true, but based on this game, the comment wasn’t all that ridiculous.  I don’t think Kalil is in the class of a Nick Mangold, but this was an excellent game for the Panther, and one Mangold would have been proud of, with Kalil posting a perfect game in pass protection despite 43 snaps pass-blocking.  He also helped open holes for both Panthers running backs by working to the second level and taking on the Falcons linebackers.  Best center in the NFL?  Not sure I’m buying that, but maybe this week.

 

Atlanta – Three things of note

Ray Edwards – Opposition or familiar surroundings?

Ray Edwards (+5.8) hasn’t looked himself for much of this season since arriving in Atlanta.  I have wondered how much of that is asking him to play a position (right side defensive end) more than he ever did in Minnesota. (this year he has played 114 snaps there, whereas he played 5 in all of 2010 for the Vikings).  This game saw Edwards play just six snaps on the right side and 43 on the left and he responded with a sack and four more pressures on the quarterback, as well as a strong showing in the run game.  It’s fair to say that the opposition certainly helped, as he was facing a backup right tackle (and very briefly the backup’s backup), but Edwards does seem to be visibly more comfortable coming from his familiar left side of the line.

 

Brent Grimes showing up

Brent Grimes (+2.7) was only thrown at four times, and he allowed just a pair of receptions for 28 yards, both to Steve Smith, while he also grabbed himself an interception in the end zone after a batted pass that was intended for Smith.  Grimes has been comfortably Atlanta’s best cornerback this season, dramatically outperforming Dunta Robinson, who has never really looked the player he once was before injuries.  Grimes may not be the biggest cornerback, but he does make the opposition earn every completion with tight coverage and a good understanding of how to contest throws.  He showed this well when he broke on a slant pattern intended for Greg Olsen with 7:23 left in the 3rd quarter. Olsen, often seen as a matchup problem when split out wide, was given no chance of a catch because of the coverage from Grimes.

 

Corey Peters has a strange day

Falcons defensive tackle, Corey Peters (-0.4) may have graded out just below average, but his grade was anything but average when you break it down.  He struggled badly in the run game, earning himself a -2.6 grade by getting pushed around by the Carolina O-line, with all three members of the interior getting the better of him at least once.  He did however redeem himself with a spectacular read and one-handed interception on a screen pass intended for DeAngelo Williams that really set up the win for the Falcons and put a hammer blow to the Panthers’ chances of a comeback.

 

Game Notes

Michael Turner topped 5 yards per carry for the game (5.1) thanks in no small part to forcing 9 missed tackles from Panthers defenders.

-  Between the three Panthers rushers (counting Cam Newton) they averaged 6.0 yards per carry. DeAngelo Williams was bottom averaging 4.3 yards a pop … why pass?

Cam Newton may have been neck and neck with Matt Ryan in the Total QBR, but he was more than 25 points shy in PFF’s QB rating (62.93 vs. 88.22).

 

PFF Game Ball

So his opposition wasn’t great, but as they say you can only beat what’s in front of you.  That’s exactly what Ray Edwards did in this one.

 

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