Reporter Joseph Person grades the Carolina Panthers’ performance against the Lions.
B QUARTERBACK : Cam Newton will be sore this morning after getting sacked five times and hit on several other plays. Newton is still shaky when he tries to run on his surgically repaired ankle, but it didn’t seem to affect his throwing. Newton completed 22 of 34 passes for 281 yards, although he didn’t have a completion longer than 24 yards.
B- RUNNING BACKS : With DeAngelo Williams out, Jonathan Stewart worked hard for his 37 yards, not seeing a lot of daylight on his many of his 15 carries. But Stewart kept his legs churning, and the second effort paid off on his 2-yard touchdown run. Stewart broke about five tackles on a 22-yard catch and run.
B RECEIVERS : Rookie Kelvin Benjamin had three dropped passes during the second half, then made an outstanding catch along the sideline. With Benjamin drawing extra coverage, it left tight end Greg Olsen and wideouts Jason Avant and Jerricho Cotchery in a lot of favorable matchups. The passing game took a big step forward Sunday.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Charlotte Observer
C OFFENSIVE LINE : A week after allowing only one sack against Tampa Bay, the line gave up five to the Lions’ physical and active front seven. Left tackle Byron Bell played through a toe injury, and the Panthers continued their platoon at right guard with Fernando Velasco and rookie Trai Turner.
B DEFENSIVE LINE : After a shaky start, the front four picked up the pressure in the second half when they sacked Matthew Stafford four times. Mario Addison, who saw increased reps with Greg Hardy deactivated, had 2.5 sacks and four pressures. Defensive tackle Dwan Edwards supplied most of the interior push, finishing with 1.5 sacks and six tackles.
B+ LINEBACKERS : Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly combined for 23 tackles. Kuechly, who worked during the offseason to improve his pass coverage, had two pass breakups. Outside linebacker A.J. Klein let a Stafford pass go through his hands; it was caught by Calvin Johnson to set up the Lions’ lone score.
A DEFENSIVE BACKS : The secondary kept Johnson fairly well contained, limiting the league’s best receiver to six catches for 83 yards, with a long of 25. Cornerback Antoine Cason made 10 tackles and came up with one of the secondary’s two takeaways when he stripped Joique Bell. There was no fourth-quarter let-up this week.
B SPECIAL TEAMS : Graham Gano was 3-for-3 on field goals and booted five of his six kickoffs for touchbacks. On the only kickoff that was returned, Ben Jacobs stripped Jeremy Ross, and Gano made the fumble recovery. The punt coverage team looked a little slow getting down the field, allowing Ross to average 17.3 yards on three returns.
B COACHING : When the Lions loaded up the box early in the game to take away the Panthers’ running game, offensive coordinator Mike Shula countered by going to a hurry-up offense. That forced Detroit to play more of their base 4-3, and allowed Shula to find favorable passing-game matchups. Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott called a more blitzes in the second half to turn up the pressure on Stafford.