Good and bad news halfway through

The 2008 season has gone about as well as could be expected for coach John Fox, who entered the season possibly on the hot seat after failing to make the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.

GOOD NEWS

The 2008 season has gone about as well as could be expected for coach John Fox, who entered the season possibly on the hot seat after failing to make the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.

The Panthers are 6-2, due in large part to how well they've played at home (5-0). When they resume play on Nov. 9, the Panthers will face Oakland, Detroit and Atlanta, a team they beat earlier this season, so there's a good chance they can get to 9-2 before a rough five-game stretch to close the season.

The most impressive aspect of the season has been the consistent play of the defense. After defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac simplified the scheme this offseason, players are raving about how they're able to run and make plays and not have to do as much thinking.

Carolina has ranked in the top five for much of the season, but fell to ninth after giving up 381 yards passing to Kurt Warner last week. Still, this defense has been extremely reliable and most importantly, this is a very tight group of guys who remain accountable to one another. They will only get better in the second half of the season.

Another big positive for the Panthers has been that Jake Delhomme's arm has held up well. He has a quarterback rating of 88.7 and should continue to improve with Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad being his top weapons. Steve Smith has simply been awesome since returning from a two-game suspension. He's averaging over 100 yards receiving per game.

BAD NEWS

The Panthers wanted to hang their hat on the running game this year, but they've struggled in yards per carry, where they rank near the bottom of the league.

Still, the Panthers are getting good production from DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart and they should start the second half of the season strong as the Panthers face a good-size list of bad run defenses. One of the problems has been injuries on the offensive line. Right tackle Jeff Otah has missed four games, Ryan Kalil three, Travelle Wharton two and Jordan Gross one. The starters have only played together for less than two quarters. But that should change when the Panthers get everyone back for Oakland.

Carolina does have eight rushing touchdowns this year, more than they had all of last season.

Another problem for the Panthers has been punt protection. Jason Baker has had three punts blocked, two of which were returned for touchdowns. The Panthers seem to have corrected that over the last two weeks.

The Panthers were the most-penalized team in the league the first four games of the season, but they've made vast improvements over the last four weeks.

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