NO-CAR grades: Cam Newton excels in Panthers’ close win

Carolina's defense limits Saints' prolific passing attack in Week 11 victory.

| 3 weeks ago
(Grant Halverson, Getty Images)

(Grant Halverson, Getty Images)

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:

Carolina Panthers

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.

New Orleans Saints

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.

drewbreespressurepanthers

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

PFF’s player grading process includes multiple reviews, which may change the grade initially published in order to increase its accuracy. Learn more about how we grade and access grades for every player through each week of the NFL season by subscribing to Player Grades.

| Senior Analyst

Mike is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has also been featured on The Washington Post, ESPN Insider, and 120 Sports.

  • KWS13

    So by your standards Cam played better than last weeks SNF duo Brady AND Wilson????????? Cuz that’s the kind of stuff you guys put out on a regular basis that completely discredits you.

  • KWS13

    I HAD written up a long winded analysis about this, er, analysis, but I decided that it isn’t worth the trouble. Simply put, this gradation of others perceived failures and successes is deceitful and dishonorable to those who still respect the game of football, and the spirit with which those who play it still fight with. I come here as one interested in facts, stats and trends that are tangible and objective, just out of personal curiosity, and I would never dare delve into the “grades” that seem less and less like realistic assessments and more like a half-assed money maker every passing day, despite me genrerally giving the benefit of the doubt here. Look at Luke Kuechly, do you think he cares about his pass rush productivity or the grade that was assigned to his ability to cover his zone or his man? He wants to win, and he wants to do it for those around him counting on him.

    Watching him being carted off was not hard to watch because he’s a great football player. It was so hard to watch because he has such a strong spirit, will and love of the game that few understand unless they’ve played the game at any level, be it as a child, in high school like myself or the highest level of NFL stars. So count all the missed tackles and hurries you want, great. But continue to scam people who believe that you present them with facts or credible analysis and you continue to misunderstand the essence of the ultimate TEAM sport and dishonor the spirit of people like Luke Kuechly, who just want to do what they love for the sake of others.

    My thoughts and prayers go out to Kuechly and I wish him a speedy recovery

    • AJ

      dude you really need to calm down

      • crosseyedlemon

        Haha! I like how he said he wasn’t going to be long winded then proceeded to be just that. I wonder if he will respond to you with a classic Trump comeback along the lines of “Calm…I’m always calm…I don’t need to be told to calm down…I have a calm plan for making America great again.”

    • Jim

      I’ve read comments from genuine flat-earthers that weren’t as insane what you just posted. Might be time to step away from the computer for a while friend. You know football is just a game right?

      • sierra8186 .

        Jim – that is classic! LMAO, “I’ve read comments from genuine flat-earthers that weren’t as insane (as) what you just posted”. That, my friend, is funny, and it made my day! Thanks!

      • John

        What’d he/she say?