Carolina Carnage: Why The Panthers Are Unstoppable

What makes Carolina so unstoppable this season? It can’t all be Cam. From Jonathan Stewart over-performing to dealing without Kelvin Benjamin, we dissect the Panthers’ successful run.

The Carolina Panthers are now the lone undefeated team in the NFL with a record of 12-0. An offense led by Cam Newton and a defense led by Luke Kuechly have the Panthers dominating the league and making believers out of many of their pre-season doubters. Following a playoff appearance last year, many thought Carolina would take a step back following the loss of wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin. Instead, the Panthers have taken a big leap forward to be the NFL’s most complete team. Here’s how they did it, and why their success should continue.

The Offense:

Operating all season without number one wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin was supposed to seriously limit Cam Newton this year, if anything, it made him better. Instead of locking on to one target on passing plays, Newton is spreading the ball around to multiple receivers, making it harder for defenses to adjust to his game. In his five touchdown performance against the Redskins, every touchdown pass was thrown to a different receiver. The Panthers have created a versatile passing attack that spreads the ball around and doesn’t let defenses key in on one player.

With Deangelo Williams off to Pittsburgh, Jonathan Stewart has shouldered the load of Carolina’s carries this year. Williams is on pace for around 1,300 yard this year, which is a very good season for someone who splits carries with Mike Tolbert and Cam Newton. Having a dual threat quarterback in Newton makes it extremely difficult for defenses to figure out who has the ball on zone read plays that are a staple of the Carolina offense. Newton has almost half as many carries and yards as Stewart, and due to his big frame, is probably just as difficult to tackle.

Tight end Greg Olsen has been a certifiable beast this season and is the biggest x-factor in the Panthers offense not named Cam Newton. As the most prominent pass catcher in the Carolina offense, Olsen leads the team in targets, catches, yards, and touchdowns. Whenever they need a big play the Panthers look to Olsen.


The Defense:

Carolina’s defense has excelled this year, and it all starts with their linebackers. There is no better tandem in the NFL than Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly. Through 11 games this dynamic duo amassed over 150 tackles and have been the leaders on defense for Carolina. Kuechly is at the top of the leaderboard for the defensive player of the year award, and he got national attention on Thanksgiving, picking off Tony Romo twice in the first half and returning one of those for a touchdown.

What has helped the Carolina defense make the biggest jump this year has been the evolution of cornerback Josh Norman into a legitimate number one corner, and perhaps the best cornerback in the league. Norman isn’t afraid of anybody and his physical play against some of the league’s top receivers has proven why he is so highly regarded around the league. Veterans Charles Tillman and Roman Harper have helped teach Norman the intricacies of the game and all together they form a very crafty secondary that is hard to beat down the field for big plays. The team’s 18 total interceptions is a testament to the ability of their secondary.

What helps the secondary the most is the pass rush, and Carolina’s big defensive line has had no trouble getting to the quarterback, compiling 33 sacks this year, good for 3 per game. Star Lotulelei and Kawan Short do an incredible job of clogging up the middle on running plays and pushing back offensive linemen to collapse the pocket on passing downs. All of that mixed with Ron Rivera’s timely blitzes has made Carolina’s defense a nightmare for opposing offenses.

With a stout defense and an offense that steadily moves the chains, the Panthers are off to their best start in franchise history and have a very real chance at finishing the year 16-0. The team has an attitude that they can beat anybody, and so far they’ve proven it. Look for them to continue to be the favorite to win Super Bowl 50 in February.


photo via @CarolinaPanthers