The Carolina Panthers head into their bye week this week with a 7-3 record (one more victory than all of the 2016 season) after a rout of the Miami Dolphins on Monday night.
Sustaining a few notable numbers and improving others will be key to the team’s continued success.
▪ Carolina is still the NFL’s top-ranked defense, allowing 278 yards per game.
▪ Carolina is ranked No. 4 in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game with 197, tied for second with 29 sacks and No. 2 in rushing yards allowed per game at 80.6. With six games left and a largely healthy defense, there’s no reason that the Panthers can’t sustain these numbers as they make a playoff run.
▪ Despite setting a franchise record on Monday night in total yards (548), the Panthers rank No. 16 in the NFL at 336.6 yards per game and No. 21 with 209 passing yards per game.
Improving the latter may be tricky, as receiver Curtis Samuel, who left Monday’s game with a left ankle injury, needs surgery and will be out for the rest of the season.
▪ After rushing for a combined 425 yards in two weeks of play, Carolina’s run game has jumped up to No. 7 in the league with 127.6 yards per game.
▪ Perhaps the most intriguing statistic for Carolina’s offense is its No. 2-ranked third down conversion percentage of 46.9. Sustaining drives will be key to Carolina’s success – in wearing out the opposing defense and preserving the health of its own by allowing them to stay off the field longer.
▪ Carolina’s offensive line improvement has been crucial to the success of the run game and the group has allowed just one sack and five hurries over the past two weeks.
Ed Dickson won’t be going anywhere
Panthers tight end Greg Olsen is expected to see his workload increase on Monday, and is eligible to return when the Panthers take on the New York Jets on Nov. 26.
In his absence, tight end Ed Dickson’s role expanded both as a blocker and a receiver, and he scored his first touchdown of the year on Monday night.
“I think the biggest thing that people don’t get is first of all, what we ask of our tight ends,” said head coach Ron Rivera on Tuesday afternoon. “Not just to be a blocker, not just to be a route runner or a pass catcher, but to be able to do both based on what the quarterback sees.
“Sometimes, as you saw last night, Cam (Newton) will check things or audible things and you’ve got to be able to pick those audibles up. You’ve got to understand that what you’re doing is a little bit of a hybrid position. One minute, you’re a blocker on the line of scrimmage. Next minute, you’re a wing blocker. Next minute you’re a lead blocker. And then as far as routes are being run, you’re running them from a three-point stance. You’re running routes from a two-point. You’re checking on your releases. You’re lining up outside as the widest receiver, or as the slot receiver, or the third receiver. So there’s a lot that is asked from that position.”
Dickson had mostly seen his opportunities come as a blocker, but the needs expanded when Olsen got hurt.
Now that Dickson has assimilated well, he has opened the eyes of coaches to the flexibility he and Olsen can bring – perhaps more so than in the past.
Managing Peppers’ snaps
Veteran defensive end Julius Peppers had a highly productive first half of the season, leading the team in sacks with 7.5 and hitting contract incentives in the process.
His snaps are “spotted” – meaning coaches and trainers have concocted an equation to try to maximize Peppers’ efficiency while also maintaining and preserving his body, which has now spent 16 years in the NFL.
Peppers has played 46.92 percent of the team’s defensive snaps.
“Eric Washington, the defensive line coach, does an outstanding job with the rotation, but it also starts with Ryan Vermillion, the head athletic trainer,” defensive coordinator Steve Wilks said Monday. “You get a guy that has played as long as (Peppers) has, particularly coming off a very physical game on Sunday, what we try to do is give him that first day of the week, which is that Wednesday, and give him an extra day for his recovery, and it’s been working out pretty good.
“And then also when he’s out there, we do a great job from a standpoint of his rotations in practice. I think it’s been very beneficial to him, in trying to get him ready to play on Sunday.”
Wilks said that the position coaches also measure each repetition Peppers in practice and during games, with game reps based on scheme.
Luke Kuechly an Art Rooney nominee
The NFL announced on Tuesday that Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly is one of 32 nominees for the Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award.
The award recognizes players who exemplify outstanding sportsmanship on the field, and will be voted upon by players. The winner will be announced on Feb. 3, and receives a $25,000 donation to the charity of his choice.