Carolina Panthers Beat New Orleans Saints 27 - 22

Carolina Panthers Beat New Orleans Saints 27 - 22

The Carolina Panthers beat the New Orleans Saints 27 -22 at Bank of America Stadium. This matchup was important because it was a game between division rivals. The Panthers were projected to win this game by 9.5 points when news spread that Saints' starting quarterback Drew Brees had an injured shoulder.  But the Panthers only ended up winning this game by 5 points, and it wasn't a "Brees." Why was that?

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Carolina Panthers Turn Down Watt For Win

Carolina Panthers Turn Down Watt For Win

The Carolina Panthers won their home opener by defeating the Houston Texans 24 - 17. In my matchup preview I said, "There is no way the Texans will win this game." Well this game was a lot closer than I wanted it to be. The Panthers had a tough time sustaining drives on offense because of penalties, and poor play. Cam Newton is still lacking on his throwing technique, but he was flying all over the field like Superman.

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Houston Texans vs. Carolina Panthers Preview

Houston Texans vs. Carolina Panthers Preview

Houston Texans vs. Carolina Panthers

The Carolina Panthers struggled on offense last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jaguars actually recorded 2 more total yards of offense than the Panthers (265-263 yards). The Panthers' receivers dropped some balls, the run game wasn't successful, and Cam Newton looked to be indecisive at times. But that didn't seem to matter because the Panthers still won 20-9. Their best offense was their defense. The Panthers defense recorded three turnovers, five sacks, and one touchdown.

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Can the Carolina Panthers Catch a Tiger by the Toe?

Who would have Sanu, you really can catch a tiger by the toe.

Sunday, the Carolina Panthers will attempt it when  they venture to Cincinnati to take on the 3-1 Bengals. Cincinnati, who are 7 point favorites and have won 11 straight home games, are looking to wipe the egg of their face from the Patriots prime-time beating this past Sunday.

This is going to be a tough match-up for the Panthers. Cincinnati is good. Prior to Sunday, the Bengals defense allowed only 11 points per game. Cam Newton will need to be quick and decisive against this stifling defense because the Bengals defensive front is guaranteed to get pressure. Geno Atkins will get push up the middle on the youngins and Nate Chandler, given his performance so far, will be easy work for Carlos Dunlop.

A.J. Green
Newton has been great so far, and I expect him to play well on Sunday despite these challenges. Carolina indicated Cam’s improving health and mobility when calling a few designed run plays against Chicago, but this could have been mostly a smokescreen to open some lanes up the middle for the Panthers backs. Cam’s health does seem to be improving, however, adding a dangerous dynamic to Carolina’s offense.

If Carolina is going to win this game, though, it will it will be because of their defense. It’s the team's identity. It’s also what travels best in the NFL. Carolina’s defense has been vulnerable this season, however. Giving up tons points and yards, Cincinnati’s respectable offense will be a challenging opponent.

Carolina’s defense caught caught a break Wednesday. Green, who is arguably the NFL’s best receiver, was carted off the practice field because of a debilitating toe injury. Thursday, a specialist advised Green to sit out Sunday due to the severity of this injury.

Green is a guy the Panthers can’t cover, nobody can really. The best corners in the league have trouble with this guy, so there’s no way the Panthers secondary could stop even an injured Green.

For Cincinnati, this means Dalton and Bernard will need to tow the line. Suddenly this became a much more winnable game for the Panthers. Without Dalton’s pet superstar, the Bengals become more one dimensional. Mohamed Sanu will certainly be more manageable for Carolina's secondary.  He hasn’t been all that effective throughout his career, and in his best season yet, the numbers aren’t that intimidating.

Without Green to worry about, Carolina can focus more on hurrying Dalton and containing Bernard. The more pressure on Dalton the better for Carolina, both literally and figuratively.

If Carolina’s offensive line can hold up long enough for Cam to move the ball, Carolina’s defense has a good shot at limiting Cincinnati’s production. Sunday, we may just see the Panthers catch this tiger by the toe!

By the Professor aka +Cat Chronicles
Follow me on Twitter @Cat_Chronicles

Thomas Davis Willed the Panthers' Win against the Bears

Thomas Davis willed the Panthers win Sunday.  He simply refused to be defeated.  

Matt Forte, with the Panthers down 14 and the defense sucking wind, broke a tackle from Thomas Davis for a 56-yard gain on a screen pass late in the second quarter. Davis, who rarely misses tackles, hit Forte hard, but failed to wrap-up. At the moment, the play felt as another nail being driven into that Panther coffin Steve Smith started fashioning last week in Baltimore.  

The next play, however, Davis delivered a punishing hit, immediately jumping up to let everyone know that he wasn't going to quit--that he wasn't going to let the Panthers quit.

In team sports, with as many moving parts and variables that compose a football game, we hesitate in declaring a single play, player, or moment’s determination of a game’s outcome.  Nobody likes to chock a win or loss up to one penalty or dropped pass right?  Sunday it was clear, however, that one player, one who unprecedentedly returned from three same-knee ACL injuries, turned the tide for the Panthers.

Playing like a man possessed, Thomas Davis’s will kindled a fire to fight in Carolina. Cam Newton subsequently led an inspired drive to end the half with a touchdown pass to a hobbled Greg Olsen to bring Carolina within 7 points.  The Panthers showed a desperation and understanding that this was a fight for survival that was as much mental as it was physical.

The Panthers roared out of the locker room, forcing two turnovers and holding Chicago to just three points in the second half.  Defensive tackle, Kwann Short, commented, “We came out ready. We just never gave up.”  The rookie was being modest.  The Panthers defense showed the tenacity that fans expected after the season’s fast start.  The determination, that will to fight, exhibited Thomas Davis had become contagious.

