Instant analysis from the Carolina Panthers’ 30-20 win vs. Arizona on Sunday.
It wasn’t pretty, but the Panthers weren’t looking for style points.
Yes, the Panthers got way too conservative late in the game – offensively and defensively – after leading by as many as 24 points. And a Jonathan Stewart fumble gave the Cards the ball at the Panthers’ 40 with three minutes left.
But on the ensuing snap, defensive Kony Ealy made the type of athletic play that has both enthused and befuddled the coaching staff since they drafted him in the second round in 2014 – as in, why not more of those?
Ealy jumped up to block a Carson Palmer pass with his chest, tipped the ball with his left hand and then intercepted it to make sure the Panthers snapped a four-game losing streak.
The Panthers have a pulse at 2-5.
Pass rush returns and it’s big, bad, nasty
The pass rush returned in a big, bad, nasty way.
Panthers’ defensive linemen kept talking about how the sacks -- when they eventually came -- would come in bunches.
Sunday was proof positive. Defensive tackle Star Lotulelei had a career-high three sacks and the Panthers finished with 8, the second-highest total in team history.
Everyone seemed to get into the sack act except Ealy, who was benched for the first three plays of the game. New nickel Leonard Johnson was effective as a blitzer, coming up with a sack and another one that was nullified by penalty.
The pressure helped the young guys in the secondary, who played well until Sean McDermott went conservative late in the game.
Quick-hitting passes counter Arizona’s pass rush
The quick-hitting passes were a smart counter to Arizona’s pass rush.
Teams have attacked the Panthers’ pressure a lot this season with quick-release throws. Offensive coordinator Mike Shula went that route Sunday – to much success.
All of the Panthers’ long receptions were on catch-and-runs, including a 50-yarder by Kelvin Benjamin.
The beneficiary of the scheme was Cam Newton, who was sacked only once for 4 yards -- on a play when Newton was scrambling.