Panthers fall 14-9 to Eagles, can't get going under Newton

jperson@charlotteobserver.comAugust 15, 2013 

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— The only time Philadelphia's fast-paced offense slowed down Thursday was when the Eagles coughed up the ball.

The Panthers minimized a shaky defensive performance by forcing three first-half turnovers in a 14-9 loss Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field in their second exhibition.

With a lackluster pass rush, the Panthers made both of Philadelphia’s quarterback candidates look like quality starters.

Nick Foles and Michael Vick combined to complete 15 of 18 first-half passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns against a Panthers defense that generated no pressure out of its base 4-3 scheme.

The defensive line appeared to wear down against Philadelphia’s fast-break attack, which first-year coach Chip Kelly brought from the University of Oregon. The Panthers’ only two sacks were by a pair of defensive ends not expected to make the roster – Wes Horton and Louis Ngezwu.

Carolina coach Ron Rivera said the Eagles’ play-action passing game slowed the pass rush, but rookie defensive tackle Star Lotulelei said the Eagles’ rapid-fire approach left him winded.

“I got tired, but that’s all part of the game. Just got to fight through it, get to the next play and keep sound fundamentals,” Lotulelei said. “Get off the ball is what we teach in our defensive line room. So that’s what I have to do.”

The Panthers trailed 14-6 at halftime, but it could have been worse. Cornerbacks Josh Thomas and Josh Norman each had interceptions, and linebacker Thomas Davis forced a fumble that defensive end Charles Johnnson recovered.

Norman’s interception was his third in two exhibitions.

The Eagles outgained Carolina 257 to 162 during the first half when both teams had their starters in, and held a 17-9 edge in first downs. Philadelphia converted all four of its third-down situations against the Panthers’ first-team defense; Carolina’s first-string offense converted just two of seven third downs.

Carolina quarterback Cam Newton was in for five series, resulting in a pair of field goals and three punts.

“We kicked two field goals, but I want touchdowns,” Rivera said. “When you play a fast-strike offense and you play a team that can get the ball into the end zone in a hurry, you have to score touchdowns. Field goals are not enough. And that’s the disappointment.”

In eight series over the first two exhibitions, Newton has guided just one touchdown drive – on a short field (18 yards) last week following Norman’s interception of Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler. The other seven series have produced four punts, two field goals and an interception.

Newton completed eight of 17 passes for 112 yards Thursday. It was the kind of inconsistent performance Newton has said he wants to eliminate.

Newton overthrew Steve Smith several times, including a fade route after the Panthers had driven inside the Eagles’ 10 late in the first half. But Rivera was not worried about Newton’s showing.

“I thought he did some nice things. He got us down there twice in scoring position,” Rivera said. “We did miss a couple throws. But he was running for his life twice, and both times he overthrew the ball. I'm not sure you put that on the quarterback alone.”

New offensive coordinator Mike Shula kept his calls conservative, but it's hard to know how much of that is his philosophy or simply not wanting to reveal too much.

Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams, who expressed displeasure in not getting enough touches under former coordinator Rob Chudzinski, had a workmanlike 39 yards on 12 carries.

Kickers Graham Gano and Morgan Lineberry accounted for the Panthers' scoring. Gano connected on field goals for 47 and 32 yards, while Lineberry hit from 27.

“I thought we played real physical, especially in the run game,” center Ryan Kalil said. “Get in that red zone, though, it's a little bit sloppy. A couple missed assignments, a little bit better finish here or there, tighten things up in all position groups.”

But the Philadelphia offense was the story.

The Panthers tried to prepare for the Eagles' up-tempo during their last couple of training camp practices in Spartanburg, but had a hard time keeping pace Thursday.

The Eagles' hurry-up offense was hurrying down the field on their first possession before Thomas ended the threat.

Foles fumbled a shotgun snap – his second one of the drive – and rushed his throw when defensive end Greg Hardy grabbed him around the waist. Thomas caught the ball at the back of the end zone and kept his feet inbounds.

Panthers cornerback Drayton Florence, a free agent acquisition, had a rough series on the Eagles' next possession.

Florence whiffed on a tackle attempt when Eagles running back LeSean McCoy cut back for a 21-yard gain inside the Panthers' 10. On the next play, Eagles receiver Riley Cooper sealed off Florence, allowing Foles to scramble around the left end for a 7-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.

Johnson said it was hard to approximate the Eagles' pace in practice. But he's glad the Panthers had a chance to face a hurry-up offense, adding that Week 2 opponent Buffalo also plays at a quick tempo.

“We game-planned a little, but not like a regular game. It's still preseason,” Johnson said. “It was good for us to see that and go through that. But on to the next game.”

That would be the reigning Super Bowl-champion Ravens next week in Baltimore.

Person: 704-358-5123; Twitter: @josephperson

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