The younger players fed off the intensity.  Luke Kuechly, who finished with a team high 11 tackles, became "more vocal" and demonstrated the confidence we haven't seen since Week 2.  The pass rush picked up and played a large role in flustering Cutler and forcing poor throws. For the first time in weeks, Carolina got to the quarterback. What's interesting to see, however, is a younger guy like Short play such a large role in this defensive resurgence. Short has played well all season, but Sunday he showed the gritty toughness needed if this team is going to be successful this season.

On the other side of the ball, Cam Newton played careful, confident football.  Supported by veteran Greg Olsen, Cam Newton portrayed the very attribute that has been a main source of criticism throughout his career--mental toughness.  Cam didn't sulk in this game. He didn't pout, even when the offensive line was letting the Bears just run right through. No, Cam was tired of losing. With the same intensity and will displayed by Thomas Davis, Cam led his team back from a 14 point deficit that felt near insurmountable midway through the second quarter.

It’s not surprising that Thomas Davis played such an important role in Carolina’s victory over the Chicago Bears.  Everyone saw the Panthers defense in Baltimore without him.  Following the Baltimore blowout, a lot of fans questioned Carolina’s future and, some even, their “heart.”

Having “heart,” it’s something fans like to easily throw out there when teams are performing below expectation.  It’s something so abstract that fans and critics can use the term without truly having a finger on a player or team’s pulse.  I’m not particularly comfortable with the platitude.  It’s really just something catchy fans say.  But there is one person who I can confidently say has heart, and that is Thomas Davis.  Following his second ACL surgery in his right knee, he told his son, Thomas, Jr, “I've never quit anything. I'm not a quitter."  Once again, TD should he doesn’t quit, and it was his effort that kept the Panthers pounding!

What's Wrong with the Carolina Panthers?

We've seen the Carolina Panthers get off to a good 0-2 start, but ole Riverboat Ron had patented slow starts long ago, and let's face it. This time last year, we were 1-3, so things aren't quite so bad as they may seem in some ways.
What's going well? Right now, that's a short answer-type question. Cam Newton, despite being banged up and hobbled with a lingering ankle issue, has been nothing short of spectacular considering everything going on.

He hasn't been healthy and he's not getting protected by his offensive line. He has still managed to improve on his play from last year, and his being hobbled could be a blessing in disguise as it will force him to learn to be a better pocket passer.

Then there's rookie phenom Kelvin Benjamin, whom we're all familiar with and hopefully as high on as I am. 

I'll be honest....I always am in my writing, but specifically here. I didn't like the pick when it was made for two reasons: Kelvin was a redshirt sophomore coming out of FSU and hence I figured he'd take a year or two to develop his potential. 

What I didn't realize is the vast potential he apparently has. If he's only going to get better in the rest of the season and next, the sky really is the limit for this kid. 

The other reason I didn't like his selection was his propensity to drop easy passes in college. 

It looks like receivers' coach Ricky Proehl has coached a lot of that out of him. Dropped passes are almost always an issue of focusing. The NFL is so bang-bang that a split-second makes a difference, and I can see how tempting it is when an open receiver wants to take a peek upfield as the ball arrives for a catch. You HAVE to watch the ball into your hands, THEN turn and look - not the other way around, or passes get dropped.

All WRs will have a drop here or there; that's just how it is. Kelvin hasn't seemed to drop any more than any other given receiver and has actually emerged as the team's #1 receiver. That's frankly unheard of in the NFL these days.

Thankfully, TE Greg Olsen has been the steady hand on offense and made some very nice plays the first month. Against Baltimore last week, he showed he still has a nice burst on that catch he made at the 15 or so and turned up the sideline to run in for a score, so that was encouraging.

The thing is, if we could get healthy on offense, especially with the running backs, the Panthers ARE built to be a power running team that plays tough defense. Yes, the D hasn't played well at all the last two weeks, but the talent is there and they've shown their capabilities so hopefully it's something that can be fixed. If it can be, a healthy offense could be more potent than last year's but the lack of pass-blocking talent at the tackle position has to be considered when forming their game plans. Adjustments need to be made, but I think things can be turned around....but we don't have the luxury of much time.

Now for the bad. This is a long list, I'm afraid.

Number one, the offensive line really IS offensive, and the warnings I issued before the season started (and got creamed by fans for pointing out) are splayed wide open. I said the o-line is like a tiny college basketball team - they start a center and four guards.

I stick to that statement. I knew the line was in trouble when Dave Gettleman tried to sell all us fans a horrible bill of goods about the situation at tackle when Rivera had to move Byron Bell from the right side to the left, while Gettleman said "Sometimes the answer is right there on your roster."

As I've also said before, as far as that statement goes, it's true enough. Where the lie starts is one of omission - what he didn't say: "and sometimes the answer is NOT on your roster.

That is very much the case in Charlotte.

To his credit, Gettleman didn't reach for a tackle with the top pick or with ANY pick for that matter. I saw the "top-tier" offensive tackles were gone, and even at the bottom of the first round, you don't draft a second-tier guy. You find a top-tier guy at a position of need and draft him, or simply draft the "best player available" which Gettleman subscribes to, and fully explains the Kony Ealy pick in the second round.

At any rate, the OT position wasn't addressed at all when Jordan Gross retired, and we're paying for it now. My nickname for Byron Bell for some time now has been "the Turnstile." Byron "The Turnstile" Bell has earned that nickname by often letting pass rushers get by him without him hardly even touching them. 

You see, there's a difference between tackles and guards in the NFL. Guards, for lack of a better descriptor right now, are kinda "square" guys. Byron Bell is built like a typical NFL tackle. He's got SOME height at 6' 4", but he's 340+ pounds. 

That's a guard.

Usually, offensive tackles are a bit taller and leaner than Bell is. It's not uncommon to have a left tackle that's 6'5" to 6'7" and hits the scales at about 310-315 pounds....taller and leaner than Bell.

They're almost always guys with much quicker feet than those of Bell, or RT Nate Chandler for that matter.

Neither is a starting-quality offensive tackle. Both went undrafted out of college, and Chandler started his NFL career as a defensive tackle. So we have Bell playing WAY out of position and Chandler just really learning the right tackle position. 

