The Carolina Panthers now stand alone atop the NFL at record of 13-0. Already, the Panthers’ have experienced a magical season that just keeps getting better and better. Through it all, it’s been a total team effort from top to bottom of the organization. Here are the five areas that have gone unnoticed, perhaps under-appreciated, but are key cogs in helping Carolina pursue perfection.
Kurt Coleman (Safety)
The first year Panther has been absolutely outstanding by making big play after big play on defense. Kurt Coleman has proven to be one of the more intelligent football players Carolina has. Most of this is led by his ability to read the quarterback’s eyes and pounce on every opportunity that’s been given to him. With shutdown corner Josh Norman on the other side, opposing quarterbacks are wary of throwing his way. Now, with a revamped Coleman, quarterbacks have to account for Norman as well as Coleman patrolling the middle of the field.
Through 13 games in which he’s started, Coleman has accumulated 57 tackles and five interceptions. These stats alone help redefine how he’s transformed into one of the more “ball-hawking” safeties in the league. Before the season, he signed a two-year deal worth just over 2.8 million: an absolute steal given his production on the field this year. Basically, before the season initiated, Coleman used to be a guy that most didn’t know much about. However, through magnificent weekly performances, his role is starting to become more clear and he’s the big reason why Carolina’s pass defense is holding steady as the best in the nation.
Dave Gettleman (General Manager)
He is the mastermind behind the roster, and how it’s been constructed wasn’t through laborious trades or personified spending. Instead, Gettleman’s use of a winning attitude was brought up in the form of patience and time. Ever since he joined the Panthers in 2013, the franchise has won back-to-back division titles, and will be on its way to another, as well as collecting their first playoff win a season ago for the first time since 2008. During Carolina’s perfect stretch run this season, Gettleman has once again worked his magic by adding veteran guys that were in many cases prior cast-offs with their former teams and are now thriving with the Panthers.
Those guys include Ted Ginn, Charles Tillman, Kurt Coleman, Jared Allen and another solid draft class that have all contributed to the team’s 13-0 start. He has done a masterful job of overseeing the team’s weaknesses and addressing them with the best players possible for their system. The loyalty he has delineated to his players displays just how important they are to this organization’s success, which has been revealed by signing them to long-term deals.
Nearly everything you want in a general manager, by putting the best 53 guys on the roster without mortgaging the future is part of the reason why these Panthers are currently Super Bowl favorites.
Ron Rivera (Head Coach)
Ron Rivera has shaped into one of the more underrated head coaches in the league with his ability to get the most out of his players, while still allowing their personalities to come out and be themselves. It’s a hard attribute to master and isn’t something one is naturally granted with either. Abruptly, the winning culture he’s directly installed wouldn’t have come to fruition if not for the willingness to take chances and stand up for every decision he and his players make from the football field. Honestly, when Carolina brought him in at the outset of the 2011 season, most knew little about him, but as things have worked out, the respect for Rivera has grown. It sprouted from a guy that had gone through so much in his personal life over the past year and a half; with losing his house due to a fire and the passing of his brother, all of which has propelled his team to the best record in football.
He expects the best out of everyone during every snap of every game, but he also understands these are humans and it’s always good to have a little bit of fun while doing your job.
The Offensive Line
A perceived weakness coming into this season has subsequently turned into a great strength. One critical reason why Cam Newton has had an MVP caliber season is the allowance of any and all explosive plays to take shape. Carolina’s offensive line unit ranks 10th in the league, while being the most impressive stat is the fact that Cam Newton has only been sacked 24 times and hit just 67 times. Those numbers are probably a little low considering Newton is a dual threat, but nonetheless it’s still impressive knowing that Newton has been sacked 500+ times since entering the league in 2011.
The line has also opened up huge holes for running back Jonathan Stewart and the rushing attack to take hold. Currently, the Panthers are second in the league in terms of rushing, averaging 141.9 yards per game, in addition they are first in the league in points, averaging 31.9. Typically a sign of a complete team is when consistency is found on both sides of the ball. The rough and tough job of protecting Newton might not be well-known and lacks recognition, but in the end it’s another facet that keeps Newton and the Panthers upright.
Kawann Short (Defensive Tackle)
Another key piece to this defense is the breakout season that third-year pro Kawann Short is having in 2015. Short has accounted for nine sacks, 44 tackles, and three forced fumbles. Short’s weekly stat-line is just another headache for opposing offenses to deal with. From the start, many people questioned this draft pick because the Panthers all-knowingly had selected defensive end Star Lotulelei, but Short has proved he was the right choice at that moment and continues to develop into one of the more feared pass rushers in the game. For a defense that’s received dependable insurance from all across the field.
Short’s sudden emergence shouldn’t come at a surprise as he fits in with another key component that makes up the core of the Panthers.
It’s become a re-occurring theme now to feel as if Carolina has yet to receive the recognition it so desperately deserves. A team that’s risen under the weekly disrespect continues to push them in ways you can’t imagine.