Are the Carolina Panthers a contender or a pretender? The question is posed not because they beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but it was in the manner they beat them. Cam Newton picked apart the Buccaneers defense going 23 of 32 for 221 yards and two touchdowns. If the passing game wasn’t enough of an insult to this embarrassment of on the NFL team in Tampa, Cam rushed for 50 yards and a touchdown.
The Panthers currently sit in second place in the NFC South with a 4-3 record. The skeptics are on their way with the Panthers bashing. The Panthers have wi;s against the St. Louis Rams, New York Giants, Minnesota Vikings and the Buccaneers. Those teams have a combined record of 5-22. It’s not the Panthers fault those four teams forgot how to play football. The players on the aforementioned teams are professional athletes as well and get paid rather handsomely to perform. I never did like the phrase “ Well look at the teams they have beaten, they all have sub .500 records.” That statement really gets under my skin, it’s a nice way of saying the team does not deserve any credit. A win is a win; do you think the Kansas City Chiefs are going return wins due to inferior competition? If that is so much of a problem, then kick the sub .500 teams out the league. The Panthers are legit, point blank.
The Panthers have one weakness that I would love to see them fix and that is the wide receiver position. They rank 29th in passing yards a game with 197 yards. That is not a knock on Newton or Steve Smith; they do their parts. As I noticed watching the Buccaneers game, there were too many drops from the receivers, with perfectly thrown balls. Steve Smith is always a threat, whether vertical, screen pass or an underneath route. The problem is, he has no help to take away the double-team coverage that teams are deploying against him. Brandon LaFell is a good receiver; he’s just not good enough for the NFL. Ted Ginn Jr. has his moments but he is very inconsistent. Greg Olsen is a good tight end; I think the offense needs to feature him more.
The running game ranks seventh with 130 yards a game. I would love to blame DeAngelo Williams for not being the runner he once was but it’s not all his fault. Defenses are stacking the line because they don’t respect the Panthers receivers and can cover them man to man leaving little or no running lanes for Williams to operate. Mike Tolbert will run through a brick wall. He is a great goal-line and short-yardage back, the best in the league. Jonathan Stewart is on his way back and so is the return of double trouble. If he returns fully healthy then that 130 yards a game will easily turn into 160+.
The defense is tough, young and hungry. The Panthers rank 3rd in the league in total defense, and that’s with a young and inexperienced secondary. To beat the Panthers you have to pick your poison, you can’t run against them, they only give up 79 yards a game. If you are a quarterback and have the Panthers on the schedule, you better develop a Dan Marino-like quick release. If you try to wait for your receiver to make their move, that same receiver will be helping you off the ground. The Panthers have 22 sacks this season, sixth in the league. The linebackers haven’t missed a beat, even with the release of all-pro linebacker Jon Beason. This defense will only get better as he season progresses.
The Panthers have a tough schedule remaining. They have two games against the New Orleans Saints and two against the Atlanta Falcons left in their division. If you think the division games are tough, they still have to travel to play the San Francisco 49ers, then deal with the New England Patriots. We will soon see if the Panthers are contender or pretenders.