By Leo Haggerty


This week, we lean on our NFC South expect for compelling commentary on the Carolina Panthers.  That just happens to be Shaun Haggerty (yes, my son and Clemson University graduate so you know he’s well connected to the Tigers) and I know you’ll enjoy his insights into the upcoming contest in Charlotte on Monday Night Football.

LH : If NFL defenders would hit Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers like they hit Cam Newton, they may draw a a full year suspension.  Why doesn’t Newton get the respect and protection that an elite quarterback should get?
SH : I think the main reason is because many of these hits are happening downfield.  Referees are then more inclined to treat a QB more like a RB in those situations, especially when said QB is at least 6’5 and at least 250 pounds (I don’t care what the roster says).  Also, in the case of Brady, he RARELY ever gets touched.  No one in the history of the game has been better at getting rid of the football quickly.  Even if there is nothing there, he immediately fires the ball into the dirt or the stands and lives to fight another day.  All that being said it is shocking a league that is INCREDIBLY protective of its highly valuable Quarterback assets has not done more to protect Newton.  
LH : The mantra of the NFL is “Any Given Sunday” when it comes to winning and losing.  Was the drubbing the Panthers took in Atlanta last Sunday just one of those Sunday’s or is their reason for concern in Carolina?
SH : There is always reason for concern each season.  Every season takes on its own character and just because your were successful the previous year is not a guarantee of current success.  Not to mention a Super Bowl run has the added issues of leaving a team exhausted and sometimes less hungry in the off season.  I would think coming that close and not winning the big one would be motivation, but you never know.  The big concern would be the huge turnover in the secondary, but the defense was only lit up in one of the three losses. Also, the defense has not faced any elite offenses yet.  
LH : The Panthers defense has been their cornerstone but have given up 118 points in four games.  Does the Carolina defense just need to get back to basics and let LBs Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis be the disruptive force that they have been in the past? 
SH : Again the secondary is a concern and that is shown by their opponent’s QB rating of 96 up from last years rating of 73.5.  Opponents are actually gaining less yards per carry than last year so it is the passing game that’s hurting the Panthers.  With his 11.5 tackles per game Kuechley is NOT the problem.  The 33 year old Davis on his fifth knee ligament does appear to have lost a step with his paltry five tackles per game.
LH : Carolina is 1-3 with losses to Denver (4-0) and Minnesota (4-0) along with Atlanta (3-1).  Have they just hit a stretch at the beginning of the season where they have run into three very good teams?
SH :  That is part of it.  But if you are an elite team, you should be able to beat elite teams.  There is no reason to panic in Carolina and the schedule eases up some in the near future.  But the offense needs to execute better and the defense needs to limit performances like the one at Atlanta.  
LH : I still think Carolina is the class of the NFC South no matter what their record is this early in the season.  Do you see another team winning the division?
SH :  I see Atlanta as a viable threat.  Any team with a very good quarterback has a chance.  The schedulers were not kind to the Falcons as they travel to Denver and to Seattle on back to back weekends.  We will know a lot more about the “Dirty Birds” over the next fortnight. 
LH : Who wins and why?
SH : Carolina because they are simply better and at home.  The Buccaneers are a season a way from contending in this division.  Jameis Winston does not have enough talent around him to win as a game manager and does not have enough experience to consistently win as a gunslinger.  Panthers win 30-20 and the Tampa Bay front office fires their ninth coach in six seasons immediately after the final whistle.