Carolina Panthers Monday Morning Optimist– 8/20/12

CHARLOTTE, NC - AUGUST 17: Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers takes the ball to a fan after teammate Jonathan Stewart scored a touchdown in the first quarter during their preseason game at Bank of America Stadium on August 17, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Good morning Panther faithful! Feeling a little better now? We wanted to see improvement, and we got it. On Friday night the Carolina Panthers kept to a fairly basic game plan, and managed to dominate the Dolphins' first team. By the end of the night I'm not sure we learned anything new about the Panthers; their first team is extremely talented, and the depth is lacking, but the win was nice, and it was relieving to know that the team isn't as bad as they looked last week. The intensity was definitely taken to another level, and it was a welcome change from the debacle last week against the Texans.

The biggest concern following week one was the pass rush, and thankfully that was vastly improved this week. Charles Johnson was able to generate consistent pressure off the edge, and the defensive tackles were much better. They got good pad level on the Dolphins' interior OL, and manhandled them. The box score doesn't show it, but the backfield was collapsed regularly to the point where Ryan Tannehill didn't have room to operate, and Reggie Bush didn't have space to run. The linebackers did a fantastic job in pursuit too, and this ultimately stopped plays from developing.

More after the jump

Defensive improvements were needed, and we saw them, but perhaps the biggest jump came from Cam Newton, who looked like a different QB against the Dolphins. It's the little things that he's improved on since that year that is proof positive he's ready to take the next step. Cam's movement inside the pocket is much better, and his footwork is far better. Perhaps most impressive was his pocket presence which has really been taken to the next level. There were several occasions on Friday where Cam circa 2011 would have taken off up field for a moderate gain, but instead Newton stood strong in pressure situations are made great passes.

Newton finished with just one rushing attempt, but he completed more than 70% of his passes, and averaged an impressive 10.8 yards per attempt– truly great numbers. Friday was a great day for Cam Newton, and he looks ready for the 2012 season.

Optimistic

Cam Newton, Extremely Optimistic

For all the reasons above, Cam Newton is ready for the season. If Friday is indicative of what we can expect, it will be a very special season.

Charles Johnson, Extremely Optimistic

Consistent pressure, a tipped pass, and a big time sack– All were part of Big Money's day. On defense there is nobody who is more important to the Panthers than CJ, because he remains the only reliable pass rusher the Panthers have.

Triple Trouble, Extremely Optimistic

The 2012 iteration of the Panthers' running attack features DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, and now Mike Tolbert added to the mix, and against the Dolphins they showed their ability. Combined they finished the day with 12 carries for 48 yards, 1 TD, and 4 receptions for 42 yards and a TD. Off the field they look as thick as thieves, and that on field production paired with an off field bond will put this running attack in rarefied air.

Frank Alexander, Extremely Optimistic

Boy is it nice to be able to talk about another pass rusher positively. Against Houston we didn't see Alexander use his length to get around offensive tackles, but that wasn't the case this week. Alexander finished with two pressures, and a sack, where he got the best of his man for much of the night.

Louis Murphy, Extremely Optimistic

He's putting his stamp on the #3 receiver job just as we hoped. Finishing with 60 all purpose yards in limited time was a very nice performance for him.

Justin Medlock and Olindo Mare, Somewhat Optimistic

I don't want to get too carried away for two players who ostensibly did their jobs, so for now both get saddled with a 'somewhat' rating. Both kicked 40+ yard FGs, and kicked the ball off well. The competition will continue now, and while I think Medlock may win out, it's going to be close.

Pessimistic

Greg Hardy, Extremely Pessimistic

The Kraken has to step up... that's all there is to it. I'll acknowledge that he had the hardest assignment on defense working against Jake Long, but Hardy managed to get next to no pressure on Friday, and committed two offsides penalties.

Seyi Ajirotutu, Extremely Pessimistic

Tutu was given ample opportunity to win the 3WR spot, and while he's shown flashes in practice, when the lights have come on he's struggled. A costly drop on Friday punctuated his evening, and following that play we didn't see him get another chance.

Overall Outlook

There was far more good than bad in the second preseason game. The second and third teams let the game get far too close, but the Carolina Panthers do have depth issues, and those can only be solved with time. The guys who matter most on Sunday looked extremely sharp on offense, and violent on defense which is a wonderful thing.

Next week shouldn't be too hard on the Panthers. The Jets are in utter disarray offensively as they can't protect their QBs, which should allow the pass rush to look good, and yet another 3-4 defense should test Cam Newton.

100% optimistic heading into preseason game three.

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