Of­fen­sive line was at its worst against Steel­ers, but can bounce back

The Herald Sun - - Sports - BY JOUR­DAN RODRIGUE jro­drigue@char­lot­teob­server.com

In the small­ish scope of foot­ball, this was ev­ery Carolina Pan­thers fan’s worst fear.

This was that of­fen­sive line. The one ev­ery­one wor­ried ear­lier in the year would show up, but didn’t un­til Thurs­day night in Pitts­burgh.

The one that re­sem­bled the gum on the bot­tom of a shoe more than it re­sem­bled a co­he­sive, pro­tec­tive unit.

The one that could get picked at just as eas­ily.

Carolina’s of­fen­sive line gave up five sacks in Thurs­day night’s 52-21 loss to the Pitts­burgh Steel­ers. That’s a num­ber they hadn’t even hit through the last four games com­bined. Quar­ter­back Cam New­ton got hit seven times.

“We got beat,” said vet­eran cen­ter Ryan Kalil sim­ply af­ter the game. “They have good play­ers on that side. We didn’t do a good enough job up all around. We all kind of took turns up front, back­field, Cam. We just have to do a bet­ter job. We have to get on the same page.

“But it’s not how we drew it up.”

Steel­ers linebacker TJ Watt breezed through un­blocked twice. He had one sack, but his other quar­ter­back hit was costlier to the Pan­thers.

New­ton was backed up into the end zone be­cause of a spe­cial teams penalty on the pre­vi­ous kick­off re­turn. With Watt wrapped around his waist, New­ton thought he had tight end Greg Olsen in the mid­dle of the field. He tried to throw to Olsen to avoid the safety, but in­stead it led to a Steel­ers pick- 6.

Pitts­burgh went up 14-7 in less than a 30-sec­ond span, and that lead, com­bined with the pres­sure, forced Carolina to dump what­ever game plan it had en­ter­ing the game and lean on more pass-heavy ad­just­ments.

And that meant Pitts­burgh could dial up the pres­sure, with­out wor­ry­ing about a huge threat from a po­ten­tial run­ner.

Thurs­day’s per­for­mance hit a sea­son low for the line that hasn’t hap­pened in 10 weeks.

The Pan­thers’ line has been ex­cel­lent, and the play-call­ing to al­le­vi­ate pres­sure has been as well.

They’ve ac­tu­ally played re­mark­ably con­sid­er­ing how they were thrown to­gether to be­gin the sea­son. Af­ter the Pan­thers put both start­ing left and right tack­les on in­jured re­serve, the line fea­tured Chris Clark, who was signed af­ter Week 1, formerly out-of-po­si­tion sec­ondyear tackle Tay­lor Mo­ton on the right side and third-string cen­ter-turned left-guard Van Roten.

We of­fered “outs” for them ev­ery week, just in case things went side­ways.

Like, “they’re play­ing so well de­spite be­ing such a patch­work group.”

But they played their rear ends off for nine weeks.

And we started be­liev­ing they were for real.

I still think that.

I be­lieve they can turn it around. That Thurs­day night was an anom­aly for them.

There are enough vet­er­ans and enough savvy within that group to fix it. And I ex­pect Carolina to be bet­ter pre­pared for de­layed blitzes, shifts, mis­matches and ev­ery­thing else Pitts­burgh threw at them.

They’re go­ing to have to be.

JEFF SINER jsiner@char­lot­teob­server.com

Carolina Pan­thers quar­ter­back Cam New­ton was sacked a sea­son-high five times in Pitts­burgh on Sun­day in a 52-21 loss to the Steel­ers.

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