And we're well into the season. Ouch.

Since the tackle position went completely un-addressed, the only way anything can be done about it this season is via a trade with another team. Perhaps Greg Hardy could be bundled with a middle-round pick for a good tackle, but Hardy's trade stock is at an all-time low at the moment because of his own legal issues connected to the Ray Rice domestic violence issue. We don't even know if Hardy will ever play another NFL down, AND he's playing under the franchise tag. I don't see another team clamoring for his $11 million+ salary this season and having to try to sign him after the season is over, nor do I see him contributing much this year. 

The other two ways to address it are via free agency next season and then the draft in the spring. To fix this, Gettleman likely would have to pick up a decent guy in free agency as well as adding a rookie to the roster in the draft.

What about the defense?

The defense has looked atrocious in both losses. Granted, Le'Veon Bell may be a top-five RB in the NFL these days, but teammate Legarrette Blount is not. Both hit us up for over 100 yards, and last week in the Blood and Guts Bowl, our old WR reject, Steve Smith, completely torched us for well over 100 yards and 2 TDs....even if that first "tip drill" TD made me think I was watching last season's Auburn/Georgia game.

Luke Kuechly isn't playing like the Defensive Player of the Year he was last year and has already played himself OUT of ANY consideration to repeat that honor this year. I saw too many players out of position on any given play as well.

Part of this is the "rent-a-defensive back" strategy we've seen from Gettleman the past two seasons. We're taking on rejects from divisional defenses that weren't any good at the time they were let go....Thomas DeCoud from Atlanta and Roman Harper from New Orleans, to be precise. While DeCoud has played fairly consistently (if unspectacular in doing so), Harper has been in the wrong place way too much.

The defensive line isn't putting pressure on the opponent like it has in the past, either. This isn't just because of no Greg Hardy; one thing the team does have is depth at the DE spot. It's NOBODY is playing up to last year's bar, which I acknowledge was set quite high, but the entire front-seven returned from last year's second-ranked unit, save Hardy and his situation.

Without getting deeper into the specifics as this post is already quite lengthy, the line isn't pressuring the QB or disrupting the backfield. The secondary isn't covering consistently well and is playing out of position on a lot of running plays. The linebackers are the same way...even Kuechly hit the wrong hole on that long gain by Le'Veon Bell the previous week.

Harper was WAY out of position against Tampa Bay when their fullback went 54 yards on a quick-opener running play. The list goes on and on. And on. And on. I haven't even mentioned our entire backfield is injured, either.

In fact, as per The Charlotte Observer, Ron Rivera said he counted 14 plays against the Ravens where at least two defenders were out of position. Apparently the vaunted front-seven isn't immune to falling back to Earth as well.

Read more here:

Defensive Coordinator Sean McDermott needs to come up with some fixes and fast. The team is in the bottom-five in stopping 3rd down conversions and that was a strength last year. You name it, we're worse in that defensive category than last year. WAY worse.

But why is all this happening? The offensive woes could be explained with personnel issues and with injuries to the backfield including Cam. As well as Cam's playing under bad circumstances, just think how electrifying the 2013 version would be, and he continues to get punished as Ron Rivera took him out of the game two consecutive weeks to "protect" him. That's never a good thing.

It's the defense that makes me wonder. Yes, the secondary is largely made up of 1-year rentals but so was last year's. No corners seem to want to step forward yet to claim the #1 spot, but rookie Bene Benwikere (whom I call "The Fed Chief" and Al Michaels referred to him the same way on Sunday Night Football) could work himself up that ladder as he's the most talented and instinctive CB we have, and has locked down the nickel spot for now.

It still doesn't explain why Kuechly has seemingly regressed somewhat as his own instincts have seemed to fail him on a number of occasions this year, but he's not the only person not playing up to par. 

In fact, on defense, I can't think of anyone that IS!

Hang in there, gang. Looks like it could be a long year unless the defense can begin keeping us in games. We have the talent, but can the coaches pull things together?

All we can do is watch, root for the team, and time will tell on that one.

Follow me on Twitter @Ken_Dye

Top 10 Things Carolina Panthers Can Say or Do that Lead to Steve Smith's...

The Blood and Guts Battle is here, and we know Smitty is ready to fight.  Check out C3's Top 10 Things that the Carolina Panthers Can Say or Do that Lead to Steve Smith's Ejection.

C3 Up, Three Down Week 3: Steelers forge victory in convincing fashion

Three Things the Carolina Panthers Did Well

This week it was very hard to figure out what the Carolina Panthers did well. The way the Panthers played on both sides of the ball against the Pittsburgh Steelers was embarrassing. This was the one game I had no doubt that we were going to win. Panther Nation is speechless after this loss and embarrassed. I had to turn into Sherlock Holmes just to find the answers to what three things the Panthers did well. 

So what did Sherlock Homes come up with?

1. Attitude – Cam Newton took a beating in the pocket all night. Every time he stepped back to make a throw, he was getting hit by someone on the Steelers. Newton was sacked three times and was hit six times.  But he got up every time, stayed in the pocket and tried to make the play. Newton reminded me of the lyrics from a song by Chumbawama called “Get Knocked Down.” This is my version… “Cam Newton got knocked down, but he got up again, and you’re never going to keep him down!”

2. “Megatron Jr.” – Kelvin Benjamin continues to impress NFL defenses and fantasy football team owners with his catching ability. He finished the game with eight catches for 115 yards and one touchdown. Newton needs to throw the ball his way a lot more. Benjamin is reliable and can’t be covered one-on-one.

3. “The Leg” – Brad Nortman has one of the strongest legs in the NFL and he showed it Sunday night. He punted the ball a career-high 65 yards and averaged 52.5 yards per punt. His punting pinned the Steelers further back in their zone, but it didn’t matter because the Panthers defense took the night off. Nortman will play a key part in the success of the Panthers special teams as the season goes on.

