Reporter Joseph Person grades the Carolina Panthers’ performance against the Steelers.
B QUARTERBACK : Cam Newton took a beating, and somehow kept getting up. Say what you will about Newton, but you can’t question his toughness. Newton, playing with cracked ribs and on a surgically repaired ankle, was sacked three times and was hit on several other occasions.
C- RUNNING BACKS : You could almost give the backs a “medical hardship” grade because there aren’t many of them left standing. DeAngelo Williams missed his second consecutive game with a hamstring injury, Jonathan Stewart left in the third quarter with a knee injury and did not return and fullback Mike Tolbert played with bruised ribs.
B RECEIVERS : Rookie Kelvin Benjamin keeps making impressive catches. Benjamin posted career highs with eight catches for 115 yards, and made a great touchdown grab late in the game. With Jerricho Cotchery out and Jason Avant limited with hamstring injuries, Philly Brown pulled down seven passes for 66 yards.
F OFFENSIVE LINE : No one on the line played well. Center Ryan Kalil, guard Amini Silatolu and left tackle Byron Bell gave up sacks, and the front five was beaten several times by the Steelers’ three-man rush. That’s alarming.
D DEFENSIVE LINE : In their second game without Greg Hardy, the Panthers’ pass rush suffered badly. Speed rusher Mario Addison had the only sack on Ben Roethlisberger, and highlypaid defensive end Charles Johnson (one tackle, no pressure) again was a nonfactor. Defensive tackle Kawann Short was the most disruptive player up front and needs to be on the field more.
D LINEBACKERS : Thomas Davis had bad run fits on two of the Steelers’ long runs, although it appeared he was held on one of them. Davis left in the fourth quarter with a hamstring injury. Luke Kuechly had a game-high 14 tackles.
D DEFENSIVE BACKS : Free safety Thomas DeCoud had a pass interference penalty and was run over by LeGarrette Blount at the goal line.
F SPECIAL TEAMS : Two huge special teams mistakes led to 14 points for the Steelers in the second half. Defensive end Wes Horton and Norman jumped offside when Pittsburgh was lined up for a field goal, giving the Steelers a first-and-goal at the 7 and leading to a Roethlisberger touchdown pass.
D COACHING : Yes, the running backs were banged-up. But offensive coordinator Mike Shula abandoned the running game way too soon (five rushes for 10 yards in the first half).