Joseph Person grades the Carolina Panthers for Sunday’s game at Rams.
B- Quarterback: Like the rest of his teammates, Cam Newton did just enough to win. Newton still looks a bit tentative in the pocket at times, throwing off his back foot and occasionally holding on to the ball too long. But he held in despite taking a couple more big shots vs. a potent pass rush.
C Running backs: Jonathan Stewart had a tough time finding any running room vs. a tough Rams front seven. Stewart rushed 15 times for 42 yards, with a long of 17. It was only the second time in the past two-plus seasons the Panthers have been held to fewer than 60 yards.
C Receivers: It was difficult for the receivers to do much downfield because the line couldn’t give Newton protection on the deep pass drops (see below). Tight end Greg Olsen had the game’s lone touchdown. It was an even distribution: Olsen, Kelvin Benjamin and Ted Ginn Jr. each had five catches on seven targets.
D Offensive line: The line struggled without starting center Ryan Kalil (shoulder). Nobody could block Pro Bowl defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who beat left tackle Mike Remmers and left guard Andrew Norwell for separate sacks. The run blocking wasn’t all that hot, either.
A Defensive line: Speed rusher Mario Addison gave the Rams’ line fits, with two sacks and a batted pass. The Panthers’ front four has benefited from splitting the reps at end the past two weeks. Defensive end Kony Ealy had his first sack of the year and the unit helped throttle running back Todd Gurley (12 carries, 48 yards).
A Linebackers: Thomas Davis had another big day. He notched a strip-sack on Case Keenum in the first half (recovered by Rams), then picked him off in the second half with a leaping snare. Davis added a game-high 11 tackles, and A.J. Klein and Luke Kuechly had a big fourth-down stop vs. Gurley.
B- Secondary: The blitzing wasn’t as effective as it was against the Cardinals, but the rookie cornerbacks fared well. James Bradberry, back after missing three game with turf toe, gave up a touchdown catch in the final minute after breaking up two passes on the same drive. Safety Kurt Coleman (seven tackles) and cornerback Daryl Worley (five) tackled well.
B Special teams: Ginn let a punt bounce and roll for a 75-yard, field-flipper in the first half. He redeemed himself by recovering Greg Zuerlein’s onside kick in the final minute. Graham Gano missed a 48-yard field goal, but was good from 38 and 37 yards.
B Coaching: Mike Shula stuck with the running game despite the tough sledding. That was critical in a defensive-minded, field-position type game. Sean McDermott’s defense is starting to look a lot better with the improved play from the defensive line.