Carolina Panthers

Panthers corner James Bradberry got the pick-me-up he needed vs. the L.A. Rams

What we learned about the Panthers, Cam Newton after game 1 against the Rams

We break down Cam Newton and the Panthers after their first regular season game against the Los Angeles Rams. The Panthers lost and face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Thursday in Charlotte.
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We break down Cam Newton and the Panthers after their first regular season game against the Los Angeles Rams. The Panthers lost and face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Thursday in Charlotte.

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L.A. Rams at Carolina Panthers

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James Bradberry has something — size — a lot of accomplished NFL cornerbacks lack. He lacks something accomplished NFL cornerbacks tend to have in abundance:

Interceptions.

The former Carolina Panthers second-round pick became a starter quickly as a rookie in 2016 but hit a plateau in takeaways. He has five for his three-season career and had a career low with one last season. So his pickoff of Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s season opener felt big.

Bradberry’s interception ended a Rams drive that had reached midfield with the Panthers trailing by three. The Panthers went three-and-out on the ensuing possession, and this proved to be Carolina’s only takeaway in a 30-27 loss.

What worked for Bradberry that broke a 13-game streak without a pick?

“I’m watching more film. Fortunately, I saw that play, while I watched film, throughout the week,” Bradberry said, explaining that the Rams run a seam route to clear out defenders, then look for a “dig route” (a receiver in a short sprint, then turning to run parallel to the line of scrimmage) to be open.

“I just broke on the dig,” Bradberry said of jutting ahead of the Rams’ Robert Woods for the pickoff.

The Panthers will have to make a call on Bradberry after this season, when his rookie contract expires. His 6-1 size makes him a good complement to fellow corner Donte Jackson, who is smaller at 5-10, but better at takeaways. The contrast is clear: Bradberryis the steadier guy to match with big receivers; Jackson is the risk-taker.

“He is a good, physical corner,” coach Ron Rivera said post-game. “He is a very smart young man. He made a play that gave us a chance and, unfortunately, that was one of the opportunities we missed. We went three-and-out.”

The Panthers revamped their pass rush this offseason after finishing 27th among 32 NFL teams in sacks in 2018. Bradberry had Carolina’s only sack Sunday, bringing down Goff 3 yards behind the line of scrimmage on a rollout. But Bradberry saw pressure on Goff from the front seven.

“They were getting after him. I feel like he was a little shaky back there at times,” Bradberry said of Goff, who was 23-of-39 for 186 yards.

“He threw some passes that he didn’t want to throw. That dig route that I picked off was a little bit behind the receiver, thanks to the front seven.”

The Panthers have a quick turnaround, playing Thursday night at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Bradberry said there was plenty about Sunday that can be a platform for improvement.

“They played in the Super Bowl, so we know how good they are, and we played pretty well against them,” he said of the Rams.

“Of course, we made mistakes, but if we correct those mistakes, it will show how good we can be.”

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