Cleat Geeks

The Panther Post: State of the Cats

With three games in the books, the 2015 Carolina Panthers have the best record in the NFL.  Melodramatic?  Probably.  I don’t think the 1972 Miami Dolphins are chilling champagne hoping for the Panthers to lose just yet.  Then again, in the fickle and unpredictable world that is the NFL, you take your wins when you can get them, and you don’t apologize for it.  Here’s a quick run-down of five reasons why I think the Panthers should view their glass as half-full, and five reasons why it could be viewed as half-empty.

The glass is half-full because:

  1. A 3-0 record is perfect.  It’s impossible to be better than perfect.
  2. Cam Newton.  His play in the first three games is the number one reason the Panthers are perfect.  His seven total touchdowns (5 passing, 2 rushing) coupled with only two turnovers have allowed the Panthers offense to control the football despite a glaring lack of playmakers at the wide receiver position.  Newton is not the Most Outstanding Player in the NFL, but you could make a strong argument that he is the Most Valuable Player through three weeks.
  3. CarolinaNormanJosh Norman.  The fourth-year cornerback out of Coastal Carolina has become the Panthers first true shut-down corner in the team’s history.  His pick-6 in week 1 vs. Jacksonville staked the Panthers to a second half shutout of the Jags, and his unbelievable leaping interception of Luke McCown sealed a week three divisional win vs. New Orleans.  Norman is set to earn huge dollars as he becomes a free agent after the season if the Panthers don’t/can’t re-sign him.
  4. The offensive line.  A maligned and unheralded group before the season began, this unit has played solid football through three weeks.  LT Michael Oher is playing as well as he did in his early years in Baltimore thanks in large part to being reunited with line coach John Matsko.  LG Andrew Norwell, RG Trai Turner, C Ryan Kalil, and RT Mike Remmers have been outstanding and turned a perceived weak spot into a strength.
  5. AJ Klein.  Klein was forced into a starting role halfway through week 1 when All-Pro MLB Luke Keuchly was sidelined with a concussion. Losing a player of Keuchly’s caliber certainly weakens any defensive unit, but Klein more than held his own and now gives the Panthers some much-needed depth at the linebacker position when Keuchly returns (hopefully this week).  Klein has the ability to play all three linebacker spots, so his versatility affords the Panthers the luxury of withstanding minor injuries to any of the starters.

The glass is half-empty because:

  1. The 3-0 record came against the Jaguars, Texans, and Saints, who are a combined 2-7.  With the Bucs coming up in Week 4, the Panthers could not have asked for a much easier opening schedule.  However, you can only play who’s next on the schedule each week and it’s hugely important to get wins when you can.  The Panthers have done that so far.
  2. CarolinaStewartJonathan Stewart.  He was handed the lead RB role with the release of DeAngelo Williams this off season with the hope that he would be able to carry the rushing load and show more production with a steadier work load.  This hasn’t happened.  Through three games, Stewart has managed just 3.5 yards per carry on 49 rushes.  It’s thanks to Cam Newton’s scrambling and Mike Tolbert’s 5.4 ypc average on just 11 carries that the Panthers are averaging 4 yards per carry as a team.
  3. The Wide Receiving Corps.  With apologies to Ted Ginn, Jr., who has been pretty good, this is still a crap-shoot every week.  No fan base in the NFL holds their collective breath more than Panthers fans when a ball is thrown to a wide receiver.  Dropped passes will likely be a problem all year and there is really no WR on this roster that instills any kind of fear or concern for opposing defenses.  Someone needs to really emerge from this group.
  4. Luke Keuchly’s Concussion.  He says it’s his first one and the Panthers managed to win without him, but concussions tend to happen more often once they start.  The Panthers can’t afford to be without their defensive captain and All-Pro for any significant time.  The Panthers watched Pro-Bowl MLB Dan Morgan have his career cut short by concussions and certainly do not want to see it happen again with Keuchly.
  5. The schedule turns ugly after the bye week. After their week 5 bye, the Panthers next four games are: @ Seattle, vs. Philadelphia, vs. Indianapolis, and vs. Green Bay.  Philly and Indy have struggled a bit early on, and three of the four are at home, but the Panthers probably need to go no worse than 2-2 during that stretch given that Atlanta’s schedule has them set up to be 7-1 or 8-0 through the first half.  No easy task.

This week: Carolina travels to Tampa to take on the 1-2 Bucs.  Here’s hoping that newly-acquired DE Jared Allen along with the rest of the Panthers defensive front can make life miserable for rookie QB Jameis Winston.  Any road win in the NFL is sweet, but a divisional road win is even sweeter.  I’m going with Carolina, 27-16.

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