After earning NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his two sack performance against the Seattle Seahawks, Carolina Panthers' defensive tackle Kawann Short one-upped himself with three sacks, a forced fumble, four tackles for a loss and eight tackles total. He should be in serious contention to win this award again this week after that strong game against the Eagles.
Short has been playing excellent football the entire year and a strong case could be made that the Panthers' best defensive player this year would come down to a discussion between Short and Josh Norman. According to Pro Football Focus, Short is the best defensive tackle in the league with a rating of 26.6. He also is second among defensive tackles in sacks (5), first in QB hits (21), and tied for fifth in stops (15).
The Panthers defensive line has improved as the season has gone on, even with all the injuries they have suffered at defensive end. This is due in large part to the play of Short as he has been disruptive, making plays in the backfield both against the run and pressuring the quarterback.
Thanks to 204 rushing yards, the Panthers are now the leading rushing offense with an average of 144.7 yards per game. This is due in large part to Jonathan Stewart who is running like he did at the end of the 2014 season. Over the first four games of the year, Stewart was only averaging 55 yards per game but has almost doubled that output the past two games with an average of 101.5 yards per game.
Offensive coordinator Mike Shula has made it clear based on his play calling that Stewart is going to be the team's primary ball carrier out of the backfield. The Panthers have run the ball 197 times this year with Stewart accounting for 103 of those carries. Shula deserves a lot of credit sticking with Stewart, espcially with the slow start he had at the beginning of the season. The Panthers' offense is now benefiting from this faith as Stewart is running very well and that trend should continue Monday night against the Colts.
One player that Shula hasn't given up on yet is rookie Devin Funchess but he has continued to struggle and made a key mistake against the Eagles. He was only targeted twice and caught one of them for 20 yards but had the other pass go right through his hands and into the waiting arms of the Eagles, which they capitalized on for an interception.
When the team drafted Funchess, they hoped that he could be the answer opposite Kelvin Benjamin and give the Panthers one of the biggest duo of wide receivers in the NFL. That plan changed obviously when Benjamin went down with his knee injury and many hoped the rookie could be the answer to replace Benjamin.
Well that just hasn't happened as Funchess at this point in the season has as many receptions as he does drops (6). The drops have to be a concern as he is currently tied for second most in the NFL on only 18 targets. These are some of the mistakes that the Panthers can't afford to have keep happening as they get deeper into the season.