CHICAGO – Legedu Naanee has been a frequent target this season for quarterback Cam Newton, but that hasn’t translated into much production so far.
Naanee, the Panthers No. 2 receiver, has been targeted 25 times through four games but caught only eight passes for 75 yards and has no touchdowns. By comparison, No. 3 receiver Brandon LaFell has been targeted 16 times and caught 12 passes for 161 yards with one touchdown.
Naanee was the target of Newton’s pass Sunday against Chicago that was deflected and wound up getting picked off and returned for a touchdown. He was also the intended receiver on a desperation fourth-and-10 pass with less than three minutes to play that fell incomplete.
If coach Ron Rivera is contemplating a change to the starting lineup he’s not saying it.
Rivera said he likes what Naanee has brought to the team and said he’s “played well.”
“There’s a reason why he was targeted so much,” Rivera said of Naanee, who was the intended targeted on a team-high 11 passes Sunday, but finished with four catches for 27 yards.
However, Rivera did say, “Brandon LaFell has really played well too, as has Steve (Smith). So we have to find some ways to balance things out. We may play some guys a little more. We may change personnel and go into other personnel. We have to find ways to get balls in people’s hands.”
INJURY UPDATE: Chris Gamble said he expects to play Sunday after missing last week’s game with a concussion, but Jeremy Shockey will be questionable with a broken finger and he’s also dealing with a possible concussion.
The Panthers had hoped Gamble would be ready for Sunday’s game against Chicago, but when he came out to practice last Monday he said the sunlight hurt his head and he got dizzy.
He said that was a trigger that something wasn’t quite right.
FIELDS OF DREAMS: Although the Panthers had a rough outing against the run Sunday, Rivera is pleased with the play of veteran defensive tackle Ron Fields.
Fields replaced Andre Neblett as the team’s third defensive tackle against the Panthers.
“He’s playing very well,” Rivera said. “As far as a starting position I don’t think we’re ready to do that. I think Ronnie has been a good part of our rotation so we gave him opportunity last week and this week. He’s helping those young guys. He’s stout and physical and plays with his hands.”
RUN DEFENSE WOES: The Panthers allowed the Bears to rush for 224 yards on Sunday, their most in 23 years.
After watching the game film, Rivera said there’s work to be done, but nothing that can’t be fixed.
“I don’t know if it was the inability to tackle as much as it about being where you’re supposed to be and doing the things you’re supposed to do,” Rivera said. “The thing about the defenses that we play and the fronts that we play, it’s an accountability thing. When there’s a breakdown it’s glaring. You know exactly what happens when you look at the pictures on the sidelines and listen to what the players say. We had a couple of those.”
Rivera said it’s not one individual messing up, but different individuals messing up at different times.
“If it becomes a consistent thing with one individual it becomes a problem and that has to be corrected, but when there’s group of guys – one here or one here – then it is most certainly correctable,” he said.
EMOTIONAL LOSS: Carolina’s locker room was filled with angry players after Sunday’s loss and that actually pleased Rivera.
“I’m glad it felt that way,” Rivera said. “I looked at most of the guys’ faces and I saw what I was looking for because this one hurt. We should have won that game. They’re a good football team but we gave them opportunities and they took advantage. If we don’t give the opportunities we had a legitimate chance to win that game. And what’s happening is there are some of us that are tired of it because you get to the point where you’re say well we keep hurting ourselves, but you know what, it’s time to stop. It’s time to grow up. But that comes back to me.
“We continue to make those mistakes and eventually it’s going to wear thin and frustration is going to come out. Truthfully I’m frustrated right now.”