The Carolina Panthers have experienced an unforgettable regular season where they flirted with perfection and that was amazing; but now it's put up or shut up time for all the playoff teams in the quest for reaching the ultimate glory hoisting the Lombardi trophy! Here are my five keys for the Panthers to fulfill the dream they’ve worked so hard to realize.
Continue being “Party Crashers”
I feel like this team has taken on us against the world mentality because even though we have a 15-1 record a lot of the experts still are skeptical about what we can do when the lights are the brightest. Newsflash, we are the highest scoring offense in the league averaging 32.1 points per game and have the second-ranked rushing offense averaging just less than 143 yards per game. Couple that with the sixth-ranked defense that has forced 35 takeaways, 24 interceptions, and 44 sacks, can you say quarterbacks worst nightmare.
Definitely the most complete team that I can remember having in our history. We’ve crashed the regular season party and now it's time to crash the postseason party and become “the worst Super Bowl champion.” Does that mean I thought we would only lose one game with our schedule, losing our number one wide receiver, and the pure fact that this is the National Football League! Heck no, but they’ve made a believer out of many skeptics, but not all just like they like it.
The team just needs to keep their swagger and perspective that got them to this point. Let the experts keep talking about Seattle and prove them wrong a few more times.
The secondary must play big
It’s been a fantastic season for the defense, however over the last few weeks the secondary has been ravaged by injuries. We have lost both defensive backs Charles Tillman and Bene Benwikere to season-ending injuries forcing us to dip into our depth with youngsters Tre Boston and Lou Young. Tillman’s loss hurts because he is a veteran presence and he had a knack for forcing fumbles. Benwikere was like a Swiss Army knife giving coach McDermott a myriad of options he could blitz, cover or anything else that was needed.
Over the last couple weeks there's been a few more holes in the middle of the defense, allowing opponents to get some chunk plays that we cannot afford in postseason play. The NFL is a next man up league and this is no different.
Let's remember these guys are good enough to be on an NFL roster they may not be well known, but they are professionals and know how to play the game. They will take this opportunity to shine and do everything we can to help this team win.
If we can make teams grind out drives and not give up the explosive play and simply know your assignments and tackle well. If we do those things I think we will be just fine on the backend. For those young guys it'll just be another football game once they hit somebody.
Generating Pass Rush
This kind of goes hand-in-hand with the last key because we're going to have to rely on young guys in the back end; it would be nice to take the pressure off of those guys by generating a consistent pass rush. This has been an area of inconsistency since the Thanksgiving game against Dallas, because we haven't gotten much production out of our outside guys of late. It's been the Kawann Short show of late. For his efforts he was rewarded the defensive player of the month for the second time this season. The first NFL defensive tackle to do so. We need some other guys to get to the quarterback and create a muddy pocket forcing bad decisions that turn into turnovers.
We're facing the elite crop of quarterbacks in the playoffs, they will be trying to get the ball out quickly so we must win each and every line of scrimmage battle as possible and get our hands up in the passing lane if we can't get there. Causing havoc in the opponents back fields make playing defense much easier keeping opponents out of rhythm and creating your own.
They say defense wins championships our defense is definitely capable of taking over and exerting their will onto opponents. I expect that and more with the electric atmosphere of Bank of America Stadium creating even more problems for opponents.
Playoff football is an entirely different animal every play is magnified because it's sudden death and becomes a game of inches. The Panthers must limit those big drops that we saw in the regular-season because these are outstanding defenses and they are not going to let the same mistake happen twice so we can't let those opportunities slip through our fingers.
Another thing I've seen of late is Cam Newton has taken some huge sacks flipping field position in the defenses favor and in some cases taking points off the board. I know Newton is a freak athlete and can get out of some messy situations, but sometimes it's okay to just chuck it in the stands and live another down. In the playoffs defenses will be like sharks smelling blood in the water if we are in second and long too much.
Staying ahead of the chains will be key for us as well keeping the run in play on every down will keep the defense on their toes. Allowing the offense to grind the clock keeping our defense fresh and more explosive. If we are able to stay with the game plan and take advantage of the deep shots that present themselves throughout the game.
Lastly,executing the fundamentals are the most important thing in playoff football make the opponent come to you don't shoot yourself in the foot with boneheaded penalties, turnovers or sacks. If we do those things I and very confident of what we can present to opposing defenses causing headaches and opportunities for explosive plays.
Sticking with the Running Game
This team is built with defense and the running game at the forefront and with the tough defenses we will face, we can't get frustrated if it doesn't bust out right away we must keep grinding and wear down the defense.In our one loss at Atlanta, I felt we got away from our identity causing more pressure on the offensive line and Cam Newton to force things a little bit.
We can't afford to do that in a playoffs because defenses will pounce on any weakness they see. The running game is going to get back to full strength when Jonathan Stewart assumes his starting role where he excelled during the regular season before the injury falling just short of 1000 yards.
Add the emergence of returning back Cameron-Artis-Payne who has a little DeAngelo Williams in him converting screen passes into long gains and showing that he has that shifty athleticism making people miss. Payne is a very good complement to both Stewart and Newton that a lot of defenses haven't seen opening up more opportunities for the others after the opponent has been punched in the mouth a little bit.
The running game is what we've hung our hat on all season; a position that is seemingly getting deeper at just the right time giving offense coordinator Mike Shula more pieces to play with. The perfect storm we just have to stick with it and don't get frustrated too early with these powerful defenses we will face.
These are the keys to our success and achieving the ultimate goal. The playoffs are what it's all about and I can't wait to see the Queen City and all the Panther fans everywhere get loud and cheer us to the Lombardi trophy!!
By Cassidy Mcmahon
Follow her work at https://cassidysportsmytake.wordpress.com/