Takeaways from the Panthers’ First Preseason Game

 CHARLOTTE, N.C. — First NFL preseason games are mostly a scrimmage to test out new talent, work out kinks in execution, and to finalize depth charts. Projected starters only take the field for 10 to 15 plays before being taken out for the backups fighting for a roster spot, thus making the Panthers’ first preseason game more about the underdogs than the stars. 

Although the Panthers squeezed out a 25-24 victory, the game revealed that some of their past flaws have stuck around and also showed there are new holes in their play.

The Bills ran all over the historically stout front seven of the Panthers. The Panthers defense also failed to get consistent pressure on the quarterback and only recorded two sacks on the Bills’ non-elite quarterbacks, though Rakim Cox’s sack on Matt Simms arguably sealed a black and blue victory.

The Panthers have been known for hoarding clock time through ground-and-pound football, which features smart, designed runs and short passes to churn out consecutive first downs. The Panthers struggled to hold on to the ball, despite a couple of well-executed long drives, the Bills held on to the ball nearly twice as long as the Panthers did. 

Though penalties are expected to appear more often in the preseason, yellow flags plagued both sides of the ball. The backup quarterbacks, Derek Anderson and Joe Webb, were poor clock managers by having multiple delay of game penalties and utilizing too many unnecessary timeouts due to miscommunications. Holding called against the offensive line and unsportsmanlike conduct on Kelvin Benjamin hurt first half drives. Penalties kill drives and the Panthers will need to cut them down to beat tougher teams in the regular season.

A big headline coming into this season was the Panthers’ offensive line and the protection of Cam and company. Although the O-line provided too few lanes for the halfbacks to break off big runs, the blockers proved reliable in the passing game by not allowing any sacks on their QBs. Rookie running back Cameron Artis-Payne looked good by making the most of the opportunities he had, as did free agent pick up Jordan Todman. 

The wide receiving corps has taken an overhaul since last season, seeing much more depth with players fighting for a roster spot and playing time. In total, 12 Panthers caught passes against the Bills. Despite dropping a catchable lob in the end zone, second round draft pick Devin Funchess showcased his worth with arguably the catch of the game. He nabbed a toss for 34 yards on the sideline with a defender glued to him.

However, the play of the game came from Brandon Wegher, an undrafted rookie, who took a short dump pass from Joe Webb for 42 yards to the house. Wegher’s touchdown gave the Panthers the option to go for a two point conversation to take the lead with under a minute to play. The conversion worked and the defense locked down to seal the victory.

From watching the game and reviewing the stats, the Panthers did not outplay the Bills. The Bills accumulated more total yards and first downs over the four quarters. That said, this game emphasizes the resilience that characterized the latter half of the Panthers’ 2014 season. The team is continuing to figure out how to leave victorious in close games and come from behind late in the game. Carolina’s resilience to difficulty might be the most important strength that either team showcased and was a welcomed characteristic to return from last year. One thing is for certain: the Panthers will keep pounding.