By +Justin Raymond
Follow me on Twitter @JayRay19

Three Things the Panthers Did Poorly

There are games that are just not meant to be won. Games where you come out and no matter how hard the effort you put forth, it is just not going to be enough. This was the case on Sunday night, Carolina was not going to win this game. As hard as they fought, with all their concentrated effort, this game was determined before it played out on the field.

There were many things the Panthers did not do well in this matchup. There were all kinds of mistakes made by players and coaching staff. But here we will select three of the most significant failures against the Steelers.

1. The lack of running plays called: I don't know exactly the reasoning for this, but I have said since before training camp began: the success of this season will be predicated on establishing an effective run game. Having an effective run game puts less emphasis on a weak pass blocking offensive line. Shula needs to really make a commitment and run the ball. Even if the running game is not totally effective it will be something for the defense to think about and cause the front seven to have to consider something other than getting to Cam Newton. A real running game will alleviate the pressure off Cam and give the offensive line a chance to win some of those battles. Taking the pressure off Cam will equal a better Cam and in turn a better Carolina Panthers team,

2. Offensive Line- The offensive line certainly did play their worst game of the season. All of them across the board play very poorly. Even all pro center Ryan Kalil  looked lost and confused. I know part of this is because the Panthers offensive line is young and has not played against the exotic blitzes and unique schemes created by the mind of Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. This defense confused and confounded the Panthers and they were never able to get on track. A running game I think would have helped both the offense and the defense. But we will see if Mike Shula sees the error of his ways and can make a running attack part of our game plan.

3. Defense- Never did I think the entire defense would make this list. But that is just the case after this game. The Steelers came out and basically had their way with this highly ranked Panthers defense. Big Ben and the offense seemed only slightly impaired by The Panthers. Giving up 37 points, 100 yards rushing to TWO (2) different running backs Bell and Blount, and 10 receptions to Antonio Brown. Now these are all good players for sure, but we made the look like hall of famers. It was embarrassing watching failure after failure by our defensive unit. The pressure really was not there by the front seven and Big Ben was able to pick apart the shaky Panthers secondary. After 2 games of looking so good, I believe Panthers fans had come to believe this team was better as a whole than the individual talents that had been assembled by management. After this game Panthers fans have some real evaluating to do.

Was this game an anomaly or is the Panthers team we have to look forward to for the rest of the season? I don't know the answer to that but I do know we won't have long until we find out. The schedule is getting ready to enter the toughest part and it will be a trial by fire for the next several games. I only hope the team we saw in weeks 1 and 2 are the real Panthers, because the team that played Sunday night against Pittsburgh is not even a .500 team.        

By +Joe Riollano 
Follow that Freak'n Puerto Rican @JoeRiollano                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

Carolina Panthers Three Up, Three Down

Three Up

The battle between the Carolina Panthers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers turned out to be a nail bitter. But, the final score does not represent how well the Carolina Panthers actually played. A lot of the fans and media doubted the Panthers because of the injury to Cam Newton. There is no need to worry though because the defense was phenomenal, and Derek Anderson led the Panthers to a victory! The Panthers played a good game overall, but what three things did they do really well?
1. Stopping The Run – The Carolina Panthers have the best front seven in the NFL and this game showed that. They held the Buccaneers to only 102 rushing yards which doesn’t seem like a big accomplishment, but 54 yards came on one run by Jorvorskie Lane. The Buccaneers top two running backs only averaged 2.0 yards per rush.

Kelvin Benjamin2. Making Josh McCown’s Mother Cry – Josh McCown was on his back all game and probably wasn’t feeling good as he was soaking in his ice bath after the game. The Carolina Panthers kept pressure on him all day and McCown paid for that. The Panthers registered three sacks, and had seven QB hits. The pressure resulted in two interceptions and McCown only had a QBR Rating of 21.7.

3. Kelvin Benjamin Can Catch – I tell you what this guy has a bright future in the NFL! His gloves are like a big white side of the barn, because they can’t be missed. Benjamin was targeted eight times and had six receptions for 92 yards, and a touchdown. Benjamin and Greg Olsen gave the Buccaneers secondary trouble all night.

I know I talked about the front seven in two out of three things, but who wouldn’t brag about this? Good luck Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions, you better get that ball out of your hands quickly!

By +Justin Raymond
Follow me on Twitter @JayRay19

Three Down

The Carolina Panthers walked into Raymond James Stadium and took the best shot Tampa could muster. The Panthers did not even flinch. Carolina relied on a back up quarterback and a nasty defense to escape Pirate Island with a win. But with as good as this win was, there are still some things we need to take a closer look at.

Three things Carolina must improve:

Roman Harper1. To no ones surprise, the secondary needs a lot of help. When McCown had time, he picked apart the Panthers. For much of the second half the Bucs were able to move down the field through the air and score. That could possibly be attributed to fatigue on the part of the defensive front of Carolina. Both teams were looking pretty gassed out there. I have heard the on field temp hovered around 110 degrees with very high humidity. Secondary still needs improvement. Nothing we haven't known.

2. To my surprise, the Bucs ran well as a unit against the usually run stuffing Carolina defense. The Panthers gave up 102 yards rushing to Tampa. This is something we cannot do as the season progresses. I think the defense will get it together and once again become the run stuffing machine we all are familiar with.

3. The third area where we need to improve on is getting the opposing offense off the field after third down. The Bucs were 6 of 12 on third down conversions, 50% is too high. If we do that with any of the teams in the upcoming part of our schedule we will likely be on the losing end of that game.

This was a good win for Carolina. We now have some momentum and can build off this win.

By +Joe Riollano aka "that Freak'in Puerto Rican"
Follow me on Twitter @JoeRiollano

No Quarter!

What does the saying “No Quarter” mean? In football terms it means NO MERCY! The Carolina Panthers won’t be providing any mercy to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when they match-up for their first game of the 2014 NFL season on September 7.

