Defense, running game instill confidence in Panthers

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A fleeting upswing in a floundering campaign or the moment everything flipped

in a playoff season?

That’s the question the Carolina Panthers are faced with following a dominant 38-0 win against the

Giants.

The next couples of weeks will tell the tale.

“I

think [the win] can be the catalyst, most certainly,” Panthers coach Ron

Rivera

said. “You look for something that can be a hallmark game, the game that

everyone points to and says, ‘Wow, that’s the one that really got

things rolling.’ But it will be no effect if we don’t do what we need to

do next week.”

The Panthers are on their bye week,

and sure, three of the next four games come on the road, but those four

opponents are a combined 2-11 on the season. That’s exactly the type of slate

the Panthers need to climb back into contention before a Week 8 home

date with the Falcons.

There

was an admitted annoyance from players with the bye week coming right after playing their best

football, but Rivera said it comes at a critical time because it allows

some of the veterans in the secondary to get back to full health. It would help if

they also return with the type of confidence they didn’t have earlier in the season — the late loss in Buffalo was about

as bad as it could get, but nothing could have wiped the slate clean

better than the largest margin of victory in franchise history.

“I

think the team feels very good about itself. It’s one of those things

if we

could have done it the week before we’d feel even better, but we didn’t,”

Rivera said. “This has to be something we have to build on, but we also

have to be realistic. … We have not arrived where we need to be by any

stretch of the imagination so we have to approach

each week as a developing, learning, growing situation and keep shooting

for the top of the mountain.”

After a 38-0 victory over a team that won the Super Bowl two years ago,

are

the Panthers really flying under the radar?

The bulk of the national talk seems

to center around “How Bad Are The Giants?’ headlines. So where’s the positive feedback for the Panthers?

“It’s

not fair. Again, you’d like to point at some of the things that

happened

in the game and say, ‘Wow, we’ve been doing it since we started in the

preseason. Our defense has played well in the preseason,’” Rivera said.

“You’d like to say, ‘Hey, we deserve a little bit more attention,’ but

that’s alright. Believe me I got no problem flying

under the radar.”

The

Panthers are mostly flying under the radar at this point because of

preseason

expectations and the fact that they’re 1-2. But the NFC as a whole is down. There’s only five teams in the conference holding a

better record than the Panthers. So the thought of them being a playoff

team isn’t unrealistic. The confidence around

the organization seems to stem from this team being built differently

than seasons prior. This team is built on defense and a

power running game so far.

Wide

receiver Ted Ginn came to Charlotte from the San Francisco 49ers, so he knows what a playoff

football team looks like after playing in last season’s Super Bowl

and believes this team has the right ingredients. The

running attack is similar with a dual-threat quarterback and a power

running game. So is the defense built around a stout

front seven — Ginn referenced the similarities between linebackers Luke Kuechly and Patrick Willis and quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton.

“Very similar,” Ginn said of the two teams. “It’s the same type of deal.”

The

Panthers defense was great in the latter half of the season a year ago,

but

has played that way from the outset this year. They’re only allowing 12

points per game (fourth-best in the NFL) and are more physical at

the point of attack on both sides of the ball.

They

have also embraced a more physical style on the offensive side of the

ball

with new offensive coordinator Mike Shula, who has demanded to get back

to an enhanced emphasis on the ground-and-pound approach. There’s no arguing with

the results so far. DeAngelo Williams is fourth in the NFL in rushing

with 291 yards and the Panthers are third

in the NFL as a team with 151 yards per game on the ground.

“I don’t think there’s any difference [with me], we’re just a more balanced offense,”

Williams said. “I think the new offensive coordinator is establishing the identity of our offense.”

That

identity has reinvigorated Williams, who is averaging 4.7 yards per

carry

and leading the team in rushing after Newton did a season ago. He had

his best week yet against the Giants with 120 yards on 23 carries,

cracking the century mark for the first time since breaking off 210

yards in a season-finale win against the Saints last year.

Rivera said he didn’t think

it was a coincidence that Williams’ best week came the first week

they had all the starters back healthy on

the offensive line, either.

“He’s

just hitting the hole hard. When he’s going and he knows where he wants

to go, he hits that crease and it’s one cut and he lowers his shoulder

and go. There’s not a lot of dancing, he’s very decisive. He has great

vision right now and he knows when he needs to cut back,” Rivera said.

“He’s going to see a crease, stick that foot

in the ground and go vertical. He’s not going to go side to side. It’s,

‘I’m over here, I see the crease, I’m downhill, I go and I take my seven,

eight, nine yards in a chunk.’ If it becomes more, great.”

Probably

not a coincidence either that Williams best game comes on the heels

of Newton’s best game rushing, too. Williams says he notices defenses

accounting for Newton’s runs the more he gets free and as defenses

implement a linebacker spy on Newton, the running lanes open up.

“Sometimes

it’s just the threat, the possibility that may happen that could

help open up some other things. He starts that right read and that

defensive ends looking right at him. Now all the sudden he thinks Cam’s

gonna pull it but he steps outside to get cam and he hands it to

DeAngelo who makes one cut and is gone for 15 yards,”

Rivera said. “That’s the thing that I think that’s important about it

more than anything else – It’s the possibility of what could happen.”

If Panthers keep up what they’re doing at both lines of scrimmage, there’s a

good possibility they’ll be headed for the Playoffs. 

And that’s a long ways from Buffalo.