Offensive line was at its worst against Steelers, but can bounce back
In the smallish scope of football, this was every Carolina Panthers fan’s worst fear.
This was 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.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was sacked a season-high five times in Pittsburgh on Sunday in a 52-21 loss to the Steelers.