The Game Notes: Patriots 10, Panthers 3

By Ross Ellis

Well, let’s do this.

It was an ugly night in Foxborough. Cam Newton’s foot was the primary casualty. According to multiple reports, it appears to be a foot sprain, and GM Marty Hurney says he is cautiously optimistic Newton will return week one.

We’ll see. In the meantime, no need to obsess over it. The man is hurt, he needs time to heal, so let it play out. We’ll let the Twitter doctors keep you up to speed.

As for the game itself. Buckle up, kids. This might hurt:

Cam Newton Must Account For His Limits

Cam Newton needs to start being more realistic about his scrambling abilities.

Mr. Newton: You are now on the flip side of 30. For an athlete, you’re an old man. It’s a fact of life, but it’s a fact you’re going to have to get used to. The days of your spectacular, Fran Tarkenton-esque escapes from 30 yards deep in the backfield are over.

It looks like you dodged a bullet this time, but you’re older, slower, and more brittle than you used to be. That’s an honest assessment. Next time, do yourself and your fans (and teammates) a favor: throw the ball away.

No Explosion. No Conversion. No Good.

Through three preseason games, Norv Turner’s vaunted offensive attack has managed a small handful of 20+ yard plays. To be blunt, the much-hyped corps of wideouts have done very little with their opportunities. Curtis Samuel, the “Shorts And Helmets MVP” of the offseason, caught 3 passes for 29 yards on six targets. D.J. Moore caught 2 passes for 11 yards on five targets.

The hope here is Turner could be hiding something for the real games, because this level of “production” isn’t going to cut it.

One thing rarely discussed, but no less significant. The “RAC” Dependency of this offense is concerning. It leads predictable, easy-to-anticipate situational football for an opposing defense.

Case in point: Carolina’s opening drive, Quarter 1, 13:25.

Moore runs a shallow cross on 3rd down and seven. New England’s safety immediately drives on the route, allowing Moore a limited opportunity for additional yardage.

This was much the case on a critical third down late in the Seahawks game from 2018, prior to Gano’s missed field goal attempt. (See below)

The Patriots, more than most teams (wonder why) have an edge on diagnosing incoming plays, but I also knew this play was coming out of our bunch set. It’s a staple of Turner’s offense. At some point, Carolina must get back to a downfield attack. If they can’t, it’s going to be hard to win more than 7 or 8 games.

Dink and dunk teams are capped in the modern era of deep ball pyrotechnics.

pANTHERS INFO
That, and 3rd down futility doesn’t generally translate to success in the NFL. Wow, this team is bad on 3rd down–in particular–the first halves of the last two games.

3rd down offense, 1st half vs Buf and NE: 1/12
3rd down defense, 1st half vs Buf and NE: 11/17

I mean, you don’t win games with that. You just don’t. Forget the 4-12 talk, you don’t win any games if you’re that outmatched on 3rd down.

This is from the four quarters of the preseason where most of the starters are playing, so it’s bad, and it’s even worse than you think, because Carolina’s only conversion is…..wait for it….from a penalty.

My Concerns Continue, re: 3-4 Defense

Luke Kuechly played 19 snaps last night. On 6 of those 19 snaps, he was tasked with slamming into an offensive guard or a fullback. To this observer, that’s wasting Kuechly’s athleticism on roughly 30 percent of his defensive snaps.

The good news: we saw some true 4-3 sets, with Shaq Thompson, Kuechly, and Jermaine Carter at LB. I think we’ll see more of this as the regular season progresses.

This may be an unpopular view—good thing I don’t care about popularity: the 3-4 thing is a lark, and the team needs to transition away from it as soon as possible.  I voiced concerns over it in Spartanburg during one of our earlier camp reviews, and those concerns have played out on the field during the preseason. You are essentially taking some of the league’s most skilled defenders (Kuechly, Short, McCoy) and relegating them to space-eating roles.

The Team > One Man

Eric Reid can take to Twitter all he wants. I have no issue with that. He can kneel during the anthem all he wants. That’s his right.

However, when you start taking your personal grudges onto the field, targeting players with whom you have a public personal agenda at the expense of valuable field position, I have a big issue with that.

You know why? You know why I have a problem with it? Because the Super Bowl is all that matters. Winning. Execution. Football focus. That’s what matters to me. It should matter that much more to every single player on every single snap.

I apply this standard equally to everyone. I don’t like it when Newton is running around on the sidelines while the team is getting their asses handed to them by Buffalo. I don’t like the player interviews during the games.

I don’t like distractions.

You know what I like? I like wins, and anything that distracts from that goal makes me uneasy. Do you think Tom Brady and Bill Belichick would put up with this nonsense? No, they wouldn’t, because they’re winners.

Last night, you saw one team that’s all about winning, and you saw one team that would like to win, but also cares a little too deeply about making everyone feel “ok” and “comfortable” and “accepted”.

If a player is lucky, they get about 200 games in their career, including preseason and postseason. How about we take them all seriously? This opportunity doesn’t last forever, so put on your hard hat and go to work.

The minute you drag personal issues onto the field of play, you lose me.

Quick Hits

  • Brutal muff by Terry Godwin. He’s been my guy all month, but ball security is the most important aspect of a punt returner. We learned this the hard way with Philly Brown. One muff is too many muffs.
  • After a spectacular preseason opener in which the Panthers out-gained the Bears by over 120 return yards, Chase Blackburn’s units have disappeared. Multiple penalties on return team, while allowing multiple explosive returns. That needs to get corrected.
  • Player of the game: LB Antwoine Williams. 8 total tackles, a sack, and a TFL. I’m sad that he won’t make the team. He deserves a fair shot, but as Carolina is prone to waste roster space on suspect special teamers, he’s destined the join the fraternity of “Camp Favorites Who Never Got A Shot” (Lou Young, TJ Graham, etc.)

 

In summary: It sure feels as though Carolina is flying blind into the regular season. The offensive line looks unprepared, the quarterback is hobbled, and the new defense marginalizes our best defenders 30% of the time. I’m not optimistic about September. It’s shaping up to be a hot, miserable month with an untimely Thursday Night game thrown in for good measure.

But, hey, you don’t win any trophies in September. Chin up, kids.