Panther Paw Prints: NFL Week 8 Edition

Here are your mid-week Panther-related links I found worth a read.

Starting with links related to the Panthers 30-15 victory over the Rams:

How can a vet like Chris Long let a bad ref call get under his skin?

Rams-Panthers study session: Defense - St. Louis Rams Blog - ESPN
Hidden Play: With 11:21 to go in the third quarter, Rams end Chris Long received an encroachment penalty to give Carolina a first down at the Rams' 39. We won't get into personnel and alignments here but this was actually a big play for multiple reasons and not just because the Panthers got a first down out of it. First and foremost, it was an awful call. Carolina right guard Chris Scott clearly committed a false start to draw Long and defensive tackle Michael Brockers offsides. Scott really didn't even try to get back into position to mask it. Once again, the officials missed an easy, obvious call.

You just can't let yourself get worked up over something you can't control. Janoris Jenkins on the other hand supposedly has control of his mouth. James calls Jenkins out, and the Rams coaching staff for that matter in this piece:

How Steve Smith got the best of Janoris Jenkins - SBNation.com

Spacing was a consistent issue throughout the game. Jenkins was either asked to play in close man coverage or play too far away from the receiver. He didn't look comfortable playing close — especially after biting on the first few fakes from Smith. He was unable to disrupt the receiver's routes by getting hands on him, giving the veteran too much room at the snap.

CB Josh Thomas got benched in this game for allowing two long passes (one of which was called back due to penalty thankfully). It looks like he may not get his starting job back just yet:

Panthers looking at options at left corner - ESPN

The coaching staff adjusted, turning to rookie Melvin White and veteran Drayton Florence. Rivera indicated after Tuesday's practice that White might get the start in Thursday night's game at Tampa Bay. It wouldn't be the first time a cornerback has been replaced this year after making a mistake. Josh Norman missed a call on the game-winning pass of a last-second 24-23 loss to Buffalo in Week 2. He's been on the inactive roster the last three games. When Rivera was asked if he planned to make a change at corner earlier in the week, he simply said the players that gave the team the best chance to win would play.

Against the Rams the player that 'gave us the best chance to win' was Melvin White. He is a rookie no more, start 'em!

Though his fantasy owners will disagree QB Cam Newton is playing some of the best ball of his career. How is that? By spreading the ball around:

Panthers QB Cam Newton playing at highest level of NFL career - ESPN

In the season's first two games, Newton completed 62.1 percent of his passes to wide receiver Steve Smith and tight end Greg Olsen, which were known weapons. He completed only 21 percent to wide receivers Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn Jr. In the last four games, Newton has completed 45 percent of his passes to Smith and Olsen. LaFell and Ginn have increased their production to 35 percent. The numbers indicate Newton has become more comfortable with the talent around him.

"He's very comfortable in the system," Olsen said. "I don't think he's just throwing to one particular guy anymore based on the pre-set. He's letting the play kind of unfold the way it's designed and goes bang, bang, bang ... and it takes him to the right guy more times than not. "That's when you're playing quarterback at a high level."

Whatever it is the coaches are doing please just keep it up... The same can be said of LB Thomas Davis, who is again a 'Comeback Player' candidate for the 2nd year in a row (or should be anyway).

Cam Newton, Ron Rivera creating buzz around Carolina Panthers - NFL.com

Davis, a ninth-year pro who has overcome three ACL injuries, is the designated playmaker on the second level. Rivera and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott frequently use Davis on blitzes to take advantage of his speed and athleticism off the edges. This strategy has been particularly effective this season, with opponents adjusting their pass protection to account for Johnson and Hardy off the edge. Consequently, Davis has racked up three sacks and a number of pressures through six games.

We've been seeing LB blitzes, Safety blitzes and even CB blitzes. I'm loving the predictability... Of course those schemes work because of the hog mollies up front. Rookie DT Star Lotulelei had the best game of the rookies in week 7:

Elite Rookie Rankings Week 7

4. Star Lotulelei, DT of Panthers, originally drafted 14th: He's up two spots after a monster week that saw him graded as the week's top 1st round pick rookie performer. He was a big part of the Panthers shutting down the Rams' offense. He had 6 tackles, including two for a loss, and was positively dominant in the trenches. This vaults him back into the top 5.

Still so very happy with this pick... Wrapping up the Rams game links we have Ben Hartsock explaining his antics after Chirs Long was disqualified from the game for punching.

