Trust best defines initial performance of Panthers' new coordinators

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Dallas Cowboys faced third-and-7 from the Carolina 23-yard line with 1:39 remaining in Sunday's opener at Bank of America Stadium. First-year defensive coordinator Eric Washington had the Panthers in "green," giving his front the freedom to organize the pass rush.

So Pro Bowl tackle Kawann Short turned to right end Mario Addison and said, "I'm going to hit it no matter what."

"I know what that means," Addison recalled after the 16-8 victory. "He's going to stay in the B gap and not get pushed out."

Short got a big inside push. Addison circled around his teammate and came up the middle, flushing quarterback Dak Prescott out of the pocket despite tripping on his initial move. He eventually chased Prescott down for a strip-sack -- Carolina's sixth sack of the day -- to wrap up the win.

"He gives us the trust to do that," Addison said of Washington.

Trust perhaps best defines what Washington and offensive coordinator Norv Turner did in their first game at calling plays for the Panthers.

Washington trusted his players enough to give them autonomy in the rush package with the game on the line. Turner trusted quarterback Cam Newton to run a team-high 13 times for 58 yards and a touchdown when there was little evidence during the preseason to suggest the 2015 NFL MVP would rush that much.

For Turner, 66, the decision simply was a matter of taking advantage of his best weapon, something he's done throughout his career even though he's never had a weapon quite like Newton.

For Washington, 48, it was his first game as a coordinator at any level, so anything he did was going to be judged.

Both achieved their ultimate goal, which was to win. They also accomplished some smaller goals along the way.

Here are the notable successes for Washington's defense:

Third-down efficiency: The Cowboys were 2 of 11 for the game, 0-for-5 in the first half when they failed to cross midfield. That was key in keeping the defense fresh on a hot, muggy day and keeping running back Ezekiel Elliott off the field.

Pressure, including six sacks: It's a huge deal for this unit when considering future Hall of Famer Julius Peppers didn't have a sack and played only a third of the snaps. That Washington didn't have to use a lot of blitz packages to create pressure also was big. With outside linebacker Thomas Davis, Carolina's best option on the blitz, serving the first of a four-game suspension and a rookie cornerback in Donte Jackson, it was important to get pressure with the front four and keep more back in coverage.

Controlling the point of attack: The Cowboys rushed for 94 yards, and star back Elliott had only 69. When you make an opponent one-dimensional, your odds of winning go way up.

Here are the notable successes for Turner's offense:

Efficiency at QB: Newton completed 65.3 percent of his passes and didn't throw an interception. Turner said at the start of training camp that the goal was to get Newton, with a career completion percentage of 58.5, in the 65 to 70 range and improve his efficiency. Mission accomplished on both fronts.

Ground game: Even though it was led by Newton, getting 147 yards rushing will earn wins. Coach Ron Rivera admitted he would prefer one of his backs lead the team in rushing, but he also wasn't complaining.

Time of possession: It wasn't a huge edge, but controlling the clock for more than half the game (30:36) is a staple of a Turner-led offense.

Perhaps Turner should be graded on a curve overall. He couldn't help that Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen, Newton's favorite target, left in the first half with a foot injury that likely will keep him out for an extended period.

That left the Panthers with rookie Ian Thomas and Chris Manhertz playing a critical position in the game plan.

Turner also couldn't help that McCaffrey fumbled inside the Dallas 5-yard line on the first series or that J.J. Jansen had his first bad snap since 2010 to botch an extra-point attempt.

That's seven or eight points left on the field.

You also have to blame Turner for not getting McCaffrey more touches (16) after saying throughout the preseason the goal was for 25 to 30 a game. Or was that just a smokescreen? We'll see in the coming weeks, beginning with Sunday's 1 p.m. ET game at Atlanta.

On the defensive side, Washington will have a much tougher test against the Falcons. Atlanta has 2016 NFL MVP Matt Ryan at quarterback, a strong running game with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, and arguably the league's best wide receiver in Julio Jones.

But as Carolina's former line coach, Washington also has a stout defensive front that he trusts. Plus, he can rely on middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, who led the team with 13 tackles against Dallas.

"He played out of his mind," Washington said. "He was really key at diagnosing some of the things they presented to us. Had great effort and violence to the football."

Rivera was pleased with the performance of both coordinators, particularly Washington after Dallas scored a touchdown and 2-point conversion in the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to eight.

He recalled looking on the sideline and noticing defensive players and coaches were "very comfortable, very confident and disappointed in themselves" because the defenders couldn't wait to get back on the field for another shot at Dallas.

"And when they got it they handled it very well," Rivera said.

Washington was comfortable from the outset with his role as the playcaller. Newton used the same word to describe how he felt with Turner calling plays.

"This is the first week we've really had to kind of hone in," Newton said. "All in all, we felt good and we're just going to keep getting better and better."