It’s never about just one thing, one player or coach when a team does very well in the NFL, but it’s usually one thing that takes the bulk of the credit. With the Carolina Panthers, despite the redemption story of Ron Rivera and Cam Newton once again looking like a quarterback that will dominate for years, it begins and ends with their defense.
Just how good has it been for the 9-3 Panthers, who have won their last 8 games, including against the New England Patriots and the San Francisco 49ers? The first number that jumps to mind is them allowing 13.1 points per game this season, better than any other defensive unit in the NFL. During the win streak? Only 12.4 points per game, which includes leaving the Patriots on 20 points and the 49ers on 9. It’s worth mentioning that they’ve played the Bucs twice during this win streak among other terrible teams, but it still takes a great defense to stop teams from scoring two touchdowns a game.
A better number that tells just how good this defense is would be their touchdowns allowed ratio – Opponents have scored a touchdown on only 30.7% of their red zone drives. It is the best percentage since the league expanded to 32 teams in 2002. Opponents have reached the red zone 28 times against the Panthers, with nine of those drives ending in touchdowns. The Panthers have held their opponents scoreless on a trip to the red zone seven times.
Of course there’s Cam Newton, who has been playing great over the last 8 games after a rough start to the year. He’s completing 64.4% of his passes during the win streak when facing a blitz, throwing 7 touchdowns to 2 interceptions while getting sacked only 8 times. During the win streak, Newton leads the team in rushing (324 yards) and rushing touchdowns (5). Most of his rushing has been done on scrambles, with an NFL-leading 221 scramble yards during the win streak.
A tougher run of opponents, like playing the Saints twice in three weeks, will be telling us a lot more about how good the Panthers can be. However, it’s hard to suggest that this team is doing so well just because of a soft schedule, as their defense isn’t just playing well, but putting up historically good numbers.