Shuffling the O-line is not an idea unfamiliar to NFL teams as the ‘next man up’ mantra has become commonplace and depth and versatility are now drawing even in importance with a solid starting five. The Panthers are in the midst of one of these situations now with guards Garry Williams and Amini Silatolu both on the shelf with knee injuries. Chris Scott has moved to fill in on the right after briefly doing the same on the left and Travelle Wharton has come full circle to once again find himself starting on the Panther O-line.
A year away (on I.R. with Cincinnati in 2012) must have done him good as Wharton, in his first start of 2013, posted the best grade for a Carolina O-lineman this season. The early portion of his career predates us, but the +3.7 is the top mark we’ve seen for him since one game in 2009 and, given it was built partly on five notable pull blocks, it’s safe to assume he’s feeling good and in fine playing shape now.
After a hot start to his rookie campaign, Panther first-round defensive tackle Star Lotulelei (-2.3) had fallen into a bit of a flat run before suffering his first significantly down game this week. Matching -1.2’s in his run defense and pass rushing grades each marked season lows and his first grades in the red so far.
Kept off the pressure sheet as a pass rusher for the first time, Lotulelei was also moved around a bit by the Vikings’ interior as both guard Brandon Fusco and center John Sullivan got the better of him at points. In the end, it wasn’t a day he was needed to make an impact – and the entire Carolina D-line was held quiet, so he wasn’t alone in it – but the trend is worth keeping an eye on as his season moves forward.
In as nondescript a three-touchdown day as you’ll see, Cam Newton (+0.8) quietly completed 20 passes and never had to push for a victory that came without much fight. He rarely found himself under pressure (eight drop-backs out of 29) and took what was there through the air the rest of the day – including the sole strike of distance, a well-placed ball on Brandon LaFell’s uncovered 79-yard touchdown up the right sideline.
Hitting an open Steve Smith for a short TD in the first quarter and watching Mike Tolbert rumble in with a shovel pass late in the third, Newton also got away with a dropped interception into Jamarca Sanford’s belly and his bullets found Brian Robison’s arms too long at the line of scrimmage three times. The standard dose of plays with his legs rounded out the effective, if unremarkable, afternoon.