The Carolina Panthers swept the season series in 2013 with a 31-13 victory in Tampa Bay on October 13th, and a 27-6 win at home on December 1st. The Buccaneers
were a team that struggled last season with a rookie quarterback and had several injuries.

Bene BenwikereThis season is going to be a lot different due to a number of changes for both teams. The biggest change for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is their new Head Coach Lovie Smith. Coach Smith will give the Buccaneers a fresh start and a different style from Greg Schiano. Lovie is more relaxed, player friendly and is defensive minded.  They also drafted Johnny Football’s favorite target Mike Evans, who has a lot of potential.

The Carolina Panthers had some big changes as well with the new receiving core and the new defensive backs. The wide receivers on the 53-man roster consist of Kelvin Benjamin, Jason Avant, Jerricho Cotchery, Brenton Bersin, and Corey Brown. On the defensive side of the ball, Thomas DeCoud, Antoine Cason, and Roman Harper were all added this season to help improve the weak deep passing defense that was taken advantage of last season.

So the question is…. How will the Panthers defensive backs matchup with the Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson?

According to the depth chart, Melvin White and Antoine Cason are going to be starting for the Carolina Panthers at the cornerback position. This means that they will be battling with Evans and Jackson all game. Evans and Jackson are both big and physical receivers so the coverage is going to have to be tight. They can’t let the Buccaneers receivers use their bodies to out muscle them when going up for the ball. White, Cason and the Panthers safeties are going to be providing a “no quarter” kind of coverage all game! This will be a good test for our secondary.

My final score prediction: 28-14 ……… of course the Panthers WIN!

What do you think will be the final score of this matchup?

Follow +Justin Raymond on Twitter @jayray19

Will Cam be Cam, or will he be a bust in 2014?

Oh the possibilities!  After all, they are what keep us coming back, right?  Thirty one teams get their hearts broken every year, but come back with even more fervor the following season.  I was depressed for a week after losing the 49ers last year in the Playoffs but am chomping at the bit for the 2014 season.  I am, after all, one of the biggest Carolina Panther fans that you’ll ever meet.  In fact, if I were eligible, I would have entered the C3 Fan Spotlight Contest. I would have given the awesome finalists in that contest a run for their money.  Some lucky fan will win dinner for two at Firebirds and two tickets to the Panthers Home Opener.  Read their stories and vote for your favorite fan here:

Being a huge fan doesn’t mean you have to be a Homer.  I’m not drafting all Panthers in our Fantasy League, which Drafts Thursday night.  And though I know we can win any game and I pray that we will, I don’t pick us to go 16-0 every year.  Below are my honest and objective thoughts on what could go right and what could go wrong in the upcoming year. Opening-Day in the NFL is like Christmas morning for me.  The night before the first game, I cannot sleep as I will be thinking about the “what-ifs.”  My wife may even roll over to snuggle and I’ll be thinking about the Cam-to-Kelvin Connection.  So what do I think the 2014 season holds for in store for Panther Nation?

Here is what could go wrong:

Our Defense could be a bend-but-don’t-break type of Defense that we saw in the pre-season.  If that is the case, they will eventually wear down and that will spell trouble.  We must get off the field on third downs or it could be a long season.  Another thing that could go wrong is Cam not being Cam.  Let’s face it, Cam isn’t the most accurate passer (especially early in games) and he doesn’t get the ball out as quickly as a Drew Brees.  But where he is special is his ability to make any play become a big play.  His mobility sets him apart and is why I’d take him over 30 other QBs in the League. If his ankle isn’t right and if this cracked rib limits his willingness to run, then look for our 29th ranked Offense to drop in the rankings.  Another thing that could go wrong is our Offensive-line being offensive to Panther fans everywhere.  If we give up more sacks than we make, look for our season to be lost.  One last item that could go wrong is our Secondary may not gel and communicate well enough to be effective.  In the pre-season folks were left wide-open and Drew Brees and even Meg Ryan will pick that apart.  And of course, injuries are the big elephant in the room.  We have to stay healthy to go deep in the playoffs this year or to even make the playoffs.  Now I will set down my pessimistic glass and turn to the possibilities.

Here is what could go right:

Jonathan Stewart being healthy is an immediate upgrade to our backfield and will change the dynamics of our team.  We saw that in the pre-season as well.  He is just a step better than DeAngelo at this point in their careers.  Kelvin Benjamin is another thing that could go right.  I guarantee that if healthy, he will catch more yards and TDs than the 2013 Steve Smith did.  Another thing that could go right is our D-line could be even better than a year ago.  KK and “Stah” stand to make the same type of meteoric jump in year two that Kris Jenkins did for Carolina back in the day.  And probably the most important thing that could go right for Carolina is Cam simply being Cam.  Let’s face it, we will go as far as he takes us.  If he quickens his release time just a bit, gets the protection that he needs, and can be mobile enough to make a few plays with his feet on 3rd down, we will be just fine.  In fact, who can beat that?

So at the end of the day, I don’t know what is going to happen, but isn’t that what makes football the greatest game in the world?  The possibilities.  I’m going to go out and say we start slow and then pick up steam and finish 10-6.  What say you?  Tweet out your prediction for the upcoming season.  Am I a Homer or a Hater for predicting 10-6?


C3 Podcast: Fantasy Football Extravaganza (7/8/14)

The Crew this week is anticipating the coming 2014 season and will delve into fantasy football in relation to the Carolina Panthers.  Fantasy writer Matt Haithcock will join the show at 10:15 and we will be unveiling a little fantasy surprise for Panther fans afterward.

Links to different formats...same awesome podcast!!!

They Don’t Call Charles Johnson “Big Money” for Nothing

Carolina’s premier pass rushers, Charles “Big Money” Johnson and Greg “the Kraken” Hardy, couldn’t have more polar personalities. Described as the “Odd Couple,” the two differ in nearly every respect.  Big Money, or “Chuck,” has the big contract and reticent personality. Not known for being particularly vocal in the locker room, Charlotte News and Observer’s Joe Person describes Johnson as a reluctant leader, and his teammates color him as “professional” and as a “normal guy.”  In contrast, teammates describe “Little Money” Hardy as a “guy who is a little off.”  Hardy’s alter ego, “the Kraken,” highlights his cavalier and domineering personality, which starkly contrasts the unsung hero Charles Johnson.

