Carolina Panthers: Armond Smith

Upon Further Review: Panthers Week 1

September, 9, 2013
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A examination of four hot issues from the Carolina Panthers' 12-7 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium:

[+] EnlargeStar Lotulelei
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonRookie defensive tackle Star Lotulelei had a strong first game.
As advertised: The defensive front seven might be better than advertised. It held running back Marshawn Lynch to 43 yards on 17 carries and the ground game to 70 yards. Rookie tackle Star Lotulelei showed star potential with four tackles and good inside pressure. The secondary remains a question as advertised. Cornerback Josh Thomas lost containment on consecutive deep passes, the second resulting in a game-winning 43-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Russell Wilson completed a gaudy 75 percent of his passes for 320 yards -- his first 300-yard passing game -- for a rating of 115.7. Holding the Seahawks to 12 points was solid overall, but not enough to overcome a worse-than-advertised offense.

Deep trouble? Quarterback Cam Newton attempted only four passes beyond 10 yards, the second-lowest total of his career. He finished with a career-low 125 yards passing. Perhaps the play calling was conservative going against one of the best defenses in the NFL. Newton said the offense pretty much stuck to its game plan, but if this is the game plan of new offensive coordinator Mike Shula all season, the Panthers might be in deep trouble. They might be anyway with Steve Smith and the untouchables (only one player touched a pass outside of Smith) at wide receiver. Brandon LaFell, who was supposed to emerge as the second receiver, didn't catch a pass. He was targeted only once, and there was a hold on that play. Newton said Shula "did an unbelievable job calling plays," and the Panthers took what was given to them. He also said, "we have to be more aggressive and take the bull by its horns and go." The good news is they won't face many defenses as tough as Seattle's.

Close not good enough: There's no such thing as a moral victory because you played arguably the best team in the NFC to within five points. Not when your record was 1-7 in games decided by seven or fewer points a season ago and when your head coach is 2-13 in games decided by a touchdown or less. Losing close games breeds more close losses. If this trend isn't reversed, it leads to a coaching search.

Missed opportunities and silly mistakes: Marginal teams can't afford to miss opportunities or make silly mistakes. The Panthers, a marginal team, had both contribute to the loss. The most-glaring missed opportunity was DeAngelo Williams' fumble at the Seattle 8-yard line with the Panthers trailing 12-7 in the fourth quarter.

The silly mistakes? Backup defensive end Frank Alexander was disqualified for swinging at an offensive lineman after coach Ron Rivera warned his players the Seahawks get "chipper," his word for doing things to get you out of your game. Thomas had a punt go off his leg after Ted Ginn Jr. had called for a fair catch, which resulted in a turnover. Armond Smith was penalized twice -- yes twice -- for illegally going out of bounds and returning to the field on punt coverage. It all adds up to a loss if you're a marginal team.

Observation deck: Panthers-Ravens

August, 22, 2013

During the pregame show before Thursday night’s game, ESPN analyst Jon Gruden said he wouldn’t be surprised if Luke Kuechly wins the Defensive Player of the Year award at some point.

That point might be coming a lot sooner than even Gruden expects. If Kuechly plays all season the way he played in the Carolina Panthers' 34-27 preseason victory against the host Baltimore Ravens, he could be a shoo-in for the award.

Preseason or not, Kuechly turned in one of the most dominating defensive performances I’ve ever seen. He was all over the field from the start, which isn’t unexpected for a guy who was Defensive Rookie of the Year last season. But Kuechly turned in a second quarter that was beyond spectacular.

Kuechly forced a fumble by running back Bernard Pierce. Fellow linebacker Thomas Davis jumped on the loose ball and slid into the end zone to give the Panthers a 21-7 lead with 10:22 left in the first half.

A few minutes later, Kuechly popped the ball loose from Ravens receiver Aaron Mellette and safety Charles Godfrey seemed to intercept the pass. But Kuechly was called for a penalty and the interception was nullified.

It didn’t matter. Two plays later, Kuechly came up with an interception of his own to set up a field goal that gave the Panthers a 24-7 halftime lead.

Some other observations on the Panthers:
  • Kuechly wasn’t the only defensive star for the Panthers. Cornerback Drayton Florence returned an interception 71 yards for a touchdown early in the second quarter.
  • Defensive back D.J. Moore also had an interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter.
  • Rookie defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short, who were quiet in the first two preseason games, had a big impact. Short produced a sack and Lotulelei, who also recorded one, looked good as a run-stuffer.
  • The defense wasn’t the only unit that was explosive. The special teams also came through. Ted Ginn Jr. returned a punt 74 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter.
  • It’s a good thing the defense and special teams were so productive because the first-team offense didn’t look very good. The Panthers had to punt the first three times they touched the ball and the first offense never got into much of a rhythm. But I don’t think fans should panic about the offense. I think the Panthers are keeping things very basic in the preseason.
  • Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn suffered an apparent hand injury in the third quarter and did not return.
  • Running back Armond Smith was ejected in the fourth quarter for kicking a Baltimore player. That's not going to help Smith's chances of making the roster.