IND-CAR Grades: Kuechly, Newton lead Panthers to 7-0

The top takeaways and highest-graded players from the Panthers' 29-26 win over the Colts on MNF.

| 2 years ago
(AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

(AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

IND-CAR Grades: Kuechly, Newton lead Panthers to 7-0

Here are the top takeaways and highest-graded players from the Panthers’ 29-26 overtime victory over the Colts:

Carolina Panthers

– Having missed three games at the start of the season, Luke Kuechly (+6.5) has come back in sublime form, adding to that last night with his highest single-game grade since his rookie season (+7.0 against Oakland in 2012). Snagging that interception at the end of regulation would have capped his game perfectly, after tying his season-high with eight stops, adding a pass defense, and his overtime interception off Roman Harper’s deflection to help drive the Panthers to victory.

– Driving the offense was quarterback Cam Newton (+4.0). While he didn’t complete a high percentage of passes, he made some spectacular throws on the plays that he did put on the money. That included a drop by Ted Ginn (-0.5) in overtime for what would have been a worthy game-winner; but he wasn’t put off by that, coming back on the very next play with an excellent pass to Greg Olsen (+1.6 receiving) in tight coverage on a corner route to help maintain the Panthers’ unbeaten start.

– The Panthers’ defense is littered with veteran players, and one of their standouts last night was Charles Tillman (+2.4), who has been outshone by the emerging CB Josh Norman (+1.7) for much of the season. Targeted seven times, Tillman surrendered three catches for 44 yards while getting his hands to two passes, breaking one up, and stealing the first interception from Andrew Luck early in the game on a bad misread by the Colts’ QB, as Tillman sank a little deeper into his zone late on to come up with the turnover.

Top performers:

MLB Luke Kuechly (+6.5)

S Roman Harper (+4.2)

S Kurt Coleman (+4.2)

QB Cam Newton (+4.0)

CB Charles Tillman (+2.4)


Indianapolis Colts

– For a fleeting moment, this looked like it might transform into a great turnaround for Andrew Luck (-4.8) and the Colts. Ultimately, there was no salvation for team or quarterback. Fortunate not to have thrown the game away at the end of regulation, Luck’s performance was marred by poor reads and poor execution throughout, with only his relative hot streak in the fourth quarter exploiting some soft coverage from the Panthers threatening to turn the game around.

– Luke Kuechly wasn’t the only linebacker flying all over the field last night, as Jerrell Freeman (+7.2) turned in a second straight spectacular performance in a losing effort. Freeman registered five stops and assisted on a couple more to boot, consistently getting the better of the Panthers’ tight ends against the run, with Olsen and Dickson combining to earn a -6.2 run block grade.

– On the surface, Vontae Davis’ (-4.2) stat line looks like a strong night in coverage for the Colts’ number one corner. Targeted seven times, he surrendered three catches for 46 yards and a touchdown, with an interception and a pass defense; however those seven incompletions hide a really tough night for Davis. The beneficiary of two Ted Ginn drops on targets 20 or more yards downfield, Davis was also beaten twice, but rescued by inaccurate throws, and his interception was a bad under-throw by Newton, with Ginn once again behind the coverage. On another night, Davis’ stat line might have looked very different.

Top performers:

LT Anthony Castonzo (+7.8)

ILB Jerrell Freeman (+7.2)

DE Kendall Langford (+3.0)

OLB Trent Cole (+3.0)

ILB D’Qwell Jackson (+2.3)

| Director of Analysis

Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.

  • ChuckNice

    I love where we are and like the direction that we are heading. I really wish that we would have made an offer to San Fran for Vernon Davis. Cam was at his best when we ran 2 tight end sets with Jeremy Shockey in the fold. Along with the fact that he is a pretty good blocker this would be a nightmare for teams to cover and deal with.
    Just think Benjamin, Olsen, Davis………………….I rest my case (or since he’s already picked up case closed)

  • etyb

    I didn’t get to see much of this game, but Norman was a beast from what little I did see. One play in particular really stood out–late in the 4th and Hilton for once manages to get a step on him. Luck sees it and hurls the ball down the field. Against most corners, this would’ve been an easy long touchdown. But Norman saw the ball, fully extended and knocked it away with both hands. Beautiful play.

  • JT

    This is why all these box score junkies don’t understand that looking at the stats doesn’t tell the whole story. Cam Newton made pretty much made the majority of the Panthers offensive plays happen and the drops were horrible this game Ginn dropped two basket throws that could of gone for 6 on beautiful dimes 50+ yards down the field.

    • mormonrock124

      This game wasn’t exactly the best in terms of QB play, but when you are completing 54% of your passes and have 8 INTs to 11 TD passes I wouldn’t say his doing anything special. The drops certainly hurt but he had nearly 20 incomplete passes last night and many of them were god awful throws. Tough weather last night, a couple of drops, but mostly bad throws and bad decisions on several throws. On the bright side he’s a damn good runner.

