WHAT HAS TO STOP
Immediate pressure on Cam
The layers of Cam Newton’s game – the lack of rushing production, the deep balls, etc. – have been dissected and will continue to be dissected throughout the course of the season.
But in order for Carolina’s quarterback to succeed in the pocket, he needs adequate time, and he hasn’t always had it through two weeks.
In the opener, Rams pass rushers Dante Fowler and Clay Matthews recorded two of the fastest sacks in the league according to Next Gen Stats. Fowler got to Newton in 2.2 seconds, Matthews got there in 2.7.
In Week 2, Buccaneers pass rusher Shaquil Barrett made it onto Next Gen Stats’ fastest sacks list, getting to Newton in 3 seconds flat on one occasion and 3.5 seconds on another. Barrett, who proved to be a handful for left tackle Daryl Williams, finished with three sacks and eight quarterback pressures on Thursday Night Football.
Newton has gotten much better about taking what the defense gives him over the past couple years. But he’ll be the first to admit that he’s missed some throws he’s simply got to make.
It’s hard enough to create separation in the NFL. When targets are in the clear, the ball has to be there, especially when the Panthers aren’t getting much from Newton in the ground game.
"I am an extremely, brutally honest person with people and extremely, brutally honest with myself," Newton said after Carolina fell to 0-2. "It’s time for me to look at myself in the mirror and do some real soul searching because I had opportunities tonight and I didn’t get it done."
Losing the turnover battle
Win the turnover battle and you’ve got a great chance to win. Lose the turnover battle, and yeah, not good.
Carolina turned the ball over three times and created one takeaway in the season-opening loss to Los Angeles.
In the loss to Tampa Bay, the Panthers turned the ball over once and the Bucs never gave it away.
It’s a tried and true formula for success, or failure.
"One of our top priorities is to win the turnover battle," safety Eric Reid said, "and we didn’t do that."
Here's some data on the subject: Since the start of 2016, Carolina has played in 50 regular season games. They were on the losing end or even with their opponent in the turnover department 30 times with a record of 6-24. They won the turnover battle 20 times in that span, resulting in an 18-2 record.
The Panthers had three 4th-and-1 opportunities against the Bucs. They were turned away all three times.
Newton kept it, but was stopped for no gain on the first attempt in the first quarter (limited camera angles certainly did him no favors).
Newton was pressured immediately on 4th-and-1 early in the fourth quarter, which prevented him from connecting with Curtis Samuel, who was open for a big gain down the field.
And then we all know what happened on that fateful 4th-and-1 with 1:28 remaining in the game.
This short-yardage trend needs to change in a hurry.
WHAT NEEDS TO CONTINUE
Samuel getting open
That fourth-down play was a great example of a big play to Samuel that was there to be had. The third-year wide receiver is running terrific routes and getting open.
If all the other pieces of the offensive puzzle start coming together, that should lead to more explosive gains – like that 44-yarder down the sideline against Tampa Bay.
Oh, and the by the way, wide receiver DJ Moore is currently fourth in the NFL with 16 receptions.
McCaffrey making plays and/or drawing attention
Carolina’s star running back pretty much put the offense on his back in the opener, compiling over 200 scrimmage yards and scoring a pair of touchdowns.
The Bucs made a concerted effort to limit him in Week 2, and that opened things up for Samuel, DJ Moore and tight end Greg Olsen, who had over 100 yards receiving for the first time since 2017.
Suffice to say, McCaffrey’s value is immense.
Bradberry locking things down
Mike Evans did get the better of him for an impressive 41-yard catch down the sideline, but Bradberry and the Panthers will certainly live with four catches for 61 yards from Tampa’s talented No. 1 wide receiver.
Bradberry was phenomenal in the opener, snagging an interception and grading out as the top cornerback in the NFL for that week according to PFF.
If Bradberry keeps this up, it’ll pay dividends for the entire defense. And it’ll pay off for the No. 1 corner in a contract year.
Special teams making a positive impact
Against the Rams, they had the first blocked punt since 2013 courtesy of Jermaine Carter. Joey Slye has hit 6-of-7 field goals, including three from 50-plus, and all his PATs so far. Michael Palardy is boasting a solid net punting average of 42.9.
And after two near disasters, Ray-Ray McCloud reeled off a 39-yard punt return on Thursday night, the longest punt return for Carolina since late in 2017.
Special teams has done its part to help put the Panthers in position to win so far.
Take a look at the best pictures from arrivals, pre-game, locker room, in-game and post-game action from Thursday Night Football against Tampa Bay.