Welcome ladies and gentlemen to the Hog Molly Report, where winning in the trenches is all that matters. Before we begin, we open with the reciting of our usual motto:
“Big men allow you to compete. We’re certainly going to look at the big hog mollies.”
In keeping with the proven philosophy that building a team from the inside out is the best strategy for long term success, my goal will be to watch the hog mollies each game during the season and discuss their performance.
It was a therapeutic Sunday for the Carolina Panthers, and the team’s energy was undeniable. Every single person wearing blue and white this past Sunday played better, and a lot of that has to be chalked up the mere presence of change and Cam Newton. But, we simply can’t discount the fact that maybe the absence of Sam Darnold and presence of one P.J. “Phillip” Walker had something to do with it too. Regardless, even a completely shuffled offensive line was able to put together their most impressive performance of the season, and the defensive unit was absolutely overwhelming. Let’s break it down.
The offensive line
If you asked me before the game if Pat Elflein starting at center was at all ideal, I would have woefully face palmed and droned on about how bad this was about to be. Or Trent Scott, a clear NFL tackle being forced into the right guard role, or hell, Dennis Daley being put at left tackle. Somehow, it all worked. I had to check and make sure Chandler Jones actually played in this game. This is no small feat. The Arizona Cardinals had a nearly top 5 pass rush entering the game on Sunday, and their stat line was ZERO sacks and three QBHits.
Can the presence of one man really elevate people like this? Sports psychologists would tell you it’s definitely possible. But there was also multiple factors. Sunday was as much a lesson in what a decisive and aware quarterback can do to help your offensive line as anything. Most of the game that was P.J. Walker. He got the ball out, did an excellent job feeling pressure, and most importantly, was supported by an excellent run game.
Now that is somewhere we can’t deny the hogs their impact. Check out Christian McCaffrey’s spaghetti chart from NextGenStats:
That is a whole lot of green. Even taken that the Arizona Cardinals were one of the worst teams in the league entering this game on a per carry average, that kind of chart is silly for a line that is cobbled together. The Cam effect? Maybe. But let’s not do anyone an individual disservice. The Hog Mollies got it done on Sunday, all of them.
The defensive line
Speaking on inspiration, it is much easier to play defense on a team with a competent offense. Somewhere in your psyche, you’re getting the message to “just get the ball back and let the offense do their thing.” This has been missing for the last month at least, and that reached a boiling point against the Patriots where two forced turnovers in Patriots territory resulted in field goals. The result against the Cardinals was decisively different, and the attitude on this unit was infection.
Shaq Thompson may not technically be a Hog Molly, but my god, is he ever playing his ass of this season. His athletic traits have always been there, but he just seems incredibly comfortable with his role in Phil Snow’s defense. He is the unquestioned leader of that unit, and his on-field presence means as much to this current roster as Luke Kuechly did before him. He elevates the men around him, the sign of any good field general.
Moving to the true hogs, Haason Reddick is continuing his monster season, notching another one and a half sacks and forcing a fumble on the day. He is the clear priority re-signing for this offseason on defense, and is having an all-pro year. Derrick Brown and DaQuan Jones continue to be hard to handle inside, and Brian Burns is continuing a strange 2021 theme of pressure but no sack. Has he created for others? I’d say yes. He’s still exceptionally disruptive, but you’d like to see him finish on a more consistent basis. Too many times are quarterbacks shaking him and causing a whiff.
The unit as a whole is dangerous. You have a lot of guys in rotation making key contributions. I’m not particularly down on anyone, and if the offense can continue their competency there will be a great effectiveness and durability benefit for these guys. Make teams fall behind, and this pass rush pins their ears back and really makes some numbers pop.
What a difference a week makes. In this column last week, I had nothing but doom and gloom for you. I told you the worst case scenario was here, and to strap in for an ice cold rest of the season. Then the Carolina Panthers did the one thing possible to inject massive life back into the franchise by signing Cam Newton. Shelving Sam Darnold is one thing, but then bringing the team to life through the glow effect of Cam... it’s big, man. Some of these young bucks were in their important formative football years when Cam was at his best. It’s like getting to play ball with your idol. The effect was clear Sunday, and the honeymoon will keep going until the first loss comes. Then we get to see what this team is really made of.