Greg Hardy ArrestThe national media also reinforces these differences.  Johnson is the reserved and unrecognized star.  Big Money might bring it strong and consistent each week, but he flies under the radar (probably much to his liking).  He’s relentless in the pass rush and strong against the run. Defensive coordinators and offensive tackles know him, and are probably nauseated when game planning for Chuck. His impressive consistency hasn’t garnered any real national appreciation, however.  He’s never made the Pro Bowl.  Most analysts outside of Carolina hardly know his name.

He puts up impressive numbers, but somehow it never captures tremendous attention.

Charles Johnson Stats:

Def Interceptions Fumbles Tackles
Year Tm G GS Sk PD FF Fmb FR Yds TD Tkl
2010 CAR 16 16 11.5 1 51
2011 CAR 15 15 9.0 4 31
2012 CAR 16 16 12.5 4 7 0 1 0 0 31
2013 CAR 14 14 11.0 1 0 1 0 0 28
Career 93 65 54.0 19 11 0 3 0 0 178
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 5/13/2014.

Greg Hardy’s eager adoption of the “Kraken” persona, in contrast, has made him a national celebrity. The crazy contact lenses, face paint, primetime introduction as “Kraken from Hogwarts” have created media sensation that dominated 2014 free agency talk.  The Kraken’s Super Bowl media tour, where he scared Skip Bayless and publically welcomed the franchise tag as an opportunity to enhance his already astronomical market value, captured the national media spotlight.

Kraken’s statistical production is coincidently resemblant of his flashy personality also.  Compiling 26 sacks over the past season, Hardy has imposed himself on the field.  Hardy accrued these sacks much differently than his counterpart, Big Money.  Johnson has had a steady diet of sacks for the past four years.  Hardy tends to feast heavily and sporadically, often followed by fasting.  66.67% of Hardy’s sacks came in just three games in 2013.   

This production, however, is starkly different to Johnson’s steady diet of sacks. 

Greg Hardy Stats:

Def Interceptions Fumbles Tackles
Year G GS Sk PD FF Fmb FR Yds TD Tkl
2010 15 0 3.0 1 2 0 0 0 0 20
2011 16 16 4.0 11 1 0 0 0 0 38
2012 15 10 11.0 2 2 0 1 0 0 41
2013* 16 13 15.0 1 1 0 0 0 0 40
Career 62 39 33.0 15 6 0 1 0 0 139
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 5/13/2014.

Hardy’s recent arrest for assault on a female and communicating threats again epitomizes this contrast.  Hardy was described as a flaky guy coming into the league, and has always sought the spotlight, for better or for worse, while he’s been Carolina. Whether it’s posting pictures on Instagram of him going 100 mph in a Bentley or strolling into his first year of training camp bandaged up from a motorcycle accident, questions have always surrounded the Kraken’s character.  Until this week, the questions have been relatively minor and more about maturity than character.  This most recent incident, however, once again raises eyebrows.

Big Money, who has maintained a polished public image, noted this on Twitter after Hardy’s arrest:

The message was simple, unassuming, and perfectly fitting of Johnson’s personality—“Money Over Bitches.” If Big Money knows about anything as much as getting after the quarterback, it is getting after the big contract. Clearly directed at teammate Greg Hardy—don’t let anything come between you and the paper—Johnson’s comments shouldn’t be overlooked. Hardy is at the most important financial junction of his career.  Any opportunity that diminishes a player’s value has to be avoided.  The fame and flash can be fun, but it can’t get in the way of the money.

After Charles Johnson signed his “Big Money” contract, he was asked about his first big purchase. “Honesty,” he stated, “I bought my house that I wanted and it’s been the only real big purchase since. I’m also saving a lot and waiting to see how my career pans out.”

Hardy needs to take a page from the “Big Money” playbook and work on saving his image and money.  This incident will not be cheap.  This will have contract implications, whether direct or indirect.  ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio predicted that Hardy’s arrest will cause his market value to “plummet” on WFNZ’s Mac Attack. At the very minimum, this incident doesn’t give Hardy any added advantage in contract negotiations.  If he misses any workouts or games from suspension, it will cost the Kraken major money.  A one game suspension would result in more than 700k loss for Hardy.

From the outside looking in, the “Kraken” persona has increased Hardy’s market value to this point. The persona can’t become bigger than the player, however.  Listen to your boy Charles Johnson; they don’t call him “Big Money” for nothing.  MOB!

Who Do the Carolina Panthers Have in Jerricho Cotchery?

Who Do the Carolina Panthers Have?

Part 1: Jerricho Cotchery
Much to do has been made of who the Panthers lost this offseason.  The exodus of Panther staples, such as Steve Smith, Jordan Gross, and Captain Munnerlyn has left fans uncertain. The uncertainty of the unknown has caused fans to flail for something to help them get their bearings, particularly on the offensive side of the roster. 

This is part one of a series meant to explore Carolina’s unknown, well less known anyway.  The series will first focus on the Panthers’ unknown receiver core because that has been the greatest cause of fan angst. Followed by an analysis of offensive additions, we’ll look at new, but more familiar, defensive players, such as Roman Harper, Antoine Casson, and Thomas Decoud. Fans need to know who we have to understand what we need.  The series will conclude with a who we added group of articles, producing the final product of: 

Who the Panthers have, who did they add, and what do they got? Let’s look at some of those mysterious wide receivers first!

Jerricho Cotchery: Panther fans, welcome back a familiar star! The
“Backyard Baller” and NC State college standout shined alongside Phillip Rivers between 2000 and 2003.  Amassing 200 catches for a whopping 3,119 yds, Cotchery ranks 2nd all-time in Wolfpack history only to Tory Holt. 

