ReFo: CAR @ BUF, Week 2
The E.J. Manuel era is officially underway for the Buffalo Bills, after the rookie signal-caller tossed the game-winning touchdown to Stevie Johnson with just seconds left on the clock against the Carolina Panthers.
As the 24-23 score line suggests, it was a game both teams were in until the very end with neither team every reall threatening to run away with it. Both quarterbacks will count themselves lucky not to have more than one interception a piece, with both having a horrible pass or two thankfully fall to the turf.
It wasn’t all about the quarterbacks however, with one notable free agent from the 2012 season setting Bills’ records on his way to a big day. So with that in mind, let’s take a look at the most notable performances from Sunday’s game.
Carolina – Three Performances of Note
After a solid performance against the Seattle Seahawks last week, Cam Newton (-1.5) struggled more on the road in Buffalo. His game wasn’t without its good points, with his touchdown pass on 2nd-and-10 with 18 seconds left in the first half proving a highlight but unfortunately there were just too many errant throws.
His interception on 2nd-and-16 with 12:04 left in the opening quarter was poor, forcing the throw and underthrowing it for good measure, allowing linebacker Kiki Alonso to make the diving interception. He followed that up with another underthrown pass on 2nd-and-10 with 1:58 remaining in the third quarter, and was fortunate not to see cornerback Nickell Robey come away with an interception.
Star Stars Again
Though they have lost their opening two games, Panthers fans can at least celebrate the play of first-round draft pick Star Lotulelei (+4.3) through the early part of the season. Though his stat line doesn’t jump off the screen at you, with just one quarterback hurry and two tackles, he seemed to have the better of Bills’ left guard Colin Brown for much of the encounter. His day was highlighted by a tackle for loss on 3rd-and-4 with 8:51 left in the first quarter, bursting past Brown straight off the snap to take down Fred Jackson for a four-yard loss. The tackle would push the Bills’ ensuing field goal try to 42 yards, with kicker Dan Carpenter hooking it wide right.
Lack of Pressure From the Edge
While Lotulelei starred in the middle, the Panthers will be disappointed with the output from their edge defenders in Charles Johnson (-1.3) and Greg Hardy (-2.1), who failed to put the rookie quarterback under much pressure at all. Finishing the game with Pass Rushing Productivity ratings of 4.5 and 4.8 respectively, both will most likely find themselves in the bottom half among their peers in that regard this week. They could perhaps have been forgiven had they made up for it with their play against the run. While neither was particularly dominated in that aspect of their game, they still failed to make their mark. Ultimately, when you’re trying to rattle a rookie quarterback into hopefully making a few mistakes, coming away with just a pair of hurries each from a combined 66 pass rushes just isn’t good enough.
Buffalo – Three Performances of Note
Like his counterpart in Carolina, quarterback E.J. Manuel (-2.7) had positives from Sunday’s win, particularly throwing the game-winning touchdown on the Bills’ final offensive play, but he also had more than a few plays that he’ll want back. The most notable was his interception on 2nd-and-9 with 12:19 left in the fourth quarter, throwing the ball straight to linebacker Luke Kuechly. He was also saved from a likely interception by wide receiver Robert Woods on 2nd-and-19 with 11:44 remaining in the third quarter, forcing him to effectively become the defensive back and commit pass interference to avoid the turnover.
On that final drive he was efficient if not spectacular, taking what the Panthers were willing to give him as he drove down the field. With more than half of his yards, 39 of 61, coming after the catch, he was content to dink and dunk his way down the field with the cushions the Carolina coverage were giving him. He did step up however, on 2nd-and-10 with 29 seconds to go, doing well to avoid the sack and finding running back C.J. Spiller on the sidelines to stop the clock.
Bad, Bad Colin Brown
If you thought things couldn’t get much worse for left guard Colin Brown, who posted a PFF grade of -7.8 in Week 1, you’d be wrong. Dropping even further (-8.3), Brown struggled mightily throughout the encounter. As a pass blocker, he allowed four hurries from 45 pass blocks, giving him a Pass Blocking Efficiency rating of 93.2. That’s not the worst mark we’ll see this week, but it’s not particularly good either. However, like last week, his biggest struggles came against the run. We already highlighted how tough he found it against the talented rookie Lotulelei, though that was just the start of it. Pushed back into his quarterback or running back on too many occasions, he also struggled dealing with linebackers at the second level. Big improvements are needed in a hurry, or Brown may find himself on the bench in Buffalo.
Though his overall grade indicates a performance that was far from perfect all-around, Mario Williams (+4.1) put on a show, particularly early in the contest, taking it to Panthers’ right tackle Byron Bell. In the first quarter alone he had three quarterback hurries and two sacks, with all but one of those coming against Bell. Beating Bell three times early with a bull rush, he was driving him back toward Cam Newton with ease. With 11 total pressures from 41 pass rushing snaps, he finished the game with a Pass Rushing Productivity Rating of 23.2. But for his sub-par play against the run, where he was sealed inside a couple of times and was guilty of losing outside contain on a rare (this season at least) Newton option run, Williams would have had one of his best performances in some time. That shouldn’t take away from what was, at times, nothing short of domination between him and the right tackle.
– With seven catches for 84 yards and a touchdown on the seven passes thrown his way, Cam Newton had a quarterback rating of 156.3 on throws to tight end Greg Olsen.
– The Panthers averaged 6.3 yards per carry on four runs off right guard.
– Brad Nortman had another impressive game for the Panthers, averaging 51.4 yards per punt with three of his five punts landing inside the 20.
PFF Game Ball
While it wasn’t a great all-around performance, the type of pass rushing shown by Mario Williams was enough to win him the PFF Game Ball. Byron Bell will be having nightmares about his bull rush for weeks to come.
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