Panthers need to find some answers

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 11, 2012

CHARLOTTE – The Panthers are trying to stay optimistic as they figure out what caused their high-octane offense to sputter and crash in a 16-10 season-opening loss at Tampa Bay.
They’ll need to come up with answers soon to avoid falling into a big early season hole.
The Panthers host NFC powers New Orleans and the New York Giants in the next 10 days, teams with quarterbacks who know a thing or two about putting points on the board.
Another outing like Sunday – one in which the Panthers ran for just 10 yards, tying a dubious franchise record – likely won’t get it done.
Although second-year coach Ron Rivera wasn’t happy with his team’s performance, he remains upbeat insisting “there’s no reason to panic or do anything rash now.”
Rivera is confident Carolina’s offense, which finished fifth in the league in points scored and third in rushing a year ago, will bounce back.
“There’s some cause for optimism as the mistakes on the offensive side are all correctable,” Rivera said Monday. “It wasn’t a glaring thing as far as schematically. It was a player here or a player there, something that they did (wrong). We’ll get better at it.”
Rivera hopes that begins this Sunday.
The Panthers face a Saints defense that allowed rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III to throw for 320 yards and two scores and run for 42 yards in a loss to 40-32 loss to the Washington Redskins.
Like Griffin, Newton is a dual-threat quarterback.
“There are some things we can do against them,” Rivera said.
The Panthers couldn’t do anything against the Bucs outside of one touchdown drive to open the third quarter.
That was a head-scratcher considering Carolina’s recent success against the Bucs. Carolina scored a combined 86 points and racked up 818 yards in a home-and-away series sweep of the Bucs last year.
But Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano stacked eight men in the box Sunday and dared Newton to beat them.
The strategy worked.
The Panthers were forced to abandon the running game early after DeAngelo Williams carried twice on the opening drive and lost 7 yards. He didn’t carry the ball again until the second half and finished with minus-1 yard on six carries.
Newton completed 23 of 33 for 303 yards passing, but two interceptions and three sacks in the second half proved to be Carolina’s undoing.
Much of the blame falls on Carolina’s offensive line.
The Panthers started rookie Amini Silatolu, a second-round pick from tiny Midwestern State, at left guard and he looked confused at times. He was flagged for two penalties and had a hand in two of the sacks allowed on Newton.
Chudzinski and Rivera wouldn’t pin it all on Silatolu, saying the entire offensive line lost too many one-on-one battles.
“I think they were more physical and it was a missed block here or there and everybody took their turn” making mistakes, center Ryan Kalil said. “This offense requires you to be discipline in how we ID what doing. If you miss one guy here or there it disrupts everything.”
Throw in some self-inflicted wounds in terms of costly penalties and turnovers and you have a recipe for disaster.
Without a running game, the Panthers struggled on first and second downs and found themselves with six possessions where they had third-and-11 or more.
“The good thing is those mistakes can be corrected,” Chudzinski said. “We need to get those things corrected and we will get them corrected.”
The Panthers played without running back Jonathan Stewart due to a sprained ankle, but Chudzinski doesn’t know he’d have made a difference.
“When you miss a block it isn’t going to matter who the running back is,” Chudzinski said.
Notes: Rivera said the Panthers escaped Sunday’s game without any injuries. … The Panthers are re-sodding a big portion of their field prior to Sunday’s game because of damage caused by the Democratic National Convention. Although President Barack Obama’s speech was moved from that location due to inclement weather, the structures being in place for more than a week still caused significant field damage.