Ron Rivera was so tired of seeing his franchise quarterback get hit Sunday night, he pulled him.
Cam Newton was hit low and high, sacked and pushed to the ground for much of Carolina’s 37-19 loss to Pittsburgh. Officially, Newton was sacked three times and hit six times, but surely he was on the ground much more than that.
In its worst performance of the young season, Carolina’s offensive line struggled mightily against the Steelers’ front seven. It didn’t block well for the run, didn’t block well for the pass and let too many defenders slip through gaps and take shots at the ailing Newton.
“I was not pleased at all, by no stretch of the imagination,” said Rivera on seeing his quarterback get hit so many times. “We missed opportunities. There’s some things we’ve got to do as coaches to make sure we’re putting these guys in the best position to have success. We’ve got to take a good long evaluation of ourselves and watch the tape and evaluate the players. This is a team game. And we’ve got to make sure we’re giving the players the best opportunity to succeed.”
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Carolina’s offensive line has been a punching bag for fans and pundits since the retirement of Jordan Gross in the winter. But through four exhibitions and two regular-season contests, the line had held. It crumbled Sunday. Left tackle Byron Bell, left guard Amini Silatolu and center Ryan Kalil were all responsible for one sack.
The Steelers moved their defensive linemen around, stunting inside and out and forcing the Panthers’ offensive linemen to pass off their men.
“And we expected that, too,” Kalil said. “We thought that was going to happen, but we didn’t do a good enough job of passing off some of those stunts in pass protection and then just finishing on the run. I thought we did a good job of ID-ing and getting guys on the run, we’ve just got to finish.”
Of course it wasn’t just protecting Newton. Carolina finished with 10 rushes for 42 yards. The Panthers had only four rushes in the first quarter.
The Steelers entered Sunday night’s game against the Panthers with three sacks and the third-worst rush defense in the NFL.
Jonathan Stewart had five rushes for 31 yards before being injured in the second half. Newton rushed a career-low two times for 7 yards.
“We played Steeler football, got after the quarterback,” Steelers safety and former Carolina safety Mike Mitchell said. “We destroyed the run early in the game and made them pretty one dimensional. When you do that, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel at that point.”