Carolina Panthers Monday Morning Optimist- 12/19/11

So let me get this straight: The Panthers won their third straight game on the road, the Packers lost to the Chiefs and the Colts managed to win a game? Alright then, pinch me.

Independent of how the whole weekend went in the NFL the Panthers were brilliant in Houston against the Texans. Were they maddening at times? Absolutely... did I facepalm on a few occasions? Sure did. In the end though, none of it mattered, Carolina entered the house of the NFL's #1 defense and a 10 win team and found a way to win. It's the same thing the Denver Broncos have done, but Cam Newton won't get Tebow's coverage.

I'm not choosing to mention Tebow casually, because in a lot of ways Cam Newton mirrored the 2nd year signal caller. I say this because as a whole Newton played fairly poorly, he missed open receivers at times, failed to see others but in the end he found a way to make enough big plays that he led his team to a win. Whether it was with his arm, or with his feet Cam was able to keep the chains moving.

Granted, there was a certain amount of luck on Sunday too. If T.J. Yates was able to make plays down field I'm not sure the Panthers would have been able to hold on. The defense which looked so good in the first half looked utterly lost in the third quarter, which is a combination of two thing: Firstly it's the offense making adjustments, and secondly it's the defensive players getting tired- after all, when you have this many defensive starters who are used to just playing special teams they can get worn down quickly.

As we sit here on a Monday morning none of this really matters... we won, moreover we won our 5th game of the season. Before week one I said I would be thrilled with a 6-10 season in Rivera's first year, and it seems that record is wholly attainable; I couldn't be happier. After the jump we'll look a little deeper into the game and hand out our game ratings.

Panthers' fans tend to have a love-hate relationship with former beat writer Darin Gantt. He tends not to sugar coat things, and is normall pretty outspoken when his opinion differs from the majority's. Hence when he describes OLB James Anderson as a JAG (Just A Guy) he gets a lot of flack. To me Anderson is an interesting case because all of his games are quiet. While watching you don't get the feeling he's making a big impact on the game but when you look back on it hes always near the top of the team in tackles. I'm not sure Anderson is a 'JAG', I think Gantt is being a little harsh, but I also don't think he's the elite play-making OLB some want to typify him as. I feel James Anderson is the kind of guy every team wants starting for them, he does almost everything well and he's reliable, even if he doesn't make big impact plays.

We can juxtapose Anderson with the player who started across from him on Sunday, Jordan Senn. Unlike Anderson there's very little quietness about his game, both audibly and figuratively. While Senn may not do the little things, and he may not be reliable on every single down the fact remains that when he's in the position to make a play he makes it. If there's one saving grace to having so many injuries this season it's to watch Senn emerge and ponder his future on the Panthers. It's easy to overlook just how well he's played of late, but if he was starting a full 16 game slate he would be on pace for 144 tackles, 6 FF and 3 INT. Those kind of numbers are transcendent and so eye-popping that one wonders if OLB is really as dire a priority as we once thought.

Optimistic

Jordan Senn, Extremely Optimistic This is my player of the week for the Panthers. His stats this week were huge, 14 tackles, 1 FF and 1 INT- but more than that he was always in the right position and getting stops. Whether it was in run support or pass defense he didn't allow anyone in his vicinity to make big plays, he also wrapped up extremely well and was the best tackler on the team yesterday.

Steve Smith, Extremely Optimistic Still elite, Steve Smith played better than Jonathan Joseph for much of the game. While Cam wasn't able to get him the ball with as much regularity as I would have liked, he was able to make big plays when the opportunity arose.

Rob Chudzinski, Extremely Optimistic Some knock him for the play calling to start the third quarter, but I saw more of a lack of execution than a problem with the plays. Any time you engineer an offense that dominates the best defense in the NFL and have time (and the chutzpah) to call a fumblerooski then you get props from me.

Cam Newton, Extremely Optimistic While this wasn't Newton's most impressive game statistically it showed an intestinal fortitude that was severely missing last week. Simply wanting to win isn't always enough; greatness is defined for a QB when they're able to overcome a set of bad circumstances and lead his team regardless, and this is what we saw from Cam yesterday.

Chris Gamble, Extremely Optimistic Granted, Gamble wasn't asked to cover Andre Johnson, but he did a good job regardless and was flying all over the field. How I wish he could get a pro-bowl berth.

Dan Connor, Somewhat Optimistic Nothing really eye-popping, but that's a good thing sometimes. Connor made good plays in run support and stopped Arian Foster from dominating the game.

Pessimistic

Defensive Line, Extremely Pessimistic As a whole the entire defensive line was mediocre on Sunday. The tackles are still not good as Arian Foster averaged over 6 yards per carry and the defensive ends didn't get enough pressure on the QB.

Special Teams Coverage, Extremely Pessimistic Still allowing too many return yards the ST group keep taking bad angles. This is one of those things that can only be improved with time.

Overall Outlook

This team is going to finish 2011 very successfully for a 1st year head coach and QB. Newton is going to break Peyton Manning's passing record and I think the Panthers will get one more win, likely next week against the Bucs. I'll take 6-10 anytime.

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