Evaluating Grier's debut
After having a chance to review the tape, interim head coach Perry Fewell was ready to break down rookie quarterback Will Grier's debut on Monday.
What Fewell saw was enough to want to see Grier in action again, as he named the rookie the starter for Sunday's regular season finale against the Saints.
So, what were the big takeaways from Grier's first start?
Well, his stat line against the Coltswas a bit deceiving on both ends. The rookie threw three interceptions, but two of them came late in the fourth quarter once the game was clearly out of hand and Grier was desperate to find a spark. On the other side, 15 of Grier's 27 completions were thrown to running back Christian McCaffrey, for 119 of the 224 total passing yards.
"I liked his confidence throughout the game. I liked the way he used his legs," Fewell said. "He did dump the ball off to Christian McCaffrey about 15 times. The three interceptions are the poorer aspects of the game. Twice he threw into coverage and once he got hit when he threw one of the interceptions."
While he may have a bit more experience under his belt next Sunday, things won't get much easier against a New Orleans team with a lot on the line. The Saints are still in contention to grab the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye in the playoffs, so they won't be resting any starters.
Fewell said that while things may look tough in Grier's first few starts, he has faith in his long-term success.
"I think that Will, with more experience, he's going to be OK," Fewell said. "He did some rookie things, he missed some targets, he missed some plays that were out there to be made, but he performed like a rookie would on the road."
What went wrong on punt cover?
It's safe to say the punt team struggled against the Colts.
On punter Michael Palardy's first kick of the game, Colts return man Nyheim Hines returned the ball 40 yards and nearly made his way to the end zone. Fewell said that two of members of the cover team fell down, which led to a number of missed tackles. After seeing what Hines could do, Fewell knew to kick away from the threat.
"I know I gave the command for the third punt to be punted out of bounds," Fewell said, "but the second one was supposed to be punted out of bounds also."
That's not what happened though.
"We hit it straight down the middle and it was a seam in that middle," Fewell explained. "There were several missed tackles, color followed color, which you don't do on a punt, and obviously, we gave up the big play."
The result was two punt returns for touchdowns, one from 84 yards and the other from 71.
Despite his instructions, Fewell said he believed Palardy mishit the kicks.
"I know when you try to direction punts, sometimes you don't take the proper steps," Fewell said. "You don't open your hips the right way, then that's how you can mishit a ball."
Cockrell to start again
Sunday marked cornerback Donte Jackson's first healthy scratch of the season, as the Panthers opted to start veteran Ross Cockrell in his place.
Cockrell played well in Jackson's stead, and Fewell decided to go ahead and give Cockrell the nod against the Saints.
"I would think that right now, the player (Cockrell) that played in his (Jackson) position would start on Sunday," Fewell said.
Jackson only saw four snaps on special teams against the Colts and none at corner. Fewell said that wasn't the plan heading into the game, but that Cockrell's strong performance earned him the entirety of the reps.
"We felt like at the time that the defensive player that replaced him was playing well, so we felt like there was no reason to change," Fewell said.
Cockrell finished with a team-high 10 tackles.
It's hard to stay positive after seven straight losses, and some of those pent-up emotions boiled over on Sunday after the game.
"I just think that everybody is really frustrated at this point in time after losing seven games," Fewell said. "It's just frustration."
Instead of dwelling on the negatives, though, Fewell does his best to move on to the next challenge. Now, he's focused on one thing: beating New Orleans.
"I don't engage in the things that are being said," Fewell said. "What I do is I refocus, I reload, I go and work on the next opponent. I try to get a game plan ready. I try to get a plan for our team to have success on the next game.
"When you lose seven games or six games, when you have a streak of losing, I know there's a lot of frustration that boils. I think there's a lot of frustration right now."
View the best behind-the-scenes photos from Carolina's Week 16 game at Indianapolis.