NO-CAR grades: Cam Newton excels in Panthers' close win
Carolina Panthers 23, New Orleans Saints 20
Here are the top-graded players and biggest takeaways from Carolina’s 23-20 win over New Orleans:
Quarterback grade: Cam Newton, 83.7
Newton leads Panthers to win
Cam Newton was pressured on nearly half of his 35 dropbacks in the game. He completed just five of 15 passes when under pressure, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Four passes were either thrown away or he was hit as throwing. Out of his five completions, four went for either a first down with at least 10 yards to go or a touchdown, including the pinpoint TD pass to Ted Ginn in the back of the end zone at the end of the first half. He also had a pass dropped and another poked out by the defensive back before the wide receiver had secured the catch.
Top offensive grades:
QB Cam Newton, 83.7
G Andrew Norwell, 82.1
FB Mike Tolbert, 80.3
WR Kelvin Benjamin, 77.2
WR Ted Ginn, 76.7
Offense struggles to run ball again Saints’ front seven
The Panthers had very little success running the ball. Jonathan Stewart averaged just 1.7 yards per carry, and 30 of his 31 rushing yards came after contact. Newton rarely carried the ball, and he had just one run that went for more than two yards, which was a 12-yard run late in the game on 3rd-and-14. Neither had much help upfront, where tight ends Greg Olson and Ed Dickson really struggled, particularly on power-scheme plays. The offensive line wasn’t nearly as bad, but still did not grade above-average outside of Andrew Norwell. The two players on the right side of the offensive line—Trai Turner and Daryl Williams—also gave up three pressures each.
Top defensive grades:
S Kurt Coleman, 90.1
LB Luke Kuechly, 88.5
DT Kawann Short, 82.2
DE Mario Addison, 79.9
LB Thomas Davis, 79.0
Kuechly dominant before exiting early
The Panthers’ win keeps their playoff hopes alive, but it comes with mixed emotions. Luke Kuechly was carted off in a scary scene later in the game with a reported head injury. Before he left, however, Kuechly made it clear once again that he’s the best player on any football field he steps on. He recorded a batted pass, five stops, and yielded just 18 passing yards on five targets. Here’s hoping for a speedy recovery as the Panthers will need him to have any chance at making the playoffs down the stretch.
Quarterback grade: Drew Brees, 73.9
More of the same for Brees and Saints offense
In the comeback effort, Brees made some of his most impressive throws of the season, including a touchdown pass to tight end Coby Fleener that he fit in through one of the smallest windows you’ll ever see. Those don’t overshadow some egregious mistakes early in the game, however, and his grade reflects that. It’s difficult to believe that the same quarterback who made that throw also floated an absolute duck into the hands of Panthers safety Kurt Coleman in the middle of the second quarter. Brees was accurate on 37 of his 40 targeted passes, but his average depth of target was only 4.6 yards down the field.
Top offensive grades:
RT Zach Strief, 79.9
RG Jahri Evans, 74.6
C Max Unger, 73.9
RB Tim Hightower, 68.6
WR Brandin Cooks, 68.3
Underneath attack shut down
After all the talk heading into this game was about how Brees could exploit the Panthers’ secondary throwing down the field, the Saints did just the opposite. The game plan called for Brees to put the ball in playmakers’ hands and let them go to work, as 30 of Brees’ 40 targeted passes were thrown within five yards of the line of scrimmage. As you can see from the grading above, the Saints’ playmakers were unable to get much going after the catch. The receivers and tight ends combined for a single broken tackle on 21 catches, while the running backs broke three combined on 12 catches.
Top defensive grades:
DE Cameron Jordan, 87.9
CB Ken Crawley, 84.7
LB Nathan Stupar, 82.6
DT Nick Fairley, 79.9
S Jairus Byrd, 77.6
Another strong performance from Jordan
Saints’ defensive end Cameron Jordan entered the game as one of the highest-graded edge defenders in the league, and he had another very good outing on Thursday night as the defense’s top-graded defender. Even though he didn’t record a sack, he had six hurries and a batted pass. He had only one run stop, but he was able to often shed blocks and force pulling guards on power plays to pick him up, leaving linebackers unblocked to make plays of their own.
PFF Game-Ball Winner: Panthers QB Cam Newton
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