(This is the beginning of a new regular blog, Instanalysis, where I go over the day's game and pick the top six things we learned about the Carolina Panthers. My opinions may not reflect those of everyone at CSR, as I am just sharing my own thoughts about the team. Hope you enjoy!)
The Carolina Panthers survived a very physical game against a surging St. Louis Rams team and won, 30-15. (You can check out my recap here.) Not only did they gain a win in the standings, but they also gained a legitimate rivalry. Here are the top six things we learned from the game today:
Honorable Mention: Graham Gano is good
As with all kickers and punters, it is easy to overlook the specialty players, until they do something wrong. Fortunately for Panthers fans, they have yet to see a mistake committed by kicker Graham Gano. This year, he is a perfect 9 for 9, and has banged in 50 yard tries in clutch moments. As an added bonus, he has one of the highest touchback rates in the league. His accuracy and consistency is well welcome
5) Josh Thomas struggles against deep passes
Just like the Seattle game, Josh Thomas was target of an opposing quarterback on steak routes. This time, it was Sam Bradford of the St. Louis Rams. In this game, he was torched twice for big gains (24 and 73 yard receptions), both times to Brian Quick while Thomas had 1 on 1. The same thing happened against the Seahawks when Russell Wilson throw at him on back-to-back plays, with the second one going for a touchdown. Thomas is an incredible run stopper, but as we have seen this season, he struggles immensely when covering a wideout by himself. Hope they help him out over the top, or find someone new before it is too late.
4) Tolbert is a great weapon for the offense and is used frequently
One of the bigger complaints of the offense under Rob Chudzinski was the under utilization of Mike Tolbert. He had signed last offseason with the good 'ol "hometown discount," coming back after his college playing days at Coastal Carolina. After two touchdowns last week at Minnesota, "The Human Bowling Ball" did struck again, scoring a short rushing touchdown. After only 54 rushing attempts last year, he is up to 44 already this year. It will be interesting to see how many touches he gets when Jonathan Stewart returns.
3) Mike Mitchell adds another productive, emotional leader to the defense
Initially a questionable signing from the Oakland Raiders, safety Mike Mitchell has shown to be a bargain, filling in at free safety after the season ending injury to Charles Godfrey. Over the last 2 games alone, he has 15 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 interceptions, and 2 forced fumbles. Not only has he set the tone in the box score, but he has also given the defense an emotional lift and fiery attitude that usually only reserved for the Kraken, Greg Hardy. As long as he avoids the silly penalties that have haunted him in the past, Mitchell will be an excellent addition to the defense.
2) The new Cam Newton is an efficient, low-volume passer that just wins
While I may be in the minority on this one, I am loving the new Cam Newton. Instead of being a 30 pass attempt, 400 passing yard, multiple turnover quarterback, he has evolved into a smarter, short passer that values ball control and clock management. In the 3 wins this year, Newton has not reached 250 yards passing, but amassed a total of 8 touchdowns on only 1 turnover. He has big arm and and exceptional deep ball accuracy, but he has shown that he can evolve to offensive coordinator Mike Shula's style as well. Sure, he may not win SportsCenter anymore, but he sure is winning games now. And the number one thing I learned this week...
1) The Carolina Panthers don't back down from verbal, physical attacks
In a shocking turn of events, this game went from ho-hum in the first half to Monday Night RAW in the second. From watching on TV, the choppiness actually started to simmer in the beginning, but turning to boil on the first drive of the second half. On a read-option play, Rams defensive end Robert Quinn came hard charging on a legal hit on Newton, and continued to have some choice words for him. The blow took the wind out of him, and knocked Newton out for a play. Let's just say that the offensive line did not take too kindly and began jawing at Quinn on the next play. Then this happened:
Unfortunately, it did not stop there. According to Steve Smith, Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins had been jawing all game, disrespecting his family. This is something you should never do, especially to someone as fiery as Steve Smith. After taking the brunt of his trash talk, Smith went on to throttle him with a block (legally) and then proceeded to juke him out of his Nikes to go in for an easy score.
I, for one, am excited by this new, charismatic, fiery, yet disciplined team. For once, it was nice to be more composed, disciplined team on the field. I have got to believe this newfound aggression is sparked by Mike Mitchell and Steve Smith, but also from head coach Ron Rivera. Since he's started to be more aggressive with his 4th and 1 calls, the team has responded very well, and the wins have followed. As the Panthers go into Tampa Bay on a short week on Thursday for their first divisional game, this toughness and more will be needed to contend for the NFC South crown and the playoffs.