Panthers fight their way to .500

"I was just signaling to everybody, 'He's outta here,' " Hartsock said. "I was just stirring the pot a little bit. There's a game within the game, and I was trying to get guys to lose their composure because they're known to be a team that can get a little hot under the collar." Beginning with that moment, the Rams unraveled while the Panthers proved unflappable. And with that, any chance St. Louis had of mounting a rally dissipated. Mission accomplished. "I had so much fun during the game because when you feel like you can beat a guy up mentally, there's not much that's more satisfying in this world – aside maybe from putting a guy on his back," Hartsock said following the Panthers' 30-15 victory.

"Mentally dominating a guy is pretty fun."

Wow...this is a weird feeling. The Panthers winning mind games that is...I hope it keeps up.

Moving to the Panthers Thursday Night match-up, the Panthers are trusting their medical staff with regards to the MRSA scare in the Bucs' facility:

Panthers vs. Buccaneers: Carolina will not take extra MRSA precautions

"We trust that they're taking the proper precautions," Panthers long snapper J.J. Jansen said. "I remember my first or second year in the league, we played Miami in the preseason and they had bird flu. These little things pop up."

Ummm...hows come I don't feel as confident as the players? Precautions!? We don't need no stinkin' precautions!

The Falcons might have shown us something last week:

QB Watch: Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton - ESPN

Fast-forward: Tampa Bay, despite its struggles, was playing pretty good defense until facing the banged-up Atlanta Falcons. With their top two receivers out, quarterback Matt Ryan completed 20 of 26 passes for 273 yards and three touchdowns for a passer rating of 148.4. Now the Bucs face a quarterback who has had only eight incompletions in the last two games combined in compiling Peyton Manning-like ratings. Newton has discovered the fastest way to success is to take what the other team gives him. He's dinking and dunking, but he's doing it effectively -- and with confidence. He still needs to get rid of the ball faster to avoid sacks, but he's playing at a level higher than any time during his brief career.

If the Panthers can take care of business it might be a new season in Carolina going into a vital match-up against the Falcons:

Can Carolina Panthers eclipse .500? - News-Record.com: Sports
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said a win this week to get to 4-3 would be "huge" for his team. "Because we’re relevant then," Rivera said. He said it’s time for his young team to take the next step. "We’ve gotten to the point now where we are doing the things that we need to do and we’re showing that we’re capable," Rivera said. "It’s a great opportunity for us and for this city to make a mark and we have to go out and do that."

Oh to be relevant again. I'm hoping for more but I'll stick to the script that we just need to take care of business as relevant and a dollar will get you a cup of coffee.

Moving to more general stuff, FB Mike Tolbert gets some love as an 'unsung hero':

Acknowledging the NFL's best unsung heroes. | SportsonEarth.com : Mike Tanier Article
Best Fullback: Mike Tolbert, Panthers With four touchdowns in less than half a season, Tolbert is a cinch to make the NFC Pro Bowl roster at fullback. For once, it won't be an honorary appointment left over from the Moose Johnston era. Tolbert may be redefining the fullback position for the shotgun-option age. He is not a situational I-formation blocker or just a bigger halfback. He is a real fullback, who plays a lot of snaps, run blocks, pass protects, and mixes short catches with power runs. He is a natural fit in shotgun two-back sets, and option-flavored teams like the Seahawks and 49ers have their own Spencer Ware and Bruce Miller types who can provide all-purpose thump. Tolbert is the most established and successful of the bunch, but he does get docked a point for getting dumped for a safety against the Rams. Miller is gaining on you, big guy.

Yes I dock him as well for that safety but the guy is still playing well and finally making a consistent contribution.

So have you heaqrd J-Stew says he will play next Sunday when the Falcons come to BoA:

Jonathan Stewart of Carolina Panthers says he'll return Nov. 3 - ESPN

"It's called a jailhouse because you're in confinement dedicated to rehabilitation," said Stewart, who rushed for 1,133 yards during his second year in the league in 2009. "Now I'm back to society." Stewart signed a five-year, $36.5 million extension in August 2012 after averaging 875 yards rushing and six touchdowns during his first four seasons. When he returns, Stewart will split time with Mike Tolbert behind starting running back DeAngelo Williams. Rivera made it clear that Williams, who leads the team in rushing with 434 yards, will remain the "premier guy." But Rivera said emphatically there is room in the backfield for Williams, Stewart and Tolbert, as well as rookie Kenjon Barner. Stewart, who has 3,836 career rushing yards, is just happy to be back in any role. "It felt good to be out there in general with the guys," he said. "The ankle feels good. I felt quick. I felt like I was myself today."

Emphasis mine on those last two sentences. It will be a welcome site to have J-Stew back.

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