Reporter Joseph Person grades the Carolina Panthers’ performance against the Baltimore Ravens:
B- QUARTERBACK : Cam Newton never got into a sustained rhythm. It might have been the pocket breaking down, or Newton missing open receivers or getting passes tipped at the line. Or all of the above. Newton completed 14 of 25 passes for 197 yards, and only two of those completions went to tight end Greg Olsen. Newton did not look spry on his 7-yard scramble.
F RUNNING BACKS : The running game is in shambles. With injuries to the top three backs, the Panthers were down to a pair of undrafted free agents. Darrin Reaves averaged 2.2 yards per carry, and Tauren Poole fumbled on his first career carry. Before DeAngelo Williams left with an ankle injury, he was averaging 3.1 yards a rush with a long run of 7 yards.
B RECEIVERS : A week after sitting out with a hamstring injury, Jerricho Cotchery returned to catch five passes for 80 yards. Rookie Kelvin Benjamin had five receptions for 76 yards and a touchdown, but he was the extra man when the Panthers were penalized for having 12 players on the field on their first series.
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D OFFENSIVE LINE : Overall, the protection wasn’t great. But it was better than in the loss to the Steelers, when Newton was sacked three times and knocked down a lot. Left tackle Byron Bell was beaten by Terrell Suggs on the first play of the game and allowed Newton to get hit. There weren’t many running lanes for the young backs.
F DEFENSIVE LINE : The Ravens started James Hurst, an undrafted rookie from North Carolina, at left tackle, and the Panthers didn’t record a sack. Defensive end Charles Johnson was a non-factor again, failing to make a tackle. He doesn’t have a sack in four games. The Panthers are on pace for 40 sacks, a year after leading the league with 60.
D LINEBACKERS : Luke Kuechly had a game-high 12 tackles, but he couldn’t come up with an interception that he likely would have returned for a touchdown. Chase Blackburn, starting in place of injured Thomas Davis, had four tackles – three fewer than A.J. Klein. For the second game in a row, the defense didn’t get any takeaways.
D DEFENSIVE BACKS : Without a pass rush, the Panthers are having a harder time covering. The secondary gave up five completions longer than 20 yards, and second-year corner Melvin White was part of at least three of them. Ron Rivera benched White after White gave up Steve Smith’s second touchdown catch, replacing him with Josh Norman. Rivera strongly suggested Norman would start Sunday against Chicago.
D SPECIAL TEAMS : Last week, Wes Horton and Norman jumped offside on a Steelers’ field-goal attempt. The Panthers sent out 12 players for a punt on the first series of the second half Sunday, drawing a penalty and extending a drive that ended with a Baltimore touchdown. Rivera blamed the mistake on the roster shuffling the Panthers did last week, which put a lot of players in new spots.
D COACHING : What has happened to the top-five defense? Carolina forced the Ravens to punt only once, as Baltimore converted 10 of 13 third downs. Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott tried to shake things up with several blitzes, but Joe Flacco made him pay nearly every time. The penalties and undisciplined play are uncharacteristic of a Rivera-coached team.