ReFo: Panthers @ Vikings,Week 6
There was not much drama on the field as Carolina went to Minnesota and marched to a 35-10 win. A productive field goal drive to end the half was all the Vikings could generate while the game was still in question and even that was made a faint memory by the pair of third-quarter scores the Panthers used to push their lead to 25 points.
With another quarterback change on the way, the Vikings seem to be in a holding pattern while Carolina sees themselves as winners of two of the last three and facing a manageable stretch into early November.
Here are three spots that caught my eye from each side in their Week 6 contest:
Carolina – Three Performances of Note
Shuffling the O-line is not an idea unfamiliar to NFL teams as the ‘next man up’ mantra has become commonplace and depth and versatility are now drawing even in importance with a solid starting five. The Panthers are in the midst of one of these situations now with guards Garry Williams and Amini Silatolu both on the shelf with knee injuries. Chris Scott has moved to fill in on the right after briefly doing the same on the left and Travelle Wharton has come full circle to once again find himself starting on the Panther O-line.
A year away (on I.R. with Cincinnati in 2012) must have done him good as Wharton, in his first start of 2013, posted the best grade for a Carolina O-lineman this season. The early portion of his career predates us, but the +3.7 is the top mark we’ve seen for him since one game in 2009 and, given it was built partly on five notable pull blocks, it’s safe to assume he’s feeling good and in fine playing shape now.
After a hot start to his rookie campaign, Panther first-round defensive tackle Star Lotulelei (-2.3) had fallen into a bit of a flat run before suffering his first significantly down game this week. Matching -1.2’s in his run defense and pass rushing grades each marked season lows and his first grades in the red so far.
Kept off the pressure sheet as a pass rusher for the first time, Lotulelei was also moved around a bit by the Vikings’ interior as both guard Brandon Fusco and center John Sullivan got the better of him at points. In the end, it wasn’t a day he was needed to make an impact – and the entire Carolina D-line was held quiet, so he wasn’t alone in it – but the trend is worth keeping an eye on as his season moves forward.
In as nondescript a three-touchdown day as you’ll see, Cam Newton (+0.8) quietly completed 20 passes and never had to push for a victory that came without much fight. He rarely found himself under pressure (eight drop-backs out of 29) and took what was there through the air the rest of the day – including the sole strike of distance, a well-placed ball on Brandon LaFell’s uncovered 79-yard touchdown up the right sideline.
Hitting an open Steve Smith for a short TD in the first quarter and watching Mike Tolbert rumble in with a shovel pass late in the third, Newton also got away with a dropped interception into Jamarca Sanford’s belly and his bullets found Brian Robison’s arms too long at the line of scrimmage three times. The standard dose of plays with his legs rounded out the effective, if unremarkable, afternoon.
Minnesota – Three Performances of Note
Following the jagged start to his career, Phil Loadholt has settled in as a Top-10 right tackle in our grading the past two seasons. He’s hitting the same stride this year so far and in Week 6 posted his third game of +2.8 or better. Considering his matchup with Charles Johnson was one to watch coming in as Johnson led the league in Pass Rushing Productivity among 4-3 DEs, Loadholt’s near shutout is even more impressive. Allowing a pair of hurries on 50 pass-blocking snaps and stifling Johnson in the run game (check out the manhandling at Q1 1:29), Loadholt did his part to help the Minnesota offense get going – something it never did this time out.
The back-to-back sizable grades in the green are what he’ll look to build on now, as the oscillating red-green marks on his book leave him less than a consistent performer. His next opportunity? Tuck, Pierre-Paul, and Kiwanuka on Monday Night.
In five previous seasons, we’ve only seen two games graded worse than the -4.4 for Jared Allen this week. More troubling, this sub -4.0 is a rating he’s earned twice now in the span of three games. Getting there via a different road than the one that earned the low against Cleveland in Week 3 (-4.1 pass rushing in that one), Allen’s day was equal parts ineffective versus the run and the pass.
Having not seen this kind of problem against the run since it was a regular issue for him early in 2010, it’s early to call it a trend, but consecutive weeks with a like concern raise questions. Doing him in this week was the work of Ben Hartsock, Greg Olsen, and Mike Tolbert as Carolina peppered him with tight end and fullback attention, hoping to fold him in on the edge (and succeeding often enough).
While getting after the quarterback, Allen could muster only a pair of hurries (one unblocked), though he did have a QB hit wiped out by a holding penalty on Jordan Gross that he also drew.
Looking Over His Shoulder
At the point where it becomes painfully obvious you are holding someone else’s job, I imagine it’s not the easiest thing to maintain motivation. Watching Matt Cassel (-1.3) trudge through the 60 minutes against Carolina – the look on his face suggesting he wanted to be anywhere else but there – while Josh Freeman watched from the sideline with new contract in hand, gave the sense Cassel might have preferred to skip this week.
Cassel hit on 32 passes, but 26 of them landed with targets not 10 yards downfield and on the 16 times he did venture past that line, he – and the Viking offense as a whole – could not get going. He completed just six to his guys while two were dropped and another two taken home by the enemy… a pair of identical overthrows to the waiting hands of Mike Mitchell.
– Greg Hardy’s six hurries were a season-high for pressures in a game for him. Two were unblocked but the other four came against four different Minnesota offensive linemen, including one each on Fusco and Loadholt as Hardy jumped to the left side for six snaps.
– On six rushing attempts to either side of center, the Panthers gained a total of zero yards. From left guard out, they gained 82 on 17 tries, and from right guard out, 41 on 10.
– Kyle Rudolph logged catches against seven different defenders.
PFF Game Ball
For stepping in and excelling when called upon, Travelle Wharton’s successful reintroduction to Carolina fans was the performance that earned my vote.
Follow Rick on Twitter: @PFF_Rick