Year Tm Pos Rec Yds Y/R TD Lng Y/G
2006 NYJ WR 82 961 11.7 6 71 60.1
2007 NYJ WR 82 1130 13.8 2 50 75.3
2008 NYJ WR 71 858 12.1 5 56 53.6

Cotchery’s senior season was insane, seven 110+ yd games and one 200+ yd game.  Look at these crazy stats, and it’s a wonder why we should even have to feature Cotchery in this series. 

Rk Date School Opponent Rec Yds Avg TD
1 2003-08-30 North Carolina State Western Carolina W 5 62 12.4 1
2 2003-09-06 North Carolina State Wake Forest L 9 173 19.2 1
3 2003-09-13 North Carolina State Ohio State L 4 44 11.0 2
4 2003-09-20 North Carolina State Texas Tech W 3 56 18.7 0
5 2003-09-27 North Carolina State North Carolina W 9 217 24.1 1
6 2003-10-04 North Carolina State Georgia Tech L 5 71 14.2 1
7 2003-10-11 North Carolina State Connecticut W 4 55 13.8 0
8 2003-10-16 North Carolina State Clemson W 2 55 27.5 0
9 2003-10-25 North Carolina State Duke W 9 117 13.0 0
10 2003-11-01 North Carolina State Virginia W 7 111 15.9 1
11 2003-11-15 North Carolina State Florida State L 10 135 13.5 2
12 2003-11-22 North Carolina State Maryland L 6 102 17.0 0
13 2003-12-22 North Carolina State Kansas W 13 171 13.2 1
13 Games 86 1369 15.9 10

Provided by View Original Table
Generated 5/3/2014.

Drafted by the NY Jets in 2004, Cotchery wore green and white with multiple QBs for multiple coaches. Breaking out in 2007 with 1,130 yds and 2 TDs under an intricate Mangini offense scheme, Cotchery became the featured receiver in NY.  Although he didn’t find the end-zone too often, Cotchery hauled in 82 catches, proving himself a integral part of Mangini’s modest success. The late season collapse of 2008 was enough to push out Mangini, who finished 9-7 after leading the division early.

As the “Rex Ryan Sanchez” era commenced, Cotchery’s production declined.  Battlingly through a serious groin injury and a difficult off-season back surgery, Cotchery fell out of favor with the new regime in 09.  The groin injury was no joke by the way.  He reportedly heard it snap of this wildly awesome play.  This video alone will make happy to see this guy sporting the black and blue.  

Always known as a character guy and locker room favorite, Cotchery’s departure wasn’t as cordial as one would think.  Although there isn’t any direct evidence, numerous veiled comments suggest Cotchery and Ryan didn’t see entirely eye-to-eye. Ryan’s early coaching success triggered a confidence and flamboyance remembered with his press conferences clowning his brother, embracing the spotlight of HBO’s Hard Knock, and we can’t forget that he loves feet! 

Cotchery obviously wasn’t enamored by Ryan’s personality nor his description of his rise to power at expense of ex-coach Mangini in his autobiography, Play Like You Mean It. Cotcherydefended Mangini against Mangini against Ryan’s light jabs. Meanwhile, the Jets continually attempted to “recruit over” Cotchery by bringing in guys like ex-con Plaxico Burress and the ornery Derrick Mason.

By 2011, Cotchery had enough and requested to be traded or released.  The parting wasn’t ugly, but there was some underlying animosity, at the very minimum the relationship had become stale.

The Pittsburgh Renaissance:

Landing in Pittsburgh for the league minimum, Cotchery found himself taking a backseat to the peaking Mike Wallace, Antonio Bryant, and Emmanuel Sanders.  The departure of Wallace in 2012 and rocky 2013 start tested the Steeler’s offense, which started out 2-6 last season.  Jerricho Cotchery’s veteran experience helped, however, Pittsburgh fight tooth and nail to save that prided Steeler dignity. Although the Steelers are aging on defense, their offensive playmakers are still pretty young.  0-4 start seemed to have shaken these players, but it didn't shake the “Walls of Jerricho,” who reigned in 89 balls for 689 yards and 10 TDs last year. 

What we got:

Cotchery has been a quiet presence in the NFL. He was the quiet, productive guy that wasn't ever a star, but never fully appreciated either.  Cotchery's best opportunity to impose himself as a #1 receiver came in a time when the Jets' offense struggled to find an identity. When the Jets did finally found success under Rex Ryan, the offense was never the primary reason driver.  It was a tough nailed defense that backed a ground and pound offense.  What should have been his best years were undermined by inconsistent quarterback play and playing for teams that never manufactured consistent offensive production.  In some ways, there are a lot of similarities to former Panther Steve Smith's years in Carolina between 2008 and 20011.  The teams they played hampered their on field production more than their ability. I mean if Smith had been a Colt in between '08 and '11, he'd be a first ballot Hall of Famer for sure.

There are two things that make me happy about this pick-up: 1)  my man Cotchery has hands.  He catches everything in the same zip code.  2) the luckiest person I have ever known (who will remain anonymous), always picked Cotchery as a third receiving option on his fantasy football team.  The quiet producer helped him win a fantasy football championship or two!!! 

Cotchery never really had the best opportunity to assert himself as a #1 receiver.  He looks to have found his shot in Carolina, however, where there aren't any established receivers ahead of him in the depth chart.  Even if the Panthers grab a receiver in the first round, it's unlikely this player would assert himself as a leader among the receiving core.  The addition would need to transition from a #2 option to a #1 option throughout the year.  Cotchery will have a chance during this time to step into that leadership role.  Let' just hope he can continue the renaissance that he started in Pittsburgh last year in the Queen city.   

Ron Rivera: Chump or Champ?

29-38-13-7-15-8…the numbers that forged the legend of “Riverboat Ron.”  Rivera’s Powerball jackpot was big. It included a NFC South Championship, a 3-year contract extension, and the slick-ass moniker “Riverboat Ron.” The numbers weren’t random, however. They’re significant. Rivera had played these numbers for three years before hitting his payday.

