It seems every week, Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Norman has been in the stock up part of this article. Yet he comes out the next week and makes fans take notice by playing at a higher level. This past Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, Norman had the play of the year with a diving interception in the final two minutes to ensure the Panthers stay undefeated.
The Panthers shut down cornerback is rated as one of the best cornerbacks, fourth best to be exact, in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus. Opposing quarterbacks only have an NFL rating of 38.8 which is the third best total among cornerbacks who have played at least 75% of the team’s stats.
While the Panthers’ are certainly happy that he is able to play this well, they know if they hope to keep this cornerback, who is a free agent after this season, they are going to have to open the checkbook. This may be tough with how much the team committed to extensions this past offseason.
For now though, Panthers’ fans should enjoy watching this rising star at cornerback.
One player who doesn’t have to worry about money after signing a monster extension this offseason is Cam Newton. The Panthers’ quarterback is living up to this new paycheck as he is playing some of the best football of his career.
He is coming off his highest passing yard total in a game (315) since his second game ever in the NFL. More importantly this is only the third time in the past 16 games that he did not have a turnover in the game.
It is like night and day watching Newton this year versus last year with him now completely healthy. Last year, he battled through ankle, rib and back injuries at different points of the season. However, now that is completely healthy, he is able to get back to keeping defenses off balance throwing the ball, as well as with his scrambling ability.
After a quiet Week 1, Olsen saw his role grow in this offense to six receptions for 70 yards in Week 2 against the Houston Texans. However, last Sunday against the Saints was on a different level as he finished with 8 receptions for 134 yards and two touchdowns. The 134 receiving yards was the highest total he has had in his nine year career.
It would be unrealistic for Olsen to have this type of performance on a weekly basis. When Olsen is productive early in games, it is going to open up the rest of the field. The Panthers don’t have big wide receivers on the outsides but with Olsen commanding so much attention in the middle, it allows plays like the one Sunday when Ted Ginn Jr. was able to run past the defense for a 50+ yard reception.
Panthers’ Defensive Ends
This doesn’t necessarily fall on one player but the group as a whole. The Panthers’ defensive ends has not registered a sack in the past two games after three in the first game of the season. This group suffered an even bigger blow when Charles Johnson went down with a hamstring injury that will now keep him out at least until Thanksgiving Day.
The front office was proactive and made a trade for Jared Allen to step in for Charles Johnson and it remains to be seen whether this move will pay off. Allen is older and has only 5.5 sacks since the start of 2014 however he was playing outside linebacker versus his natural position as defensive end. He will have a chance to move back with Carolina.
However, Allen only addresses one of the two defensive end positions. On the other end, Kony Ealy started the year as the starter but was benched to start Week 3 due to disciplinary reasons. He was replaced by Wes Horton but by the end of the game had played more snaps that Horton.
Another player who started the year as a starter but three games in may have their spot in jeopardy is Philly Brown. The second-year receiver out of Ohio State played 49 snaps or 74% of the team’s offensive plays against the Saints.
Many fans wouldn’t know that from looking at the box score though. After running an end around on the first drive for 12 yards Brown didn’t touch the ball. He didn’t even get a pass thrown his way.
The Panthers have a number of young wide receiver lower on the depth chart who is going to try and challenge Brown for his spot including Devin Funchess, Kevin Norwood and even Brenton Bersin, who was active for the first time this year.
He is going to need to have a strong game against the Bucs and heading into the bye or the coaching staff may use this off week to figure out combinations that will help Cam Newton in the passing game.
It is hard to believe that one of the best punters in the league could see his stock drop but that is exactly what may be happening. The Panthers on Tuesday decided to work out three punters according to Charlotte Observer’s Joseph Person.
So far this year Brad Nortman is currently seventh in punt yards (729), fifth in average punt yards (48.6) but ranks 26th in net yards (36). Now there is two reasons for having such a low net yards, which is basically the yards Nortman punts versus how far it was returned by the opposition.
The first issue is that the Panthers’ coverage team just isn’t very good, which is something this organization has battled with since last year. If the team can’t get down the field quick enough and get in position to close lanes, it won’t matter how good of a punter you are.
The other issue, which sounds like it may be the case is that Nortman is out-kicking his coverage. There is no one questioning his leg strength and he can boom the ball. However, if he is kicking it so deep that the return man is able to field it and look up to evaluate where the hole is, this group won’t be successful.
I don’t believe that Nortman’s job is in any serious jeopardy but the fact the team was willing to schedule workouts with three punters, certainly has to raise some eyebrows.
Follow me on Twitter @BrandonCroce.
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