Panthers coach Ron Rivera had a clear message for his offensive linemen after the 31-24 win Oct. 5 against the Bears.
Giving up two sacks while opening holes for just 90 rushing yards wasn’t good enough, Rivera said, and they had to be better the following week at Cincinnati.
They answered that challenge.
Carolina’s offensive line, which has been considered the Panthers’ weakest offensive unit since the offseason, didn’t allow a single sack for the first time this season and helped the Panthers to their first 100-yard rushing game since Week 1 in the 37-all tie in Cincinnati.
“It would have been nice if we got a win to go on top of it,” veteran guard Fernando Velasco said. “It’s a step in the right direction. We just have to be consistent from play-to-play, series-to-series, quarter-to-quarter. We have to have a whole game of being consistent.”
Rivera said the offensive line set the tone at practice last Wednesday, and at the team’s Thursday morning meeting he commended the line. He had a sense the line would have a breakout game against the Bengals.
“When you do those types of things and you practice that way, you’re going to play,” Rivera said. “It’s that old saying that practice doesn’t make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect. I thought they did a really nice job, and we’re going to expect that from everybody.”
Carolina’s offensive line features two former undrafted free agents at tackle in Byron Bell and Nate Chandler, rookie Trai Turner at right guard and four-time Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil. Third-year left guard Amini Silatolu strained his left calf during the first quarter Sunday and was replaced by Velasco.
The offensive line entered the game with 12 sacks allowed while blocking for an anemic 74.8 rushing yards per game, although Carolina has been forced to use its fourth and fifth running backs because of injuries.
The line wasn’t perfect against the Bengals, allowing quarterback Cam Newton to be hit four times. But it was the first game since Week 12 last year that he was not sacked.
“Ryan does such a good job, but you have to have more than Ryan communicating,” offensive coordinator Mike Shula said. “Not just knowing who to pick up but where your help is coming from. And if you do that, then you know it ahead of time and you’re on time with the help, and the pocket is a lot cleaner for Cam to step up in.”
Of course, a more mobile Newton helped matters. Not only did his 107 rushing yards give the Panthers and the offensive line their first 100-yard rushing game since the opener, but his ability to evade pressure helped keep his sack total at zero.
Newton scrambled twice for 18 yards, including one fourth-quarter scramble for 9 yards after Chandler was bull rushed by defensive end Carlos Dunlap.
“Sometimes he is going to get hit, but the thing is we’ve got to get back to even keel,” Bell said after the game. “There was a few times he got hit. The guy gets up; he still makes plays. Cam Newton is a different type of dude. For the most part, I feel we did our job. We protected up front.”
They will face a new challenge this weekend against the Packers, who are tied with the Panthers’ defense with 13 sacks this season.
“The talent is definitely in the room,” Velasco said. “We have the guys, and everyone is capable of going out and playing good ball. We just have to do it and not take turns messing up, one guy here and there.
“What we did last week is over. It’s on to a new week, and it starts Wednesday at practice.”