I'm in Cincinnati, finishing up in the press box after watching the Panthers make the Bengals look like the New England Patriots in a 24-13 Cincinnati win. Lots to choose from, but here are the 5 things I liked the least:
1) The defensive interior. The Panthers started rookies Sione Fua and Terrell McClain at DT, and as coach Ron Rivera acknowledged, they looked like rookies too often. The Bengals had two running backs with more than 60 yards and a touchdown apiece in the first half, and most of that was right up the gut. Can't stop the run, can't win.
2) Cam Newton in the pocket. He was good running the ball (a 16-yard TD, a 26-yard scamper). He was decent on the run. But when Cam was in the pocket, he was really bad. He kept bumping into his own blockers and overthrowing the ball, or else locking into one receiver and throwing it to him even if he was well-covered.
"He has some moxie, but he has a long way to go," Rivera said of Newton. I still think Rivera will and should start Newton in the regular-season opener against Arizona because of the lack of alternatives, but Newton went 6-for-19 for 75 yards in this one, and that has to be giving the coach pause.
3) Offensive line. Very unimpressive the past two games, I have thought. Rivera made mention of this in the postgame when he noted the Panthers really need to work on their QB protection. Center Ryan Kalil told me postgame that since he calls out the pass protections that he will take the blame for that, but certainly it's a combined effort.
4) Armanti Edwards' fumble. Rivera said he thought Armanti took a peek to find a running lane. The fumble certainly wasn't forced, as Edwards had at least 5-10 yards of open space on a line-drive punt. The lost fumble led to a Bengals TD one play later.
5) Panthers' pass rush. Where has bbeen? Where has anybody been? Bengals rookie QB Andy Dalton looked like a veteran, completing 11 of 17 passes for 130 yards and a TD. He was never sacked and rarely pressured (Newton was sacked twice).