Reporter Joseph Person grades the Carolina Panthers’ performance against the Rams.
A QUARTERBACK : Cam Newton has posted two of the top three passer ratings of his career the past two games. Newton was a picture of efficiency against the Rams, completing 15 of 17 passes for 204 yards and a touchdown. He’s had no turnovers since Arizona.
C RUNNING BACKS : DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert had a hard time getting anything going against a Rams defense that came in ranked 30th against the run. Tolbert had a personal foul penalty on second-and-goal at the Rams’ 1 that forced the Panthers to settle for a field goal.
B RECEIVERS : Steve Smith caught five passes for 69 yards and a touchdown, and nearly had another score. Tight end Greg Olsen had four catches and the Panthers’ longest reception – a 25-yarder – despite playing with a sprained left foot.
C OFFENSIVE LINE : The line had trouble opening up running lanes (see above), but kept Newton fairly clean in the pocket. Newton was sacked twice, but the hardest hit he took came when Robert Quinn beat left tackle Jordan Gross and drilled Newton after he’d handed off on a zone read play.
B DEFENSIVE LINE : Rookie defensive tackles Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei were disruptive, with two tackles for loss apiece. The front four was responsible for three of the Panthers’ four sacks, including a strip-sack by DE Greg Hardy.
B- LINEBACKERS : Thomas Davis followed his NFC Defensive Player of the Week performance at Minnesota with a team-high nine tackles against St. Louis. Luke Kuechly (three tackles) had a quiet game by his standards.
B+ DEFENSIVE BACKS : Captain Munnerlyn gave the Panthers a lead they never relinquished with an interception return for a touchdown on Sam Bradford’s first pass. Mike Mitchell filled up the stat sheet (eight tackles, two for loss and two forced fumbles) and provoked the Rams into two personal fouls. Josh Thomas was beaten deep twice, although a flag negated one of the plays.
B SPECIAL TEAMS : Graham Gano remained perfect (9-for-9) with three more field goals, including a 50-yarder. Brad Nortman averaged 51.3 yards on three punts, with a net of 42.7. A holding penalty on Jordan Senn on a Rams’ punt cost the Panthers field position.
B COACHING : Ron Rivera managed to keep his players mostly under control on a day when the Rams lost their composure. Offensive coordinator Mike Shula and quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey have made big strides with Newton in recent weeks.