Coming off of a bye and a strong win the week before, Carolina went into Arizona with eyes on their second victory in three weeks, but a sloppy game – and an Arizona defense that came up with big plays – did that plan in.
The Cardinals welcomed back one of their leaders on defense and overcame a lackluster offensive performance of their own to notch their third ‘W’ and keep pace in the NFC West as they head into back-to-back battles with San Francisco and Seattle.
Here are some performances from the Week 5 game that stood out for one reason or another.
Carolina – Three Performances of Note
There aren’t many games where you’ll see fewer than half of the targets Steve Smith’s way making good, but this was one of them and Cam Newton found it less than easy going when looking for his favorite. Carolina’s fiery leader on the outside saw a pair of first-quarter passes skip off his hands, watched as two other shots his way were picked off, and wiped out one of his own catches with an offensive pass interference call.
One of the drops came at the goal line and could have produced what would turn out to be a very important touchdown in this low-scoring affair. The interceptions came on Newton’s underthrown deep ball before halftime that Patrick Peterson hauled in inside the 5-yard line, and on a forced slant that produced an eye-popping grab by Daryl Washington as he slid out to step in front of it. Smith’s four catches that ended up counting all went for first downs, but it was the ones that got away that mark this day.
Short on Attention
With as much attention as is due to others in the Carolina front seven, it’s not crazy to see Kawann Short receive relatively less ink, but he’s working to change that. While Hardy and Johnson get the glory that productive edge rushers do, and Kuechly has cemented himself as one of the league’s best young middle linebackers, Short is also working to outshine the fellow rookie DT with the bigger brand name that lines up next to him. His +3.4 overall grade against Arizona – his third straight grade in the green – should help.
Now carrying a slightly positive overall run defense grade on the year, Short is making his mark as an interior pass rusher. The sack, two hits, and two hurries he put up in this latest effort pushed his Pass Rushing Productivity number to 9.2, tied for sixth among the league’s defensive tackles and in the company of some the big names on the inside — Gerald McCoy, Geno Atkins and Jason Hatcher, to name a few.
Hartsock Holds Down the Edge
I suppose it says something about the game when a tight end that saw 25 snaps and ran just six routes gets a mention here. Ben Hartsock’s role was largely as a run blocker, as per usual, and it was his grade in that area (+2.0) that sees him land this spot. Handling business on the end of the line with a handful of solid kick-outs and inside seals — primarily against the Arizona linebackers — the only down note in his performance was a special teams holding penalty at the end of the half that turned a 41-yard field goal attempt into a 51-yarder (that Graham Gano promptly nailed anyway.)
Arizona – Three Performances of Note
After sitting out the season’s opening month, linebacker Daryl Washington returned and brought with him the impact the Cardinals had hoped for. Grading +3.0 overall on the day, his strong showing as a blitzer (two sacks, two hits, and a hurry on 13 rushes) was more than enough, but he topped it with an impressive fourth-quarter interception to snare a Cam Newton bullet at short range and snuff out a Carolina scoring chance.
An up-and-down afternoon of run defense was the only sign of rust, but he won as many of those battles as he lost and flashed his slicing, block-slipping ability on the first play of the second half. On that effort, Washington made Panther right guard Chris Scott miss on an attempted pull block into the point of attack and finished by slinging the running back down for no gain.
Housler’s Humbling Day
Tight end Rob Housler (-5.1) had an eventful day, but one I’m sure he’d like to forget. Finding various ways to impact the gradebook in a negative manner, he dropped a pass and saw another glance of his hand while he failed to look back to the quarterback on a route up the middle. Also in his bag of tricks were an illegal formation penalty for covering fellow tight end Jim Dray on the end of the line (which erased a positive run-blocking mark from Housler’s ledger), and a QB hit allowed to Greg Hardy that was wiped out by another penalty. In all, Housler just came off as out of sync in this disjointed display after a pair of nondescript games coming in.
In an effort to finish on a positive here, I’ll skip past Carson Palmer’s lack of care for the ball and instead highlight the obvious top showing in this game — Calais Campbell’s destruction of the Carolina O-line. There isn’t much to be said beyond letting you know the feat he accomplished in this performance is not one you’ll see often — Campbell registered pressure against five different linemen, Bell, Scott, Kalil, Silatolu, and Gross… the entire Panther starting five.
Two of those plays – the two sacks – were particularly worth watching as he came nearly obstacle-free on both, setting aside center Ryan Kalil for a safety (2Q 5:33), and right tackle Byron Bell for a sack-fumble late in the fourth (4Q 2:48).
– Cam Newton and Carson Palmer combined to go 1 for 8 on deep passes, with Palmer logging the lone completion as well as a pair of interceptions.
– Of DeAngelo Williams’ 39 rushing yards, 37 came after contact.
– Arizona’s 15 total pressures allowed by the offensive line on 30 pass plays puts them to a Pass Blocking Efficiency rating of 61.7. For reference, the lowest cumulative mark on the year is 66.7 by Seattle.
PFF Game Ball
Calais Campbell made this an easy choice. His literally across-the-board dominance gets his name on the trophy.
Follow Rick on Twitter: @PFF_Rick