CHARLOTTE – In the days prior to the Week 2 matchup against the Houston Texans, offensive coordinator Mike Shula insisted a collective effort was required to limit the impact of Texans defensive end J. J. Watt.
The Panthers put forth that effort in their 24-17 victory. Watt finished with five tackles and one of Houston's two sacks.
"Our guys, just in general, fought hard and took a lot of pride in trying to work together as a unit on pass protection," Shula said. "We wanted to make sure we had as much help as we could whenever possible with two guys on (Watt) or sliding the line to him. The guys did a good job."
But ultimately, quarterback Cam Newton was the difference maker. Newton's ability to execute zone-read run plays put the aggressive Houston defenders on their heels. And when he needed to escape pressure in pocket, Newton used his legs to keep drives alive.
He finished as the game's leading rusher, carrying the ball 10 times for 76 yards and one touchdown.
"Cam, he's a great equalizer," Shula said. "He made a lot of plays on his own and was decisive when he made them. He helped us stay on the field to get some points on the board."
MORE WORK FOR SHAQ: Rookie linebacker Shaq Thompson's workload increased in Week 2, and so did his production. After playing 25 percent of defensive snaps in Jacksonville, the first-round pick played 43 percent of snaps versus Houston.
Thompson finished with four tackles, one of which came in the open field on running back Jonathan Grimes to turn the Texans away on fourth down in the first quarter.
"We want to make sure we manage young players' plates, if you will, early in the year," defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said. "It's an adjustment going from the preseason to regular season. I thought Shaq did a nice job in his first game and then he made a jump (Sunday) with rep count and production. We just keep progressing at the right pace."
DEFENSE LAYING THE FOUNDATION: Through two games, the Panthers are allowing just 13 points and 282.5 yards per game – putting them in the top five league-wide in both categories.
They've done that with linebacker Luke Kuechly playing just one half and defensive tackle Star Lotulelei not playing at all.
"I'm extremely proud of the guys," McDermott said, "but we all have to understand it's early."
That said, McDermott likes the chemistry and level of effort he's seeing from the defense at this early stage.
"We have to continue to build this foundation," he said. "We talk about the first four weeks and building that strong foundation that carries you through the rest of the season."
View top photos from Panthers vs. Texans by team photographer Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez.