Carolina Panthers’ offense finds its stride a week after struggle

jjones@charlotteobserver.comOctober 13, 2013 

— Left tackle Jordan Gross was a little winded following the Panthers’ 35-10 victory against Minnesota.

One of the last Panthers into the locker room, Gross had to find his way through the tunnel and up the stairs for Ron Rivera’s postgame speech.

“The stairs are worse than the game,” Gross said to nearby reporters.

He was joking, of course, but Carolina’s offensive line did make it look easy against the Vikings on Sunday.

A week after giving up seven sacks in a collective ego shot, the Carolina line allowed Cam Newton to be sacked once to get a collective ego boost.

“The thing that we have to do collectively as an offense is we have to finish out these series, and we did a good job of that,” Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil said. “These are really good fronts we’re playing against so there’s going to be games that are going to be tougher than others in terms of defensive fronts and those are the games that you’ve got to be at your best.”

Newton was sacked seven times in Week 5 against Arizona, tying a career high for Newton and matching the most for the Cardinals since the franchise left St. Louis after the 1987 season.

Some of the sacks were protection issues, others were coverage sacks, and a handful fell on Newton, who earlier this week said he held the ball too long in the pocket.

Sunday, a confident Newton released the ball quicker.

“Taking a lot of stress off the line and getting those guys relieved and confident with, ‘If he’s getting the ball out, I can set and play more aggressive rather than playing back and letting the defensive line set the tempo,’” Newton said. “When you get the ball out quick, those defensive linemen come so hard so many times that they only have two or three plays in them. That’s what you want to see.”

The Panthers were without starting left guard Amini Silatolu, who tore his ACL and MCL in Arizona and will be placed on injured reserve. Travelle Wharton got the start at left guard, and Kalil said it was just like old times playing beside Wharton, who was with Carolina for the first eight years of his career.

Newton was sacked on the team’s first drive on a third-and-9 from its own 39. But the play was negated after Minnesota cornerback Chris Cook was flagged for holding, extending a drive that eventually found the end zone.

The lone official sack came in the second quarter when Sharrif Floyd tackled Newton for a loss of 6 yards, but he also grabbed Newton’s facemask, resulting in a 15-yard penalty.

Gross and right tackle Byron Bell held their own against two of the top ends in the game in Jared Allen and Brian Robison. Allen has 93 sacks since 2007, including 31/2 this year. Robison just got a four-year contract extension worth a reported $28 million last week.

Bell said stopping those two players was key in keeping Newton upright and helping the offense flourish.

“Me and Gross did a lot of film study on these guys, and we studied them well,” Bell said. “Allen had three sacks against Pittsburgh and was building on that so Gross did a good job, and Robison just got a contract extension. I was pretty sure he was licking his chops to get a couple of sacks. I think we played well against those guys.”

Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9

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