NFL News & Analysis

SF-CAR grades: WR Kelvin Benjamin earns career-high grade in Panthers' win

CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 18: Cam Newton #1 and teammate Kelvin Benjamin #13 of the Carolina Panthers celebrate a touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers in the 3rd quarter during their game at Bank of America Stadium on September 18, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Carolina Panthers 46, San Francisco 49ers 27

Here are the top-graded players and biggest takeaways from the Panthers' Week 2 home win against the 49ers.

San Francisco 49ers

Quarterback grade: Blaine Gabbert, 50.4

Blaine Gabbert struggling to assert himself as 49ers' long-term starter

Nothing Blaine Gabbert has done in the first two weeks has convinced onlookers of his long-term suitability for the starting spot. Despite being offered relatively good protection, Gabbert recorded yet another poor outing in Week 2. He completed only five of 16 attempts beyond 10 yards, with two picks. Gabbert was highly erratic in the short range, as well, managing an adjusted completion percentage of only 61.8 overall. It will be difficult for San Francisco to compete in the NFC West with their current staple of quarterback options.

49ers QB Blaine Gabbert

Top offensive performances

LT Joe Staley, 84.1

C Daniel Kilgore, 81.6

RT Trenton Brown, 79.5

LG Zane Beadles, 77.5

RG Andrew Ziller, 77.4

Clean sweep of top grades for San Francisco offensive line

With all five starting lineman earning the top grades on offense for the 49ers, the strength of this offense is evident. A mauling run blocker with athleticism to match, LT Joe Staley is one of the NFL’s best O-linemen. He allowed just a solitary hurry in 42 dropbacks. Combined, the starting offensive line allowed just six pressures. In addition, four of the five up front earned run-blocking grades of at least 74.6. An offense severely lacking talent can at least be confident of its production in the trenches.

Top defensive performances

LB NaVorro Bowman, 82.0

LB Gerald Hodges, 78.9

CB Jimmie Ward, 78.3

S Eric Reid, 77.8

OLB Eli Harold, 75.3

Scarcity of pass-rushers crippling defensive effort

Good players can be found throughout the core of the 49ers’ roster, but the absence of top edge rushers is evident. Ahmad Brooks is more of an effort rusher at this stage of his career. Opposite him, Eli Harold had a fine game, but made little impact in his primary role. He managed just a solitary hit, while Brooks added a single pressure. Backup Cornellius Carradine also managed a hurry. With just a hit and two hurries from 54 rushes, San Francisco’s edge defenders could do little but watch as Cam Newton picked them apart.

Carolina Panthers

Quarterback grade: Cam Newton, 79.8

Cam Newton overcomes rocky start for solid overall performance

Newton’s performance was far from flawless, but the positives outweighed the negatives. Being super-critical, his performance was perhaps a little below his high standards. He started dreadfully, forcing a late throw over the middle that was deflected for a pick. Newton improved substantially after his rocky start, connecting on a particularly precise bomb into a tight window to Ted Ginn. The splash plays that typically accompany Newton were present as usual, as this turned into a solid outing for the reigning NFL MVP.

Cam Newton passing under pressure versus 49ers

Cam Newton passing under pressure

Top offensive performances

WR Kelvin Benjamin, 88.8

RT Mike Remmers, 80.8

LT Michael Oher, 80.7

QB Cam Newton, 79.8

RG Trai Turner, 79.3 

Kelvin Benjamin earns career-high grade

Deprived of Benjamin for the entirety of 2015, the Panthers were forced to spread the ball around offensively. Now with Benjamin back—and in this kind of form—he can elevate a unit that made the Super Bowl a season ago. His physicality provides another dimension for an offense stacked in the trenches and backfield. Overall, he caught seven of eight targets for 108 yards and two touchdowns versus the 49ers. Most memorably, Benjamin managed to haul in a slightly underthrown deep ball, deflected at the catch point, with only his left hand. If he can emerges as an elite wideout, an already-loaded Panthers' offense will be that much more difficult to defend.

Top defensive performances

CB James Bradberry, 91.3

LB Luke Kuechly 86.4

LB Thomas Davis, 83.2

CB Daryl Worley, 81.9

DE Mario Addison, 76.0

Faith in youth rewarded in the secondary

Cutting All-Pro players is a rarely successful personnel policy; throwing rookies in as replacements is even more of a risk. Cornerback James Bradberry is unlikely to reach Josh Norman’s level on a consistent basis, but he was outstanding against the 49ers. On seven throws into his coverage, he allowed only one catch for 6 yards, picked off a pass, and deflected another. Blaine Gabbert’s QB rating targeting him was 0.0. Bradberry wasn't the only rookie corner making plays for the Panthers, however; late-round selection Daryl Worley had a pass deflection of his own, and gave up only two short receptions otherwise. The best defenses rely on standout corners, increasing the pressure on the Panthers’ young contributors. They’ve responded well so far.

PFF Game-Ball Winner: Panthers WR Kelvin Benjamin

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