      • The Mysteries of Bob

        Completion percentage is meaningless and a product of the offense you play.

        David Carr led the league in completion percentage in 2006 throwing five yard passes, Alex Smith plays afraid chicken every week and gets tons of completions with below average YPA. Brees had 70% completion seasons, which is great but it takes a lot of short passes to do it.

        For all things considered like his hot and cold play and his overblown reputation because of rings, I cut some slack on Eli Manning’s 59% career comletion percentage and even his high interception totals, he played 10 years in Kevin Gilbride’s run and gun offense, where you are either making big plays (helmet catch, Manningham catch ring a bell) or throwing picks and incompletions down the field. Now playing in a west coast offense he has games over 70%, but isn’t necesarly a better player.

        • mormonrock124

          I would say that right now Eli Manning is a better player than at any point in his career including his 2011 season. He is moving the chains, still throwing deep when needed, but turning the ball over far less and giving his team more chances to score. He was certainly good in Gilbride’s offense, but he has been just as good if not better in this hybrid West Coast Offense.

          Whether you throw the ball deep or short the point is to move the chains and get points…if you are completing less than 55% of your passes than you need other areas of the team to work at a higher level like a running game, defense and special teams.

      • alex

        Cam is certainly not the most accurate QB, but despite that, he is a very good QB that can win games. Traditional box scores are probably LEAST relevant when considering Cam’s play. For starters, completion % is an important stat because it represents a QB that is able to consistently move the chains. Cam doesn’t have the accuracy to move the chains consistently West Coast style, but he does that using his legs. He is easily the MOST effective short yardage runner in the league. That doesn’t show up in his passing stats, and doesn’t always even look that impressive in rushing yardage either because he primarily runs for 1st downs in short yardage situations. A 2 yard run for a 1st down is extremely valuable, and Cam gives you that consistently.

        Also, bear in mind that his receivers are awful. Even looking past the drops, there are tons of plays where no one is able to get separation. He either has to throw it away for an incompletion or make a risky pass that may get picked off. Either way, over time, those situations negatively impact him in the box score. His passing yardage has decreased every year in the NFL, but trust me, he has most certainly improved every year.

        Also, perhaps the most egregious way Cam is overlooked in traditional stats is the box score’s inability to quantify the effect Cam has on the team’s running game as a whole. The panthers have one of the most multiple offenses in the league with an awful WR corp. How is that possible? Simple. Cam. He opens up run lanes for Stewart. He makes the WR end around possible. He probably adds an additional 50-75 yards a game for the offense on plays that he doesn’t even run or pass.

        So yes, you’re right that he definitely struggles with accuracy, but he does so much for the team that can’t be captured in the box score. I would argue that he is a top 10 QB.

        • mormonrock124

          He is a top 10 QB based on his ability to run and extend plays, but not on his ability to throw the ball. His WR’s might not be the best, but its not like he did a whole lot when he had Steve Smith as his top guy either. His ability to run offsets his inaccuracy and as along as his O-Line stays healthy he should continue to very effective in short yardage situations.

          • John

            When he was a rookie and 2nd year QB the offense was rolling passing and rushing (2011 smith had 1,394 yards, 2012 1,174). Then the third year came around; (Smith’s final year) and we had to implement a different offensive system under Mike Shula. That season smith had 745 yards. This is the 3rd year (2013-now) for him as our OC and he’s doing better, but he still plays it conservative. Smith at Baltimore his first year was 1000+ and this year, apparently, he was on pace to break his career high. Cam’s been getting better each year so you can’t just simply attribute that success to Flacco.

  • Carpanfan95

    Well let’s see Cam went from having Robert Chudzinski as a OC to ultra Conservative Mike Shula. Everyone keeps harping on stats and not accurate or throwing to Steve Smith, but yet Cam still holds those records. So all these arguments are mute.

    Since Colts OC Pete Hamilton got canned and Robert Chudzinski has taken over the OC duties Lucks numbers and a possible turn around can take place.

    Cam at Auburn averaged 505 yards per game on total offense and none of the WR’s or TE’s are in the NFL. Then won the Heisman and National Championship. Look you can point to stats or what ever you want Cam is the real deal. What makes things look bad is 2 big missing pieces that will be back next year in Kelvin Benjamin and Stephen Hill. Yes Stephen Hill and all you got to do is look back at the Jets and Rex Ryan running that team in the ground to the point he got fired. Hill fits the Panthers style of play in a WR who is fast, big 6’4, but most of all is a blocking WR who came out of GT’s triple option offense.

    Should we be concerned about the Packers sure and that includes every team in the NFL. Will the Packers come in and expect to clean house? Most likely, but they are in for a big surprise going up against a Panthers Defense and a determined Cam Newton.

