This makes two weeks in a row where the Panthers have walked into a road game with nobody believing in them and walked out with a win. It might be time to admit the 2017 Carolina Panthers are for real, y’all.
For all the talk of distractions and injuries, Carolina looked like a well prepared and talented team yesterday. The only new story that tried to interrupt the Panthers march to 4-1 was the ridiculous series of penalties in the first quarter. Whether the responsibility for those lays at the feet of overzealous players or overzealous referees is irrelevant, as the Panthers were able to overcome 100 yards worth of infractions to win the day.
What I liked
Ed Dickson - Extremely Optimistic
Any conversation about yesterday’s win has to start with Ed Dickson’s unprecedented day. He racked up more yards in one game against the Lions than he had seen in any single season since signing with Carolina. He is only the second tight end to go over 100 yards receiving in a game in a Panthers uniform since one Wesley Walls took the field. However you frame it, Dickson had the huge game we had all been missing since Greg Olsen went down. As a plus, Dickson actually ran for yards after the catch several times, adding a new wrinkle to the Panthers’ offense.
Devin Funchess - Extremely Optimistic
For the second week in a row we can hail the third year receiver as a true impact player for the Carolina offense. Funchess was huge this game. That shouldn’t be surprising, given his 6-4, 225 lbs frame but he has struggled in times past to use that size to his advantage. Now we are seeing him use both his size and his speed to great effect. Opposing teams should be afraid of this guy.
Cam Newton - Optimistic
Cam looked great yesterday, there is no taking away from that. For a QB who is often maligned for his mental make-up and leadership, Newton came off of a week full of - for once - well deserved criticism and turned in a stellar performance. You can’t play QB any better than he did on that stunning throw to Kelvin Benjamin for their touchdown to open the second half. We have seen this Cam before, in 2015. The sky is the limit right now, folks.
Pass Protection - Cautiously Optimistic
We have to rate the offensive line on the separate facets of their job this week. Cam Newton was sacked three times by Detroit. At least one of those looked like Cam held on to the ball too long, but we’ll wait for Erik to come out with Hog Molly Report to be sure. What we can say for certain was that Newton had a clean pocket to throw from for most of the afternoon. I didn’t give the offensive line much credit after facing a notoriously weak pass rush last week in New England, and was worried about them against what was supposed to be a much stronger group this week. I was wrong. Here’s to hoping their strong performances are habit forming.
Defensive Leadership - Somewhat Optimistic
I don’t know if it was Luke Keuchly speaking to the team on the sideline or something Steve Wilks did off camera, but this defense rallied from a rough start to shut down Matt Stafford long enough for Cam Newton to build an insurmountable lead. Penalties and missed tackles were almost the story of this game. Kudos to an entire unit for pulling together and playing to the level of excellence we have come to expect. They only get a somewhat optimistic, however, because they both started and finished slow. The slow start can be forgiven because the offense worked. The slow finish is a common element to Panthers games that has to be addressed if they want to be considered a real threat in the playoffs.
What I didn’t like
Penalties - Extremely Pessimstic
The penalties. They were bad, OK? No excuses. There were a couple of repeat offenders and a few bone headed plays. They accounted for 11 flags thrown and 100 penalty yards by the end of the game. The Panthers still won, though. Honestly, the Lions should feel worse about this than Carolina does. We have a short week before facing Philadelphia on Thursday Night Football, hopefully Rivera can get this dialed down before then. Otherwise, it could be an ugly game.
Daryl Worley - Somewhat Pessimistic
The second year corner has had an up and down career, so far. He was one of the aforementioned repeat offenders in terms of penalties yesterday. He also had a couple key pass break ups and was decent in tackling. He is young and has room to improve. I think we can be mature enough to call a bad day a bad day without raking somebody over the coals.
Run Blocking - Somewhat Pessimistic
I don’t know if we should blame this on the obviousness of our situational play calling or if the offensive line had a bad day in the run game. Jonathan Stewart was repeatedly met behind the line of scrimmage by defenders on the way to leading the team with 18 carries for 21 yards. Yeah, that was the best stat line on the team. I’d like to blame this on the Panthers trying to run their traditional prevent offense when they had a lead in the fourth quarter, but this won’t be the last time we want to run the ball at a time the opposing team knows we want to run the ball. We need to be able to get yards on the ground. It would be nice if those yards didn’t have to come on plays featuring misdirection.
I’m not much of one to pick nits after a win, so let’s look onwards to Thursday night’s match up with the 4-1 Philadelphia Eagles. Carson Wentz has been putting together an impressive sophomore season and is coming up against a strong Panthers squad that doesn’t seem to have been limited by its myriad injuries. Something has to give. Hopefully it will be a better game than our last prime time match up against the Eagles.