Monday night's game was one where we hoped to learn something about the mettle of the Carolina Panthers, and while that didn't really happen, at least it was fun. Finally the team didn't completely lose the plot on national TV, and while Cam Newton wasn't perfect, he showed enough glimpses that the raw ability he has rose above, and got the victory.
As we saw against the Washington Redskins, it's important not to make anything more of this game that what it was. The Philadelphia Eagles may not be the least talented NFL team, but they could be the most dysfunctional. On two first quarter touchdowns, the secondary was so lost that Gary Barnidge and Brandon LaFell might as well have been playing in a Thanksgiving turkey bowl, rather than an NFL game, but a win is a win.
Three things I said you should watch entering last night's game was Cam Newton's mechanics, Amini Silatolu's development, and hoping that the defensive ends weren't flukes.
Newton did what he had to. When the blocking is perfect there is no team in the NFL that can stop him, but even Peyton Manning with a perfect offensive line rarely has a clean pocket. Newton doesn't respond to perceived pressure, and this is a huge positive, however when there is legitimate pressure his mechanics dissolve. Cam throws off his back foot, loses sight of open safety valves, and has questionable decision making. This is year two in a multi-year process, but he simply has to get better in these areas. Thankfully he saw a terrible defense, and took advantage -- this is the first step he needed, win the games he should win.
Amini Silatolu's night was a mixed bag. There were times he really struggled, and others where he took huge strides as a pass blocker. There were a lot of times that the Panthers had Amini pull, and single block Trent Cole, which he did really well. What he needs to work on is his in-line blocking, as Derek Landri turned him on a few plays. Overall this was a positive game for Silatolu, and we can hope he continues this upward trend.
The third part, the defensive ends is a really tricky one to evaluate. Yes, Greg Hardy had a sack and Charles Johnson had a forced fumble, but this was a match-up they should have abused all night long. Philadelphia's offensive line is wracked with injuries, and Nick Foles has almost no pocket awareness, so it should have been a night where the DE's pitched a tent in the backfield -- yet it didn't happen. They are immensely talented, now they have to be become consistent.
Cam Newton -- Extremely Optimstic
Cam didn't do anything stunning, but he did what needed to be done. It's not too much to ask that he tightens up those back-foot throws, but last night was a good opportunity for Newton to gain some confidence for the stretch.
Brandon LaFell -- Extremely Optimstic
The vast majority of his yards came on busted coverage, but LaFell is continuing to show why he's an effective #2 receiver. While he may not get as many chances as he should, every time Newton gets the ball in his hands he makes a play.
Luke Kuechly -- Extremely Optimistic
He's here again folks. Adding another eight tackles to his total, Luke Kuechly now has 105 on the season, and is on pace for 153. Yes, the Panthers gave up far too many rushing yards on the edges, but the middle was strong for much of the game, and Keek played a large role.
Greg Olsen -- Extremely Optimistic
If there's one thing to remember about the Rob Chudzinski era, it's that he taught us to love tight ends again (wait, that doesn't sound right). In any event, with 50 receiving yards and a number of critical catches, Olsen is a true 1,000 yard tight end, even if he doesn't hit that mark. On pace for 857 yards, he's been a quiet difference maker every week.
Brad Nortman -- Extremely Pessimistic
It sucks to pick on the punter, but if the shoe fits...
Thus far it's still early, but lets not pretend that punting changes drastically at the next level. Sure, the coverage team are faster, and the protection isn't as good (especially in Carolina), but there's no excuse for the lack of hang time and net yards we're seeing.
Anyone in a position to make a tackle on a running back -- Extremely Pessimistic
Do I really need to expand on this one? What is it with unknown running backs with the last name 'Brown' killing the Panthers on national TV? Earlier this year Andre Brown made them look silly, and now Bryce Brown. I'd love to say this was on Ron Edwards missing a lot of snaps due to injury, but really they were having as many problems beforehand.
Jon Gruden calling Cam Newton 'slam' -- Extremely Pessimistic
Graham Gano -- Somewhat Pessimistic
Graham, buddy... pal. You were doing so well until the forth quarter. You kicked off well, even kicked a close field goal -- but when you shank an extra point, that's a whole new set of rules. Thankfully it didn't cost anyone the game.
We may not have learned anything about the Panthers last night, but it was fun. It's always nice to see a win, but this is still the same inept, eight-loss team they were before Monday's game. Yes, they won... but it was entirely too close for how bad the Eagles' defense played.
With the Chiefs coming up on Sunday, there's a good chance the Panthers will double their win total in two short weeks.