After what happened last night, there’s little question the Carolina Panthers are legitimate threats in the NFC.
Carolina beat Tom Brady under the bright lights of Monday Night Football. Brady had previously owned Monday Night’s with a 13-4 career record. Two weeks ago, Carolina went into San Francisco ago and held the vaunted defending NFC Champion 49ers offense to just 151 total yards, the teams fewest in over 7 years.
Those wins were impressive, but don’t tell the whole story. Carolina’s defense has been dominant giving up the fewest points in the NFL at 13.5 points per game and ranks 2nd in total defense.
It all starts with the defensive line. Rookie first round pick Star Lotulelei isn’t jumping off the stat sheet.
He only has 30 tackles and 2 sacks, but he’s doing all the gritty work that allows the other players around him to make plays.
Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy have a combined 16.5 sacks between them, in large part because of how Lotulelei is dominating the defensive line.
Not only is Lotulelei getting consistently double teamed, he’s also taking away opposing quarterbacks ability to step up in the pocket. When quarterbacks have to maneuver to the outside, they fall right into the arms of the edge rushers, which is exactly what is happening in Carolina.
Playing behind the defensive line is arguably the best middle linebacker in the NFL right now and current Defensive Player of the Year candidate Luke Kuechly. Kuechly is a tackling machine, has the ability to cover the tight end, is fast enough to cover the running back, and leads the Panthers with 3 interceptions.
It’s Thomas Davis though, not Kuechly who leads the Panthers in tackles with 83. Davis is in his 9th year and plays right next to Kuechly. He’s undergone 3 ACL surgeries on the same knee, and has bounced back admirably. Everyone’s eyes are on Kuecly, and Thomas is quietly taking advantage.
The secondary is also getting the job done. Carolina ranks 5th in the NFL giving up 209 pass yards per game, and is tied for 3rd in the NFL with 14 interceptions.
Quarterback Cam Newton isn’t putting up astronomical numbers because he hasn’t had to. After a rough start, Newton has bounced back and currently has a 2:1 touchdown to interception ratio.
When your defense is playing as well as Carolina’s is, it’s more important to take care of the football and that’s what he’s doing.
For people that think Newton can hold the Panthers back, an argument can easily be made that he has more talent than Trent Dilfer who won with a dominant defense in Baltimore in 2000, Rex Grossman who took the Bears to the Super Bowl in 2006, and Alex Smith who was a muffed Kyle Williams punt away from going to the Super Bowl.
At the end of the day, this Panthers defense has the ability to shut down any offense making them serious contenders in the NFC.