We asked five Panther-centric questions of Jaxon over at Cat Scratch Reader. Questions and answers are below, and our thanks to Jaxon!
Dave Choate: The Panthers are above .500 and rolling right now. What has been the key to the team's success, and is this sustainable?
Jaxon: I think the Panthers recent success can be traced to one key thing on both sides of the ball. On offense the Panthers have been converting 3rd downs at the highest rate (45.3%) of the Ron Rivera regime; good for 4th in the NFL right now. When you add in the effect of our newly inspired HC Ron ‘Riverboat Gambler' Rivera and his propensity to go for it on 4th down (4 of 6) you have an offense that extends drives and gets in scoring position.
On defense the key has been the ability to get pressure on the QB, many times with just the front seven. Sean McDermott has also been dialing up blitzes from just about every position but LB Thomas Davis seems to be his favorite blitzer. This has kept our young secondary from getting too exposed in coverage and allowed them to take more risks and make plays on the ball.
DC: Cam Newton has taken a lot of (undeserved) heat since arriving in the league. How have you seen him make strides this season, and how can the Falcons slow him down?
Jaxon: One improvement has been that Cam is making better decisions with the ball and not throwing the ugly INTs like he did his first two seasons (at least lately anyway). He is going through his progressions but is also better at extending the play. He still takes too many sacks and probably should run the ball more but overall he is taking what the defense is giving him instead of trying to force it. One key to stopping him is keeping outside contain on him and make him throw the check downs. He can still be a little errant on his throws in the short to medium range so you need to keep him in the pocket.
DC: The defense has done fantastic work this year. Who should the Falcons keep their eyes on, and is your secondary still an exploitable weakness?
Jaxon: If you can create the time to throw the ball you should be able to pick this secondary apart. That hasn't been real easy for our opponents in most of our games this year. Both young CBs Josh Norman and Josh Thomas have been demoted for giving up big plays but one of them will probably still rotate in. You might be able to exploit either of them or maybe rookie CB Melvin White, who honestly hasn't played like a rookie. FS Mike Mitchell is a gambler who occasionally chooses the big hit over the wrap up tackle. Mitchell is good for at least one 15 yd penalty a game.
DC: Give me two underrated players we should expect to see making a big impact.
Jaxon: On offense we've seen a ‘huge' contribution from FB Mike Tolbert (pun intended). The Panthers are going to him in both short yardage and passing situations and he is delivering. On defense keep an eye on LB Thomas Davis. Forget about the 3 ACL surgeries he has had on the same knee. He is playing lights out in both pass coverage and rushing the passer. ‘TD' as we call him has been all over the field.
DC: What do you expect to be the final score of this game, and what's Carolina's final record?
Jaxon: The Panthers offense has been putting up at least 30 points lately and I don't see that stopping. I do see the Falcons topping the Panther defense 13 ppg average by a good bit but I think the line on this one is about right.
Panthers 34 Falcons 27
If you would have asked me about my overall win/loss record for the Panthers three weeks ago I would have said ‘4-12' but it's funny how winning three in a row will change your opinion. So I've reverted back to my preseason prediction of 11-5. It might still be a bit of stretch but I'm feeling better about it these days.