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Carolina Panthers Unable to Pick Apart Injury-Ravaged Buffalo Bills Secondary

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COMMENTARY | When Cam Newton and the Charlotte Panthers coaching staff look at the game tape from their loss to the Buffalo Bills they will spend a lot of time trying to figure out why they didn't try to air it out more.

With the Buffalo Bills missing three key players from their secondary - Jarius Byrd, Stephon Gilmore and Ron Brooks - it appeared that it would be wise to launch an air attack on the Bills. Throw into the mix that Buffalo's secondary had four rookies and six players with less than three years of NFL experience and it seemed smart to target that inexperienced secondary.

Instead, Carolina got stubborn about their renewed emphasis on the running game this season and tried to run the ball down the throats of a stingy front seven of the Bills.

Oops.

Newton went 21-38 on pass attempts while racking up 229 yards and tossing two touchdowns. Solid work, but he should of had more pass attempts. Instead, Carolina's running game ate up 32 carries for a total of 125 yards.

Carolina went 4-0 to end last season because they committed to the running game. During those last four games, the ran the ball at least 32 times in three of those games.

The game against Oakland was the one exception when they only ran the ball 28 times.

What makes Buffalo's ability to stop the run impressive is that Carolina ripped up an impressive Seattle Seahawks defense last week for 134 yards (fourth best in the league) on only 26 carries. The fact that Buffalo was able to give up 158 yards to the New England Patriots in Week 1 (30th in the NFL) and then slow down an impressive running attack of Carolina with DeAnglo Williams, Mike Tolbert and Newton is impressive.

Also impressive is the fact Buffalo was able to mess with Carolina and get them away from airing out the ball.

Newton started off red hot throwing the ball out of the shotgun formation as he went 3-4 on the Panthers first drive and the team picked up 46 yards in just over three minutes.

On their second possession, Carolina attempted five of their six plays out of the shotgun and lost 20 yards.

Because of that bad drive, Carolina decided to avoid the air attack. They ditched what was an obvious advantage because Buffalo stepped up on the second drive of the game.

Sure, Mario Williams was a terror up front with a six tackles, a career-high 4.5 sacks and four quarterback hits. Having him hunting after Newton left the talented quarterback with less time in the pocket than he would have liked.

You can also point to rookie Kiki Alonso creating chaos with 10 tackles, one sack and a quarterback hit as someone who made it uncomfortable for Newton to sit back in the pocket.

But Carolina had a mismatch with Greg Olson who finished with 84 yards and a touchdown on only seven catches (12.0 yards per catch). If Carolina had fed him the ball more they could have had an easier time advancing the ball.

Ted Ginn Jr also had a solid game with 62 yards and a touchdown on only three catches.

Steve Smith was relatively quiet with five catches but he accounted for 52 yards and made some big plays when the Panthers needed it.

When you have Newton's big arm and those three options, it's puzzling why Carolina didn't target an injury-ravaged Bills defense more often, even if Buffalo did a good job applying pressure and taking away Newton's time in the pocket.

It's also the reason why Panthers head coach Ron Rivera may find himself on the hot seat soon.

Ryan McNeill has followed the Buffalo Bills since the team broke his heart after losing four consecutive Super Bowls. Yeah, he's kind of a glutton for punishment. You can follow him on Twitter by clicking here.

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