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Tuesday, October 8, 2013
First-Quarter Report Card: Panthers

By David Newton

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- My first quarter report card for the 2013 season on the 1-3 Carolina Panthers.

Sorry, I don't grade on a curve.

Quarterback: Cam Newton ranks 24th in the league in passer rating at 78.4, lower than this first two seasons. He's shown better leadership, but inconsistency passing and ineffectiveness against five-man fronts has kept him from taking the rest of his game to another level. D.

Running back: DeAngelo Williams is 11th in the NFL in rushing despite being held to 39 yards by Arizona on Sunday. He's gotten everything he can behind his injury-plagued line. Unfortunately, what most will remember is his fourth-quarter fumble inside the Seattle 10 that cost Carolina a chance for a major upset. C-plus.

Receivers: The emergence of Ted Ginn Jr. has been a bright spot, but this group has been defined by the three drops -- two by Steve Smith and one by Brandon LaFell -- at Arizona. Not enough playmakers making big plays. D.

Tight ends: Greg Olsen leads the Panthers in catches with 21, but he's only 49th in the league. He has only one touchdown. C.

Offensive line: Quarterback Cam Newton has been sacked 15 times, including seven by Arizona. Only four teams have given up more. To be fair, injuries have been a factor in continuity at a position where that is key. And they have done well enough for the league's seventh-best running attack. C-minus

Defensive line: The Panthers are tied for seventh in the league against the run, and these guys are a big reason. Rookie tackle Star Lotulelei is an emerging star. End Greg Hardy was the NFC Defensive Player of the Week in Week 3. This unit is a few big plays from an A. B

Linebackers: Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis have been part of a group that several coaches have called one of the best in the league. Had the Panthers gone with Chase Blackburn over Jon Beason, traded last week to the Giants, at weakside linebacker during the first two games this group could have an A and Carolina might be 3-1. B

Secondary: No position has shown more improvement, which is surprising with all the injuries. The emergence of undrafted rookie Robert Lester at safety and steady play of corners Captain Munnerlyn, Josh Thomas and Drayton Florence has Carolina ninth against the pass. C-plus.

Special teams: Kicker Graham Gano is 6-for-6 on field goals, including two from 50-plus yards. He's had only one kickoff returned all season, best in the NFL. Punter Brad Nortman ranks third in the league with a net average of 40.1. A

Coaching: So are the Panthers 1-3 because of poor coaching or poor execution by the players? I tend to side with the latter. The defense has played well enough to win every game. The offense hasn't. Ultimately, the head coach is the one that gets the blame and, as Ron Rivera says, you are what your record says you are. C-minus.