Regular Season Grades

Now that the regular season is over, we sit back and reflect on the season that the Panthers had.

Record: 12-4
Home: 8-0

Coaching Staff – B - The coaching staff has done a good job preparing the team each week and not allowing the team to fall after the Smith-Lucas altercation in training camp that very easily could have divided the team. Still, there are times where the team gets too conservative in its play calling, allowing their opponents to get back into games after the Panthers should have put it out of reach.

Offensive Line – A - The Offensive Line has been one of the strengths of the team, allowing 20 sacks and opening holes for their running backs, resulting in several Panther rushing records. Every single starter has missed at least one game due to injury, which makes it even more of an accomplishment.

Wide Receivers / Tight End – B - Steve Smith is still the Panthers' main weapon, but the resurgence of Muhsin Muhammad has also bolstered the running game as well. Carolina's tight ends are primarily blockers and aren't used much in the passing game other than to block downfield.

Running Backs – A - The Panthers have arguably the best rushing tandem in the NFL, combining for the most rushing touchdowns in the league (28 between Williams and Stewart) and amassing 2,351 yards on the ground.

Quarterback – B - Jake Delhomme returned after a devastating elbow injury in 2007 to have a good season, finishing with a QB rating of 84.7, throwing for 3,288 yards, 15 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. While that isn't stellar, he's the game manager coach John Fox wants and is a locker room leader. Don't forget, many of the touchdowns the passing game could have gotten were taken by the highly-productive rushing attack, and he was without Steve Smith for two weeks.

Defensive Line – C - Once one of the Panthers' strengths, the defensive line was simply average in 2008. Julius Peppers returned to form, posting a career high in sacks, but the rest of the line was simply marginal.

Linebackers – B - Middle Linebacker Jon Beason is one of the league leaders in tackles and has emerged as one of the best young linebackers in the game. Thomas Davis is a fast, hard-hitting tackler while Na'il Diggs has been a solid performer every week.

Secondary – C - Despite having talent, opponents have found cracks in the Panthers' coverage in the last few weeks. Ken Lucas has been a recent target for opposing QBs to pick on.

Special Teams – B - The Panthers greatly improved their special teams all around this season -- from kickoff specialist Rhys Lloyd to returner Mark Jones, the Panthers have benefited from field position advantages on both sides of the ball.

Injury Factor – The team has been relatively healthy throughout the season until the last couple of weeks. DT Ma'ake Kemoeatu has missed the last couple of weeks with an ankle injury, while his trench-mate Damione Lewis injured his shoulder in week 16 against the Giants. The team lost starting OG Keydrick Vincent in week 15 with a groin injury that landed him on the IR. Jeff Otah left last week's game against the Saints with an injured toe and his status is uncertain as of this moment.

Team Offensive MVP – DeAngelo Williams has been sensational, setting team records in rushing touchdowns, rushing yards in a season and consecutive games over 100 yards rushing. Williams is second all-time with 6 touchdown runs over 30 yards in a season. Not only is he the team MVP, he should be considered for the league MVP award.

Team Defensive MVP – Jon Beason showed that 2007 was no fluke, earning his first trip to the Pro Bowl and becoming a team captain in just his second season. Beason leads the team in tackles and is a vocal leader in the locker room.

Top Rookie(s) – Jeff Otah and Jonathan Stewart, both first round picks, have been instrumental in the Panthers' offense this season. Otah is the road-grader RT the Panthers thought he would be, and Stewart was just 136 yards shy of 1,000 yards rushing -- behind DeAngelo Williams, who ran for 1,515. Stewart scored 10 rushing touchdowns of his own despite playing behind Williams, who is the league's leader in touchdowns scored.

Top Free Agent – Keydrick Vincent started 14 games for the Panthers, who set team records in rushing. Until he was placed on the IR in week 15, he was the only Panther lineman to have started every game.

Team Strength – Running Offense

Team Weakness – Passing Defense

Final Word – The Panthers have an offense that can strike at any time and can grind teams on the ground. Their defense has fallen off a bit from last season, but still is one of the tougher teams in the league. All of their four losses came from teams with winning records, and three of them from playoff teams (Minnesota, Atlanta and New York Giants). The Panthers have played all of the potential teams that the team could face in round two already this season.

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