2-9 (2011 start)
3-8 (2012 start)
1-3 (2013 start)
7-15 in games decided by less than 7 points.
8 game win streak (franchise record) that ended in a 12-4 season, a division title, and a home playoff game in 2013. 

Winning the Powerball jackpot removed the angst of losing for most fans.  It was an electrifying experience. Panther fans huddled around Rivera’s Panthers as they went on a hot streak that would make any Vegas pro jitter with excitement. The hot-streak ended, however, as they all do, in loss. Burned by the river card, Rivera walked away convinced he had made the right play. He was still Riverboat Ron, right?

All professional gamesters experience this defining type moment.  It’s not the hot streak. It’s not the loss. It’s not even that the loss came because of a bad beat. It’s the return to the tables that is the real test of a gambler’s fortitude.  Rivera's 2014 return to the high stakes table will determine his legacy in Carolina. 

Gamblers generally attribute winning to skill rather than luck. Despite their devotion to the numbers, the strategy, the game, there are times when they are reminded that they are still fundamentally games of chance.  In the end, the gambler is always gambling. The gamester can respond to these defining moments in two ways: through instinctual confidence or a developing a festering fear of failure. The burn can either resolve their confidence that chance can be mastered or paralyze them by the fear that chance is not in their favor.

So how will Riverboat Ron respond?  Is he a “chump” or a “champ?”

It wasn’t long ago that most thought Rivera was a chump. The “Fire Rivera” groups were loud and hard to discredit after the 1-3 2013 start. It was Rivera’s third dismal season start as a head coach.  Fan writers argued over who spotted Rivera as a degenerate first. This wasn’t just fan outrage alone, however.  Rivera had a legitimate problem.  Steve Smith indicated after the Arizona loss that they “were at a crossroads” and that “it was make or break for the players—and for the coaches.” Ironically, at the time Smith seemed the one person that could say something like this without fear that he was one of those players at the crossroads.   

Rivera’s back was to the corner and the writing was on the wall according to NFL’s Ian Rapoport: 

Sources: #Panthers have begun laying groundwork for a possible coaching search, doing background checks on candidates. 1 candidate knows.

With no other choice Rivera pushed his chips all in. His Panthers then went on a franchise record 8 straight hot streak, finishing the season 12-4 and NFC South champs.  Although impressive in itself, it was the way Rivera racked racked up the wins that important to establishing his “Riverboat” status.

Rivera had always “played it by the book.” Of ’85 Bear pedigree, Rivera wanted to hunker down on defense and, as Scot Fowler put, “when in doubt, punt.”  One fan yawned with dissatisfaction

Rivera played the numbers  tight and by the book, but for some reason he still found himself always on the wrong side of the bet.  It just seemed as if Rivera's Panthers were never willing to pull the trigger.  There was always a little hesitancy in truly gambling.  His dismal record of 2-13 record in games 7 or less points showed playing the book doesn't guarantee success. 

Rivera was going to have to start gambling. The conservative coach played it loose, converting 10-13 4 downs in 2013.  The Observer’s Scott Fowler described going for it on 4th down as Rivera’s new “religion.”  Many tried to say that Rivera was staying true to his statistical dogma. They were never just risks, but always carefully calculated decisions. The moves though were inherently risky.  He started to see that gambling, well, requires gambling!  Riverboat Ron started pushing the chips in at the right time. The fact that failure was imminent if he didn't put it all on the line seemed to ease the fear of failure that had made risk adverse in the first place.  

There is no play last season that represented this more than Rivera's decision to punt with 2:04 left and down by 3.  On the face, it seems like conservative Ron was back, looking to rely on his defense and hopefully push the game to OT with a late drive for a field goal.  This call  was gutsy.  It was risky. It was a gamble, and it paid dividends.  Rivera looked like a hard nosed Vegas pro that didn't shy away from high stakes when the Panthers pulled out the long shot win in the closing seconds.  Riverboat Ron was at the table and he still had the hot hand!

The thought that Rivera's bags were packed and at the door seems so foreign now. The hot-streak was exhilarating.  An NFC Championship, secured by the forging of a premiere defense, has given fans a taste of success that desperately needed.  Winning medicated the fan's pain and Rivera's headaches in Carolina. 

Was this enough though to classify Rivera as a champ though?

Rivera’s return from the precipice shouldn't erase memories of his near death experience. Winning does cure all.  It has for Rivera, temporarily anyway.  Losing, however, can just as easily revitalize the belief that he is a chump.

In the end, it will be Rivera’s return to the table that defines whether he is a "chump" or "champ."  

Tory Holt recently stated that he was concerned with the state of the Panthers' offense on the David Glenn show.  He noted that the offensive roster has taken clear steps backwards. This is especially disconcerting because Carolina’s offense was anemic last year.  How much worse could it really get? Rivera will be forced to make some tough calls next year.  He may find himself with this back to the wall more times than he would like because of that step backward observed by Holt. 

We’ll see if Riverboat Ron responds to the expectations created by 2013’s success with instinctual confidence or a fear of failure.  If Rivera continues to play it aggressive and go with his gut, he may just beat back the odds with a defense that allows him to gamble when opportune. If he finds himself at the table and fearful to make the risky call when it’s all on the line, he will end up being more chump than champ. 

I think Rivera can do it.  He’s got the cool demeanor, a grittiness that comes with any 85 bear, and a gutsy enough resolve that suggests he can find continued success in Carolina. He was criticized mercilessly prior to last year's turn around.  He's been honest that the pressure was high, but he's remained calm and confident throughout, reassuringly stating "I'm a good football coach. I know that somewhere along the line, if I get things in my favor, I think I can be successful. That's sort of what's happening now. You've got to be patient."  

We’ll just have to wait and see if he embraces the inherent uncertainty and risk that comes with any game of chance.  As long as Riverboat Ron remains willing to push the chips all in, he’ll prove his is no chump.