Good morning Panther faithful! What a glorious morning it is! Honestly, nothing is better than kicking off the week with a W and sadly I've only had that joy twice this year; but there are more reasons to celebrate other than just beating the Cardinals- in Ohio the Cincinnati Bengals beat the Cleveland Browns to move them out of a tie with us for the #1 overall pick while thanks to wins by the Detroit Lions and the Baltimore Ravens the Panthers got added boosts to their strength of schedule (or lack thereof).
In the end though I'm not going to prattle on about the situation with the #1 overall pick. Honestly, that argument has been played to death. People have dug their heels in, know what they want and what they don't... so why talk about it? A new head coach will come in and assess this organization from the ground up and decide what he thinks he can and can't work with; whether than means liking Jimmy Clausen at QB, or taking Andrew Luck everything will be about what he wants for the Carolina Panthers. All we can do is have faith our new coach will make the right decisions.
For sixty minutes on Sunday it didn't matter than the Arizona Cardinals were one of the worst defensive teams in the league, it didn't matter that they had a calamity at the QB position rivaled only by the Panthers... we won; for the second Sunday this season we proved that we were not quite as inept as another team and it feels great.
So without further ado let's break this game down, hand out some cheers and jeers and be merry... shall we?
I think one of the terms we've used a lot this season about the Carolina Panthers is 'baby steps'. We've been looking for some progress, any progress this season and while we've seen small nuggets here or there we haven't yet seen the large scale improvements needed to move from players who look good, to players who could look great. Yesterday, we saw big steps and players put on their big boy pants and seemed to move from boys to men.
Jimmy Clausen competed 68% of his passes, Brandon LaFell and David Gettis caught everything thrown their way, Charles Johnson extended his sack streak to five games and Captain Munnerlyn is looking like a #1 corner right now. To ignore the young talent this team has is a big, big mistake, and one I think the rest of the NFL will make in 2011 and beyond. Sure, today was against a poor team, I understand that... however, this season has taught us that a team with immense amounts of promise at numerous positions will likely return to prominence sooner rather than later (Tampa Bay).
The way I look at it the Panthers will be entering 2011 with a cadre of young, promising receivers, potentially three running backs that could start for a lot of teams, an embarrassment of riches a linebacker, solid players on the secondary and some young DEs that look hungry on every down.
Now, for the things that need to be worked on: Both the OL and DTs need to be overhauled dramatically. Right now neither line is as effective as it should be, and it's wholly remarkable that Charles Johnson is able to have 9.5 sacks right now with the lack of pressure up the middle. I truly believe with a stud DT could make Johnson a 15 sack DE. The offensive line two have literally lived up to their name, they've been offensive. Since being injured last year Jordan Gross hasn't looked himself, Ryan Kalil took a small step back, Travelle Wharton has been solid for the most part but the other two positions have been mediocre at best. We sure up the line on both sides of the ball and it appears the Panthers will have a very, very bright future.
Let's now look at some of the individual performances on Sunday.
Jimmy Clausen- Extremely Optimistic: It's hard not to argue with his performance yesterday. I know Andrew Luck has captured the hearts and minds of Panther-dom, but that doesn't make Clausen's game any less impressive. Sure, he wasn't asked to do a whole lot- but he did absolutely everything that was asked of him to a T. He still has a lot to learn... but he played a great game.
Jonathan Stewart- Extremely Optimistic: The only thing holding J-Stew back is his health. Sure, he's ready to go each and every season but it's unlikely he'll win over a new coach by missing a third consecutive training camp. I believe I'm in the minority who think Stewart is the more talented of our running backs, but it's tough to argue that when he's 'on' he's game changer . I think it's safe to say at this point that his early season performance (or lack thereof) was a product of a lingering injury rather than it being indicative of his talent.
Captain Munnerlyn- Extremely Optimistic: Is there a guy on the Carolina Panthers fighting harder for his future than Captain Munnerlyn? He has been thrust in the unenviable position of stepping in for Chris Gamble and dealing with some of the NFL's most dangerous WRs in Roddy White and Larry Fitzgerald respectively. Captain, like Clausen still needs to work on his game, but he's making a serious argument to be considered for a starting job next year.
Charles Johnson- Extremely Optimistic: It's hard to argue with the game Charles Johnson is putting on the field on Sunday. Yesterday he had a sack, a TFL and two QB hits to cap off the day. He will be an impact player for the Panthers for years to come.
Jordan Senn- Extremely Optimistic: While Senn doesn't see the field much he seems to make an impact when needed. On Sunday he accounted for two key special teams plays and in my book when that happens even a rarely seen player deserves his props.
Sherrod Martin- Extremely Optimistic: Again, not much to argue with here. A good INT and another defended pass proves he was a solid 2nd round pick and likely the future of the Carolina Panthers safeties.
Brandon LaFell and David Gettis- Somewhat Optimistic: Only thing keeping them from getting a higher grade was a lack of stats. However, they caught everything thrown their way and proved they will in time be an effective 1-2 punch for Carolina.
It's always tough in wins like this to single someone out for poor performance, but really there were only a couple of guys.
Jason Baker- Somewhat Pessimistic: Baker just was striking the ball badly yesterday... it happens. Just a 33.7 yard punt average, but we know he'll be fine.
Mike Goodson- Somewhat Pessimistic: If anything the only problem with Goodson is that his stellar play early has made us expect more out of him that we normally would have. Yesterday he had a 2.1 ypc and wasn't as effective as we've seen in the past.
Carolina have two very tough, very nasty games remaining on their schedule: Against Pittsburgh and against Atlanta. I'm not sure we'll see another Panther victory this year, but two feels a lot better than one that's for sure.
5% optimistic heading into the Thursday night game vs. Pittsburgh