The Carolina Panthers are enjoying their bye week in the best position possible, 4-0. The last time this team was undefeated was 2003, when we made it to the Super Bowl. I'd say that is good karma. Many around the league have called us “the worst undefeated team" because of the lack of competition Carolina has faced early so far. My response to that is we don't make the schedule and the reality is, in any sport, anyone can win on any day. I second head coach Ron Rivera's sentiments when he said we are "not going to apologize for being undefeated."
Critics can say what they want, but it hasn't been smooth sailing for us. Carolina has already faced a ton of adversity with injuries to key players and a young receiving core. The team has shown tons of grit and determination. As we watched week five go by, let's take at where Carolina is at, and where they are going. Here's a look at how the Panthers have stacked up against the rest of the league.
The offense came into the year with big question marks caused by the loss of Kelvin Benjamin, the team’s number one target. Another big concern was the revamped offensive line protecting Cam Newton, who has taken the most hits of any quarterback since entering the league in 2011! Through four games the line has done an excellent job protecting Newton, ranked second in the league by ProFootballFocus.com., and helping propel Newton to an MVP caliber start.
As for our young wide receiving core, there's been some growing pains for sure, but they have kept developing and becoming more reliable. Ted Ginn Jr. has improved especially. Our offense ranks eighth in the league putting up 27 points per game very respectable for an offense that had many questions. The one concern I do have moving forward, as the competition stiffens, is if drops continue to plague Carolina. If the young guys who have stepped up continue to develop, the offense should only get better. Also, tight end Greg Olsen has been very reliable for this offense, making him one of the most underrated players in the league.
Cam Newton has put this team on his back early on this season with his arm and his legs. He already has nine total touchdowns and just two interceptions, both of which were not his fault. It's been really fun to watch him lead this offense; my favorite part about what he's done this far is his footwork has been a lot better. When he has bad stretches he has a tendency to throw off his back foot, causing turnovers that has not been the case thus far in 2015 knock on wood.
As I said before, it's not a coincidence that Newton has played great. The offensive line has been amazing allowing just seven sacks through the first four games of the year. This next stretch of games will test Carolina in every way, but I am really confident in what Newton and the offense has been able to do, and I'm ready to watch this team shut the critics up and get the respect this team deserves.
The defense has once again been the backbone of the team thus far in 2015. The team ranks fifth in the league in points allowed at 17.8 points per game and have been ball hawks with a +8 turnover margin allowing our offense to have multiple short fields. Cornerback Josh Norman has quickly become elite and is most definitely the best defensive player in the NFL early on this season. He already has two pick sixes and one game saving interception. It's really amazing what he has been able to become, and it's clear Carolina needs make sure he stays in Carolina blue. Josh Norman has helped lead this defense, but the Panthers have played great team defense overall. Guys are swarming to the ball, preventing opposing offenses from getting into a rhythm, and making game changing plays consistently.
Just to show you what I mean, Thomas Davis has two interceptions and Kurt Coleman also has one. Opposing quarterbacks have experienced nightmares when facing this defense. The crazy part about it is that Carolina has played this well without All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly who is still battling a concussion suffered in week one. Just imagine when returns and Jared Allen gets more acclimated to the system will become an even bigger headache for opponents.
This unit has struggled generating a consistent pass rush, but the bye week has come at a perfect time for this team giving an opportunity to get healthy and for some newer guys, like Ryan Delaire, to learn the system better. I feel very confident in this group as we head into the most crucial stretch of our season.
A Look Ahead
There are a lot positives in Carolina thus far in 2015; I'm very excited to see how we stack up against a very stiff competition we will face the remainder of the year. In my view, Carolina must go at least 2-2 in the four game stretch against Seattle, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, and Green Bay to continue the momentum built early this season.
The first of these four tests comes on the road against a familiar foe, the Seattle Seahawks. Carolina has played Seattle tough in there four meetings in the last three seasons. The Panthers, however, haven't found a win one though. This year Seattle is vulnerable. The offense has struggled to establish a running attack or find a way to work Jimmy Graham into the offensive scheme. All of these struggles are mainly because Seattle has arguably the worst offensive line in the NFL. The Legion of Boom also looks suspect, squandering a 17 point lead versus Bengals and losing three fourth-quarter leads this season. This isn't the Seattle team that the Panthers have played over the recent years.
Regardless, Seattle is tough place to play, so it should be a very closely contested game. Then Carolina gets the Eagles, Colts, and Packers, all at home. Each are going to be tough challenges despite the outcome. I like our chances, however, to stay in these games, prove Carolina's toughness, and silence those critics. I'm very excited to see how this plays out! Go Panthers!
By Cassidy Mcmahon