    Take the Eagles game Cam did 4 80 yard drives for TD’s. We put up 27 points against the Seahawks. Does this sound like the same team these teams faced last year? No, totally different team. Stop and think Luke missed 3 games CJ is out, Addison out. Kalil out, Lost Norwell, but yet we still won.

    What does the Panthers have that most teams don’t? Depth and rotation.

    Then you got Gettleman who knows talent that other teams write off and brings in and gets the best out of them no matter how old.

    I look for Kalil, Thompson, Addison, Norwell and for CJ to start taking reps in practice for his return.

    People think that the Packers are going to blow the Panthers out. No, not this year. 38-17 last year. Packers are weak with WR’s creating separation and that is Rogers strong suit and can only carry you so far. RB Lacy and is he better than Lynch or Gore.

    Offense shut out Texans JJ Watt & Clowney is Peppers better than Watt at his age? Is Clay Matthews better than Luke or TD.

    Folks you are seriously under estimating this years Panthers team. Every team has stayed away from CB Josh Norman and has tried to test Tillman. Well Benwikere steps in and Teddy Williams. Then Rookie Shaq Thompson plays a hybrid role at LB/Nickel/Safety. It doesn’t matter what kind of offense you bring to the table we will use a 4-3 base or 5-2 nickel and dare you to throw or run.

    IMO Rogers is in for another run for your life game, because Kurt Coleman found his grove and Harper has stepped his game up.

    That’s the beauty of our defense the opposing offense just can’t game plan for one certain player, you got to account for 22-23 that rotate. Then when Ealy slides to DT then it creates another look.

    We know who Dom Capers is and we have even seen the Panthers play 3-4 defense for years. Ron Rivera even had the #1 ranked defense with the Chargers. Sean McDermott and Ron Rivera coached together with the Eagles and McDermott was the DC with the Eagles when he became the Panthers DC.

    The only thing holding back the Panthers is OC Mike Shula not having that killer instinct to keep going and go ultra conservative. It’s holding Cam back, because when Chud was here Cam flourished in stats and we had 2 great TE’s in Olsen and Shockey along with Steve Smith.

    Though this style of offense we run I get it and it’s hard to play against it as well, because Cam is a huge threat.

    Now the Packers won after we played the Bengals week before and tied 31-31, but Cam had ankle surgery earlier that year and cracked ribs earlier in preseason against the Patriots.

    Bengals Vontaze Burfict fined for twisting ankles of Cam Newton, Greg Olsen from the week before. So Packers get a Healthy Cam Newton and Greg Olsen.
    So yeah I like our odds even if most think our stats stink and the WR’s aren’t any good. Packers has under estimated the Panthers. Panthers win they own the NFC by 2 games.

    • David S

      Yeah …what was our record under chud

      Cam had all those rookie records but how many wins l…couldn’t get it done in the red zone

      Shula has made the offense much better by shortening everything up and limiting chance for turnovers

    • JT

      Luke didn’t play against the Packers either.

  • David S

    Oh jeez ..stop with the. Cam is great craps and our receiver group sucks ….

    Y’all go nuts when he completes a pass or chooses to get a first down himself …when the game was on the line …how many points didwe get …Overtime how come Gano was kicking real long field goals …

    He is a decent QB …but not great ..He Is the panther QB and wish them all success …but come on….he has great protection …good wide receivers and a stud in running backs ….

    Luck sucked for 3 quarters ..the. showed up and we almost lost the game. One r Eason was our offense couldn’t stay on the field long enough to give our defense a breather …

    Really ….just stop it

    Before you call me hater …I am not …I just think you all that slobber and make so many excuses are ridiculous

    • Richard Chandler

      I was not a Cam fan either and still not sold all the way on him until he has two great seasons back to back. But in his defense, the reason the offense did not stay on the field was due to Shula being extremely conservative and our coaching staff playing “run the clock out” rather than unleashing Cam and his offense and letting them score as much as they can. So, it is not on Cam. This close call, unnecessary stress and causing us to almost lose the game is on the COACHES!

    • JT

      dude Ginn dropped a wide open game ending 60 yard TD pass right off his arms….that’s why Gano had to kick.

    • Phong Nguyen

      Carolina’s WR corp is not that good. You must be blind as Ted Ginn.

    • ExpertInTheField

      Cam Newton led the league in TDs, which is the only stat that matters for a team… Points are everything.

  • Joel Carver

    Cam is doing the little things that has taken him years to do. Yeah he still throws off his back foot a lot, I don’t believe that mechanic is going to ever improve, but he also figures out the defense pre-snap, takes advantage DBs that cheat, looks off defenders, makes more touch passes than ever…. It has been fun to watch Cam grow, painf

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