Panthers quarterback Cam Newton came into last week's game against the Eagles as leading candidate for my (fictional) MVP vote because his play has helped Carolina get off to a scorching start. One of the questions I still had, however, was if that team could win when Newton has an off day.
That question was answered last Sunday evening by the Panthers' defense. Led by Kawann Short, the unit was able pick up the slack and limit Philadelphia to just 16 points. I don't see a way that the Panthers win that game without Short's immense contributions, making him my Hoss of the Week for Week 7.
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Short came up huge in these last two critical games for the Panthers. When you're talking about five sacks in two weeks, that's some absurd production, I don't care who you are. That's especially true when you are talking about an interior lineman who spends about half his time at nose tackle.
If you read my breakout players piece before this season (and let's be honest, you totally should have) you might have seen this kind of eruption coming from Short. Had Short not been dealing with a back injury in the preseason, I really think his numbers would already be off the charts by now. Instead, he has had to kind of work his way into game shape during the regular season, and up until the last few weeks his pass rush moves hadn't been quite as sharp as they were at the end of last year.
Now, he looks to be in shape and in rhythm and opposing offenses are gonna have a hard time blocking him the rest of the year.
Against the Eagles, Short made meaningful plays throughout the game, producing an insane stat line of three sacks, a caused fumble, a tackle for loss, another tackle for no gain, two pressures and a pass that he knocked down at the line of scrimmage. Oh, and one of those two pressures? It was on the last play of the game when the Eagles tried a Hail Mary. That's what you call playing through the final whistle!
I will admit that at least one of Short's sacks was sort of a gimmie. When he took Sam Bradford down in the first quarter, Short was lined up at nose tackle between the center Jason Kelce and right guard Matt Tobin. Both guys kind of just let him go at some point and went to block other people. You still have to get the quarterback on the ground, so I give Short credit for that, especially with the sad state of tackling around the league these days.
The other two sacks, however, were about Short beating his guy to make a play. They both also happened in the fourth quarter with the Panthers still nursing a one-score lead.
So, yeah, that was pretty clutch.
With 8:24 left in the game Short again lined up at nose tackle. This time he lined up between the center and left guard Allen Barbre. The center slid away to Short's left, leaving Barbre to block him one on one. This is usually not that hard of a block for the guard because he can just slam down hard on the nose and push him away from the quarterback as he gets up the field. That might've been how it was supposed to go, but Short had other ideas.
He powered right though Barbre's inside shoulder, grabbed Bradford by the jersey and held on for dear life. Eventually, Bradford went down for a loss of 9 yards. Short had his second sack of the night.
Later on the first play of the Eagles next drive with 3:12 left in the game and Philly down 21-16, Short got Bradford on the turf. This time he was lined up as the three technique on the outside shoulder of Eagles backup right guard Dennis Kelly. Short bull rushed him right back into Bradford's lap:
As Bradford tried to step up into the pocket to avoid both Short and Panthers defensive end Jared Allen, Short was able to get his hand on the ball and forced Bradford to cough it up. The Eagles would recover that fumble, but not their composure. They turned the ball over on downs six plays later.
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I'm not sure what it will take for everyone to finally come around and accept the fact that the Carolina Panthers are a legitimately good team, maybe even Super Bowl contender this season, but their play last two weeks should have helped.
First, Carolina beat the Seahawks in Seattle, a game that a lot of folks thought would expose the Panthers because of some of their overall team deficiencies.
And by a lot of folks you could include me.
All of us were wrong. Not only that, the final score wasn't really indicative of how much better they looked than the two-time reigning NFC champ Seahawks in that game. After it was all said and done, one team looked like a contender and the other team looked like a pretender. We evidently just had the two teams mixed up before the game.
This past weekend, Carolina pulled out a hard fought victory over an Eagles team that looked like it was finally getting its shit together. At 6-0, it's getting increasingly hard to deny that the Panthers are the real deal.
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